Guide to Divorce
My divorce was finalized on May 17, 1993. Every time I think Im finally over its devastating effects, something happens and Im emotionally right back where I was from April 1992 to May 1993 in the midst of my separation (and eventual divorce) from my husband of 11+ years.
I am not the one who initiated the process. This makes me the dumpee. As the dumpee, I was dazed and confused by the turn of events in my life and was desperate to make things right again. I tried everything in my power to dissuade my (now ex-) husband from filing for divorce. During our separation, I didnt want to do anything that might hurt my husband or make him mad, in hopes he would change his mind and stop this horrible thing from happening. Instead, I was the one who got hurt by the process by not being proactive. Now, I find myself obsessing about all the things I should have done differently to protect myself.
Please remember, this guide is in no way to be construed as legal advice. These are my own personal views based on my own experiences. You should seek professional legal counsel if you are in the process of a divorce. I just wanted to pass along some things I learned during the divorce process, in hopes that it might help others avoid some of the mistakes I made. If my advice helps just one person get through this a little easier than I did, it will have served its purpose.
Please also bear in mind that this is written strictly from a dumpees point of view, which, of course, makes it biased. I do hope any dumpers reading this will gain some insight as to what the other side is going through, and will perhaps try to avoid putting the dumpees in the situations I found myself in.
If you are a dumper, you are most likely already well on your way to recovery. If you are a dumpee, you are in a world of hurt right now. Dumpees take much longer to heal, and some parts may never heal. You wont want to hear this I know I wanted to scream every time someone said this to me but I can promise you it will, with lots and lots of time, get better. You should seek counseling services if you are depressed or suicidal. Depression is a normal part of divorce and it helps to talk with a professional.
You have to be aware of what is going on, and fight for your rights. You need to gather your strength and to look past your grief to the future. Remember, once the papers are signed, there is no renegotiating your settlement. What you do now will set the stage for the rest of your life.
1. Trial separations a 2nd chance or the path to the end?
If your spouse comes home one day and suggests a trial separation, demand to get counseling be it from a marriage counselor, a pastor, or a psychologist. You need to examine together, with the help of a trained professional, why your spouse needs some time away. The counselor will help you determine if the problems can be fixed and if reconciliation is in your future.
You should remember, that even though the dumper uses the term separation, they might not have any intention of ever reconciling (see #2). They may want to ease you into a divorce via a separation rather than asking for a divorce up front. This makes the process seem less abrupt, and it helps them avoid your anger and retaliation if they appear to be giving your marriage a chance to succeed. You will be given false hope for reconciliation. It is true that during periods of separation, some couples do get back together. But, without counseling and working on the things that drove you apart in the first place, you will probably end up separating again. Dont let your marriage become a revolving door like mine did.
My ex and I were married for over 8 years when he asked for the first separation. He was finishing graduate school, and decided it would be a good time to go our separate ways. After many weeks of doubting his decision, we rented separate apartments his only a block away from mine. After a couple months, he was spending all his time at my apartment. After 6 months, when his lease was up, he officially moved back in with me. During this separation, we both had individual counselors, but never met together with anyone to discuss our problems or our marriage. We just started back where we left off. Instead of being as confident about our relationship as I was about our reconciliation, I became worried he was going to leave me again. I would constantly ask for his reassurance, which he would give. However, after a two-year reconciliation, he asked me, again, to leave. And again, instead of seeking professional advice, he sought the counsel of our old friends, who told him if he wanted to leave me, to do it right this time.
Friends, as well meaning as they may be, are not the place to turn when you are having marital problems. They are a good resource for comfort and consolation, but they are not objective. Leave the advice to the professionals.
2. NEVER believe what the dumper has to say no matter how sincere they seem, or how much you want to believe them.
Dumpers have already moved on emotionally and just want out. They have been planning their escape for months, or even years, before they make their move, and they will say and do whatever it takes to get out of the relationship as painlessly (for them) as possible. Promises made now are just words.
My ex admitted to me many times during our final separation that he was confused and depressed (like he was during our first separation), but that he felt he needed to get a divorce to prove to himself that he could live on his own. He would assure me that it wasnt my fault; that this was something he was going through, that he still loved me, and that there might be the possibility to reconcile after the divorce (the revolving door). Because I was waiting for any little crumb of hope he would throw me, I hung on to every word that sounded positive.
I trusted what he had to say implicitly. After all, this was the man I loved and whom I had been married to for over 10 years. Of course I trusted him. It didnt matter that one day he would apologize for hurting me, tell me he didnt know what he was doing, then promise to work things out only to tell me it was over for good the next time Id talk to him (and deny he had ever said anything to the contrary!). All I would hear was that he still loved me.
He told me he loved me throughout the divorce process and even after it was finalized! All this did was to keep me off-balance. I cant say he did it intentionally for this effect, but that was the end result. It took away my power in the situation. I remained stuck in the denial stage of my grief, and couldnt move forward to the other stages like anger which would have beneficial for me.
you are in denial or are off-balance, you cannot act in your own best interest
which is why you need a good lawyer (see #6)! You need to stay balanced
and you need to stay focused on how to protect yourself and your feelings. Remember,
the dumper is trying to get out as easily as they can. They will say the things
you want to hear just to stop you from crying, begging, fighting, or whatever.
It doesnt matter to them that it is more confusing and hurtful to you when
they say these things; they just want you to stop making it hard on them. No matter
how much you want to believe them, you have to take everything said at this time
with a grain of salt. Be strong!
It goes to reason that if you cant trust what your dumper says, you also cant trust what they do. But, because we want to believe there is good in everyone, especially those we love, we do not want to believe our dumper is doing anything wrong or deceitful behind our backs. This is especially true if we are harboring hopes of reconciling with them. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
I didnt become suspicious until several months into our final separation. I became curious about our credit card balance on our joint account, since we were both still using the same card, and had the company send me a copy of the bill. Imagine my surprise when I discovered almost $5000 worth of charges for womens clothing, shoe, and lingerie stores! By investigating further, I was able to determine these items were purchased for one particular female, whose name I recognized immediately.
When I confronted my ex with my findings, he admitted he bought the items, and admitted who they were for, but said that they she was just a friend in a tough financial spot and intended to pay him back for all of the purchases. I may have been gullible, but at this point, I wised up and I took the next step
4. Cancel all credit cards in your name or that you hold jointly.
I discovered what (and who) the new charges were for, I called each credit card
company and cancelled the cards. Most of the accounts were listed under my name,
and when I explained to the companies what was going on, they were more than willing
to cancel the cards on just my authority.
Several times during the months before filing for divorce, my ex threatened to declare bankruptcy, which would have left me totally responsible for all of the debt owed including payment for the all the things he had purchased for his friend(who had by now moved in with him)!
While negotiating the divorce settlement, the main thing my lawyer was interested in was getting me out from under the excessive credit card debt my ex had amassed during my absence from the household (almost $10,000!). To be fair, some of the charges were made while we were getting settled in our new house 9 months prior to our separation. However, because I no longer lived in the house, nor was able to enjoy the new furniture we purchased, I didnt feel I was responsible for paying any of it. The credit card company would have felt differently, Im sure.
5. Make the first move even if you dont want to.
My ex and I lived 50 miles apart during our separation, in two separate counties, because I moved in with my mother when he asked me to leave our home. In our case, absence did not make the heart grow fonder. The adage out of sight, out of mind was more appropriate.
When he first mentioned the D word, I got really scared. He didnt mention it during our first separation, so it had me really worried. My family told me to speak to their friend, who was a lawyer. During our first informal meeting, she actively encouraged me to file for divorce first. She told me if we filed first, we would have the upper hand. Of course, I didnt want to get a divorce, so I certainly didnt want to initiate it!
When I told her about the credit cards and his threats to declare bankruptcy, she adamantly stressed how I needed, for my own protection, to file before he went bankrupt, or that I would be responsible for the house payment and the credit card bills. Instead, I chose to trust that my ex would not leave me in financial ruin and that he would do the right thing and reconcile with me (remember, love is blind and deaf and dumb, sometimes, too).
When my ex filed for divorce almost a year later, my lawyer and I were forced to appear in court in his jurisdiction. This left us at a definite disadvantage, since his lawyer knew the local judges, the local system, etc. Plus, because he filed first, not only was he allowed to choose the grounds for divorce, he now looked like the wronged party in the eyes of the court!
6.Get the best divorce lawyer you can, even if you dont think you can afford it at the time.
Believe me, it will be worth it in the end. You need someone to fight for you, even if you dont feel like fighting! You especially need this if you are holding out any hope for reconciliation. You are extremely vulnerable in this situation and need someone looking out for your best interests and for your future.
In the end, I chose our family friend who had a small law practice. She was someone I could afford. She charged me a $500 retainer, which I didnt have at the time, but it was more attainable than the lawyer my sister used, which cost her $1000s. My ex had an expensive divorce lawyer who made it clear he thought he was the better lawyer. He had more experience handling divorces and thought my lawyer was beneath him because she had her office in her home. He was condescending, rude, and intimidating. He knew he had us beat before we even got started.
My ex filed on charges of mental cruelty?! He could have filed on irreconcilable differences or any number of other charges you hear used in divorce proceedings, but he chose mental cruelty. He claimed it was his lawyer that made the decision (see #2). They did it to hurt, embarrass, and intimidate me. They further intimidated me by threatening to make me pay half the credit card debt if I dared to contest the divorce!
On top of the hurtful charge, his lawyer threatened to drag our dirty laundry into court. In 12+ years in a relationship, there are bound to be some skeletons you dont want disturbed and you certainly dont want them paraded about in a courtroom. Never mind that I had equally incriminating things about my ex that could potentially damage his future career, had I chosen to be spiteful and bring them into court. My lawyer chose to settle quietly and not drag any of it into court because she thought there might be other unforeseen repercussions if we confronted them. We let their intimidation tactics work and I am the one who suffered.
When the final settlement was awarded, I only received half of what was remaining in the joint savings account $500 just enough to cover my legal fees.
Side note: After my case was over, my lawyer went into real estate law and teaching. After handling my divorce, she vowed she would never handle another one again!
7. Go for maintenance (alimony)!
My exs lawyer refused to agree to grant me alimony. He contended that I was a young, healthy woman who could stand on her own, so I didnt deserve any monetary award from my ex-husband! Of course, again my husband claimed it was all his lawyers idea (see #2 again).
My ex said he really wanted to help me, but that he was going with what his lawyer had decided. He further stated that even if though it wasnt in the official divorce decree, he would help me financially whenever I needed it. When something like this happens, make sure any verbal agreement you get from your ex is backed up in writing. Otherwise, it is worthless.
Needless to say, one month after the divorce, when my car insurance was due (which he had already agreed to pay), he told me never to ask for money from him again. He said he was through paying my bills and that the court would back it up! I know I shouldnt have been surprised, but I was.
When it came down to it, I walked away from 12 years with $500, half of the household items, most of the home decorations (he really wasnt interested in the knick-knack stuff anyway), half of the wedding china and crystal, a used car (which we were buying from my mother and that was only about 10% paid off), and my hippo collection. I did not get the house, the new furniture we purchased for the house, the computer, or any of the electronics (except one microwave). I did fight tooth and nail for the antiquated Atari system and games, and won, which I thought fair since the he got the personal computer and the more up-to-date game systems.
I had the opportunity to do it over, I would have fought for restitution at a
later date in his career. My ex is now the Clinical Director at a social services
center, an associated faculty member at a private university, and a free-lance
writer. When we divorced, he was just starting out in his career and had no real
assets. Now, he is doing quite well for himself. If it is possible for you to
do so, fight for it! Otherwise, you will end up bitter and poor
like me, watching the new spouse of your ex reap the benefits which should
have belonged to you!
8. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER quit claim a joint property unless it is written into the divorce agreement that the property must be refinanced prior to the divorce or before the quit claim goes into effect.
I signed, in good faith, a Quit Claim on my joint property in June 2003. This document said I no longer had any legal claim to the property I had once owned with my husband. This means I no longer had any say in what happened to the property, including receiving any monetary gain from the sale of said property. At the divorce signing, it was agreed that my ex would refinance the house, so my name would no longer appear on the mortgage. Sounded reasonable at the time, and my lawyer said it was a usual formality in the matter of joint property distribution.
Shortly after the divorce, when my ex and I were still communicating, I asked him when he was planning to refinance. He said it was not a good time as he would lose a great deal of money because of the high interest rates and refinance costs.
Many months passed. I found a job and tried to begin a new life over from scratch (remember, my $500 settlement went to paying my lawyer, so I was starting again, at age 35, with $0!). I applied for a credit card through my employers credit union and I was turned down!! I was told it was because I had a rent payment AND a mortgage payment showing on my credit report, and that I did not make enough to cover those expenses. But, I didnt have a mortgage payment I had quit claimed that house I only owed rent. Wrong?! My name was still on the mortgage, and therefore, if the ex ever missed a payment, I was responsible for paying it. Even though by June 1994 he was remarried and he and his new wife were living in the house!!
Whenever I would confront my ex about refinancing, he would say it was not a good time because it was going to cost him a lot of money to do so. I was living paycheck to paycheck, with no credit available. Who was the one losing the most here? As it turns out, he did not refinance until early 1996 that is almost three years from the filing of the quit claim and the promise of refinancing!! Ironically, during this time period when he was so afraid of losing money in the refinance terms, he was able to put new siding on the house, have Lasix eye surgery, and take the new wife on a European vacation (which we had planned to take)?! I also assume he was able to pay down that large credit card debt during a time when I couldnt even get a credit card!
I realized too late that I should have just taken him back to court. However, I did not have the money available to cover court costs, and no credit card to charge it to. I was at his mercy and just had to wait until he decided he was ready.
I have told my story to other divorce survivors, many of who have suffered a similar fate. So please, even if this is the only thing you take away from this Guide, remember this one point Dont quit claim without refinance terms already locked in!
9. If you have helped your ex through school or special training, make sure you get something in return.
My ex and I met in our senior year in college and he was already making plans to go to graduate school. I had no big plans for the future at the time, so I decided to follow him wherever he was going to attend, and said I would work while he went to school. The plan was when he graduated and found a good job it would be my turn to discover my course.
During the 8 years he attended graduate school, I worked in secretarial jobs, eventually working my way up to office managerial positions. In Los Angeles, where we ended up, that meant pretty decent wages. He had fellowships that paid his tuition and he also had assistantships, which helped out, but I was the primary breadwinner. As I mentioned before, most of the credit cards we held were in my name. We also tried to put a little money into savings each year. After he graduated, he began making good money, too. When we moved back to Illinois, he began a job as an Assistant Professor at a small Midwest university and we bought our first house. As per our agreement, it was now my turn to decide what to do with my life. But I never had that opportunity. After 9 months in Illinois, he asked me to leave.
In 1993, Illinois had just put on the books a new law that stated divorcees who had supported their spouses through training/school were entitled to equal time at the expense of the trained spouse. My exs lawyer claimed, and my ex adamantly concurred, that I did not support him during his schooling, and was therefore not entitled to any compensation of this sort. My ex said he had had the means to support himself during that time through fellowships/tuition waivers he received and that I had done nothing to aid in that support. It didnt matter that my salary helped to make his life more comfortable, and that, because we were married, we were allowed to live in family student housing at greatly reduced rents. According to them, and they were prepared to defend this stand, I was not entitled to any schooling at my exs expense! And, since it was a new law at the time of my divorce, my lawyer did not want to set a precedent with my case.
My ex told me that I no longer stimulated him intellectually because I did not stay in school or up on current trends in psychology (our major in college). Many divorcees, especially women, fall prey to this trap. It may not be intentional, but a great many of us end up the discarded wife of a very well educated ex who then marries an educational equal. Women should take advantage of any law that can allow them to get training or education at the expense of the one they spent the previous years supporting!! We deserve to be educationally equal to those we helped get where they are today.
Instead of trying a new course in life after my divorce, I fell into my tried and true profession that of secretarial/administrative roles. I was too scared to try anything new for fear I would not make enough to support myself, since I was all on my own. I dont know if I would have gone back to school, but it would have been nice to have that as an option to fall back on.
10.If you are going to change your name, do it during the divorce.
When I was asked, during the signing of the divorce papers, if I was going to change my name back to my maiden name, I said no. At the time, I still harbored hope that we would eventually remarry (misguided, I know). When I discovered about a year later that my ex had already remarried, I was devastated. I immediately looked into changing my name back to my maiden name. Even without a lawyers help, it cost me over $200 to retain the name I was born with! I was required to publish my name in the newspaper for two consecutive weeks, had to go before a judge, and file court costs.
I strongly suggest, if you do not change your name at the divorce, that you hire an attorney to assist you with the legal change later. It was impossible to get the proper information on the process from the offices I questioned. I went in pretty much blind. When I was before the judge he asked if there was anything he needed to sign. I didnt have any paperwork, because I didnt know any existed. Afterwards, I asked his secretary if I was going to receive any legal document showing my name change, and she said if I didnt have it signed in court, I couldnt get it now. As it turned out, I didnt ever need it, but it would have been nice to have something to show for my $200.
11.Let go as soon as you possibly can.
As hard as it is, once the divorce is final, dont hold on to false hope and dont look back. For six years after my divorce was final, I dated an old high school friend, who was a friend of my ex in college (small world). My friend would tell me that he was certain that my ex was as miserable as I was and that one day he would realize the mistake he made. Even after my ex remarried, my friend would assure me that my ex was pining for me, and our old life. Where I was hoping beyond hope he was right, and was comforted by his words, it kept me stuck in the past, which prevented me from letting go and moving on.
There are several stages in the grief process. Among these stages are denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance. I believe I was in the denial stage much longer than I should have been, but we all go through the stages at our own pace. I was told one time that it could take the same number of years to get over a relationship as you spent in the relationship. In my case, that would be about 12 years.
I will pass the 12-year mark of my divorce in 2005, and still find myself getting angry at times. But more often now, I can go months without feeling the pain of the divorce. I still talk about my ex and my marriage after all, I spent a third of my lifetime with my ex but it doesnt hurt anymore. And about the only time I really hit a set back now, is when I run into he and his wife and children. It doesnt hurt so much to see him. What hurts is when he turns away and doesnt say a word even when we make eye contact. Sad to think it has come to this after being together for so many years. But, I guess that is what letting go is all about.
12. Try not to hate your ex.
As easy as it is to do after a divorce, try not to hate your ex especially if there are children involved. It is non-productive and the negative energy it causes you is not good for your health or your spirit.
My ex was my best friend. He was, and still is, a good person. I would not have been with him for 12 years if he hadnt been. That hasnt changed, just our relationship has. I have forgiven him for doing what he felt he had to do. And if he is truly happier now without me, I have to be happy with that. It has taken me literally years to get to this point. If you are currently in the beginning stages of the divorce process, you wont be able to fathom being able to forgive your ex. But, someday, you may be able to. One can reach acceptance after all.
The bottom line is divorce is war. But, you say, this is the person I fell in love with, am still in love with. The reality is that you can still be in love with them, but you MUST protect yourself and your interests at all costs. Nobody else will. Dumpers are in it for themselves, so you must be, too. Dont find yourself 10 years down the road wishing you had been stronger or fought harder for what should have been yours. It is too late then. Do it now. You deserve it. And best of luck!