I’ve given my memories far more thought than any of my marriages. You can’t divorce a book. Gloria Swanson
Found in a little book entitled, 1,003 Great Things About Being a Woman, by Lisa Birnbach, Ann Hodgman, Patricia Marx. Andrew McMeels Pub. 2005.
So now you know he’s breaking all the rules. Even if he played it straight during your marriage, divorce is a whole different game. The rules have changed and you never received any notice, or perhaps you just didn’t notice. Here are some tips to help you through the maze and daze of new rules you may want to create.
I touched on some of these in the previous chapter, but here they are expanded.
1. Consider mediation*or collaborative divorce* and/or retain legal counsel as soon as possible. If you think marital counseling will help preserve your marriage, do it. You might also want to try mediation or collaborative divorce, process in which both of you have a say in your marital issues. The mediator does not make any decisions or judgments. That is the role of an arbitrator. Instead, he or she helps you express your feelings and perceptions, and hopefully opens the way for an agreement you both can live with. Some lawyers are also mediators, but not all mediators are lawyers. Collaborative divorce lawyers may be more expensive up front, but not in the long run. *More on these two options soon.
2. Do your homework! Find out about your rights. For example, any items you owned before marriage, such as inherited pieces of furniture or jewelry, are yours and not joint property to be divided at the time of divorce. Like the poem The Night Before Christmas, start making a list and checking it twice, cause you’re gonna find out whose naughty, not nice. List all the items you want to keep, because of their sentimental or financial value and give a copy of the list to your lawyer or mediator. If his recent behavior strongly suggests he won’t play fair, put valuables such as your jewelry or bonds in a bank safe deposit box or remove them from the safe deposit box you may have now and put them in a different box that he can’t access. Remember, when someone is very angry, he or she may behave in unexpected ways, so expect the unexpected and you won’t be surprised at his behavior (or yours, for that matter.)
3. If you have small children and believe there might be a custody battle, find a psychologist/divorce coach to help you evaluate the situation. Mediators are also trained to work with custody problems. Don’t be afraid to discuss or express your financial concerns or use a county agency for help. This is no time to be proud. Your children need a clean and safe place to live. If you suspect anything amiss when your spouse has the children, obtain a court order to investigate his behavior. If you choose to let him have custody of the children, still be a responsible parent and make sure he is providing a safe, clean, and caring place for them to live. Continuity of care is important at this time, because the disruption in the children’s lives is hard enough without your worrying about whether or not they will have a light in their bedroom or water to bathe.
4. If you own a house together, go to the bank to obtain all the pertinent information about mortgage payments, loans, money in escrow, etc. If your husband has been responsible for paying the mortgage and utilities, call or visit the bank and utility companies to inform them about your situation. (My friend Molly’s husband stopped paying the heat and water bill during her divorce proceedings, and she woke up one morning with no heat or hot water for herself and the children.) They may request something in writing or ask you to come in and sign some forms. If you are not sure what to do, call your lawyer or someone who has experience with this situation. Never be afraid to ask for help.
5. Take nothing for granted in the money and property departments. Â If you have joint credit cards, dis-jointÂ them, even if you have to cancel them. I did not do that and received a $7,700 bill in the mail after the divorce and spent three years restoring my credit, because I refused to pay my ex-husband and new wife’s credit card debt on our joint account. If you have money of your own in a joint account, take it out and open a new account without your husband’s name on it, so he cannot access it. If you suspect that he will try to take that money anyhow, ask a very trusted friend or relative to put it in their savings account until court hearings are held.
I inherited $4,000 from my father’s brother, which my husband borrowed for the business and repaid it into a joint savings account to use for taxes. When we separated for good, one of the first things I did was to withdraw the $4,000 and put it in a separate account, since I was no longer going to be a partner in our business. I used it to set up an apartment for my daughter and myself. My husband was livid, but it was money that I had inherited, so I felt no guilt in taking it from the account. I wasn’t so lucky with my father’s money that he left, because I put it into my husband’s insurance policy, which was taken by the bank when my ex went bankrupt about one year after we separated. If I had a chance to replay that scene, I would have taken out a separate insurance policy on myself.
6. The saying, All’s fair in love and war, might also apply to divorce, which in some cases, does feel like a war. Be on guard with everything your husband says he will do in your favor, because in court that will probably change. If you can, get as much as possible in writing with his signature on it. Even if your husband has been truthful before the separation, all the rules change when he or you decides the marriage is over. He may suffer from amnesia about the promises he made when you were a couple. While later on he may regret having said or done certain things during the divorce hearings (Don’t count on this!), you will be the one regretting that you were not more suspicious and cautious about promises he never intended to keep, so keep up your guard!
What I learned from all my mistakes is that the rules and guidelines you followed while you were married don’t apply during divorce, because too often your husband changes them. So start making you own rules (demands) to protect you and your children from being “greased and fleeced.” If the women’s movement did nothing else but empower you to stand up for what are your legal and moral rights as women and wives, it was worth the struggle. Maintaining your self-esteem and regaining your self-confidence is vital to stabilizing your life during and after divorce. You and your husband were once partners in a relationship that is dissolving, and partners have rights and obligation in business and marriage, so fight your way through your daze and do not give up your rights!
Again, when you feel overwhelmed, ask friends and family for help. I learned I had a lot of people who loved me, and they showed this when I was dealing with the pain of divorce and they came through and offered help. This is not something you can easily do alone. I see asking for help as a sign of strength of character, rather than a character flaw. Too many of us think that it is important always to be independent. If you feel the haze & daze surrounding the divorce is marring your judgment, find support from family, friends, and social services. This is not a time to be so proud that you lose what is rightfully yours. Be strong and vulnerable enough to know when you need help and support.
Note: All these photos are of fall flowers. Fall still has a lot of flower power!