“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
I remember when I got engaged and contemplated whether I would change my last name from my maiden name to my spouse’s last name. Changing my name felt like a loss of identity, like I was being disloyal to my maiden self. Ultimately, I took my spouse’s last name, and after 8 years of marriage, I’ve grown attached to it. I’ve also grown attached to sharing expenses, having two incomes, and not having to do everything myself. If you are reading this blog, then chances are, divorce may be looming somewhere in your present or future. I’m not here to remind you of all of the things you are going to miss if you have to head down that yellow brick road. I’m here to give you a little pep talk about some aspects of your new reality as a freshly-separated or divorced person.
Firstly, if you have not already, you should seek the counsel of a divorce attorney sooner rather than later so you know your rights and are educated on your options. An attorney will help you determine how best to proceed in your specific situation. What I mean is, talk to a lawyer before you tell your spouse or significant other you want to part ways, before you move out, before you sign anything. This may seem very foreign to you. It may even feel dishonest. But it’s actually just protecting yourself. I’ve witnessed countless divorces in my 14 years as a family law paralegal, and while the details of each case are unique, I’ve learned some valuable tips to help clients deal with the overarching issue of change.
Put Yourself First
Get used to putting yourself first in your new circumstances, at least when it comes to dealing with your spouse or significant other, who is now also known as “the opposing party.” You need to start being guarded. As painful a concept as it may be, your spouse or significant other is not your best friend anymore. Even if you are still on fabulous, amicable terms, cheerfully dividing your household possessions and selflessly scheduling time with your children, your soon-to-be-ex should not be your confidante or the person to whom you pose your legal questions. The lawyer you hire cannot represent anyone other than you. Your spouse or significant other can and likely will have his or her best interests in mind before yours.
Embrace Your Independence
Depending on your perspective, you could be celebrating your divorce and reveling in your rediscovered or newfound freedom, or you could be heartbroken. You might be angry, scared, uncertain where to begin, or you might be excited that you no longer have to consult someone else before choosing a paint color or an automobile. If the new freedom is intimidating and you feel insecure, remember that you weren’t always married. Even if you moved right out of your parents’ home into your married home, you can do this. You just need some help–which might even include financial assistance (as I will explain later)–and you need to accept that things are not the same now as they were when you were married. You might be able to maintain your standard of living, and you might not. You definitely will have to replace some home furnishings unless you happen to have two of everything already. But before you pay your lawyer hundreds of dollars an hour to fight over a toaster, you might want to just go buy a new toaster.
Stay Financially Savvy
Understand that your income may have doubled when you partnered with your spouse or significant other, and your expenses were hopefully lower because you shared a household and utilities, but now you need to get a place of your own. (If you don’t know why a physical separation is important, add this to the list of reasons why you should consult with a divorce attorney.) If you are one of the people who is seeking divorce because your spouse or significant other is spending you into financial bankruptcy, then your financial situation might improve once you end the relationship. But for a lot of people who separate, it is going to get more expensive for a little while. This is where the need to borrow money might arise. Sometimes things get worse before they get better, but it’s part of the process. Adjust your financial expectations. You are going to be paying for a separate household, your own utilities, and–if you are smart–a good lawyer! Expect to be more frugal for a while.
Apples and Oranges
DON’T compare yourself to your friends. This leads to unrealistic expectations based on stories that have nothing to do with your specific facts. For example, there are several factors that determine the amount of child support a parent is required to pay, and there are also factors that are considered regarding spousal support and alimony. If your friend is receiving more child support than you, it might be because he or she has more combined parental income and/or more children and/or is outside the Child Support Guidelines and/or agreed to a large child support figure for case-specific reasons. If your friend is receiving more spousal support or alimony than you, it might be because of marital misconduct and/or the supporting spouse has more income and/or the dependent spouse has more need and/or there was an agreement for a large alimony payment for case-specific reasons.
You Need a Break
The hardest part about ending a marriage/relationship, if you are a parent, is probably the forced decreased time with your children. But all parents need a break, even ones who live together and are not splitting up. So try to embrace the relief you are being given if your significant other is going to have parenting time with the children. Maybe you were one of those parents who, during the marriage/relationship, wondered why you were doing it ALL (working outside the home/cooking/cleaning/yard work/parenting). Now your significant other is either agreeing to or is being required to share the burden for a specific amount of time. Use the weekend to recharge, to clean house without it immediately getting disorganized again, to talk to adults without being interrupted by children. This does not mean you don’t love your children and that you won’t miss them. It means that parents need time away from their children, and yours is just coming on a regularly-scheduled (and hopefully dependable) basis. As hard as it might be, support your children’s time with the other parent. How wonderful will it be for your children if they believe they are still allowed to love both of you? How much will that help them through the agony of their parents separating?
Loose Lips Sink Ships
Be prepared to lose some friends. Sometimes, it is hard for friends not to take sides, especially if they hear the dirty details of what’s been happening behind closed doors in your relationship–which may or may not be factually accurate. If your spouse is telling everyone who will listen all of your misdeeds, don’t respond (unless your attorney advises you to)! Don’t stoop to that level. If your friend wants to listen to things they have no business knowing in the first place and take your ex’s side, good riddance. Some friends will pretend to be there for you only to gather information about your divorce, which they will then relay to your spouse and anyone else who will listen. It may take a while to figure out who your friends are and who your enemies are. Until you are sure who’s who, keep your cards close to the vest and don’t share a lot. What you tell your family law attorney is protected by privilege, but what you say to friends and family is not! Friends and family can be deposed and called into Court. We are not suggesting that you isolate yourself and make your family law team your only friends. You just need to be careful what you say and to whom you say it. (This is even more true for written communications, which become exhibits in legal proceedings.)
Remember Who You Are
Your spouse or significant other may become someone you don’t recognize. Sometimes, he or she is going to lie about you for no reason other than to hurt you or to garner sympathy from someone else–such as one of your friends or the judge in your case. Just because you wouldn’t do it, don’t assume your spouse won’t do it. You are separating from this person. You don’t know him or her as well as you once did.
You are entering new territory where you will be questioning your identity, your experiences, and people who have been closest to you. But remember: throughout it all–while you were single, when you were married, during the weird time of “separated but not divorced,” and when you are finally divorced–you have always been YOU. And I hope that when you get to the other side of it, you find yourself liking the new version of you that emerges. Because if you do it right, you will come out of your divorce a lot smarter and savvier than you may have expected–because you read this blog and took the advice I’ve spent more than a decade learning for you.
Christy L. Kaliner is a family law paralegal with Hatcher Law Group, P.C., with more than a decade of experience assisting clients in complex family legal matters such as divorce, child custody and equitable distribution.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation.