By Dad “X”
No matter how your marriage has been, even in troubled times, no one can ever be ready to hear their spouse say those four dreaded words: “I want a divorce!” Trust me, it’s worse than “Mom’s moving in!” But not by much.
Whatever the situation, no matter if you’re a combat-hardened veteran or deal with idiots every day while trying to make them a sandwich at Subway, nothing can prepare you for what you are about to experience.
It is probably the second-worst thing you will ever go through in your life, after the death of a loved one — although you probably think the original marriage may have been No. 1. When you are done with your initial divorce, you may very well think it tops the list.
My Shock Time
My ex has a way of getting people out of her life. She’s perfected it with three ex-husbands and two ex-fiancés, as well as some close friends and 99 percent of her family — she acts like you are not there and she can’t hear a word you say.
My late grandfather treated my grandmother like that for 60 some-odd years, but he eventually had to eat her cooking, which I believe to be her revenge method.
With my ex, as her second love victim, it came to the point where asking “What’s wrong?” was worn out. I was actually the one who asked if she wanted a divorce. She agreed too quickly.
Like the two mature adults I foolishly thought we were, we tried mediation, although the marriage counselor refused to see us past the first visit as we sounded like, according to her, we were from two different planets. We thought mediation would work and the money saved would be better in a college fund for my ex to steal later. Mediation, which every law firm not only provides, but prefers for divorcing couples, is a good view into how greedy, evil, selfish, and untruthful your soon-to-be-ex can really be.
It didn’t take long for her to alienate the mediator. She was habitually late (something that ran through our marriage), she made odd and self-centered demands even the mediator called “unrealistic” and, most of all, it showed on our mediator’s face.
Mediation came to an end when we had paid a couple of thousand dollars in fees and had the final agreement and custody agreement together for our two sons, ages 2 and 4 at the time.
It turns out my wife’s friends — divorced friends — were more than eager to tell her she could get more in court. So, that’s where we headed.
That was more an aggravation and exasperation than a shock. The shock was being served the papers that said she wanted more money in spousal and child support than I made. I didn’t know what to do and there were no men I knew who had been divorced. They were still in the silence stages with their wives.
The Art of Divorce and Saving Your Butt
Over the past 14 years, I’ve learned a lot about divorce. I studied family law with college law textbooks, joined divorced father’s websites, represented myself pro se (without an attorney — I’ll go into detail on that mistake in another column) and worked with several attorneys over those years.
If I could give any sound advice to someone who has just received the shock — the shock of a major life change, loss of money and stuff, and having your own children considered wards of the state with the court ordering you to send them to summer camp, even if you would say, “We can’t afford it now as a married couple” — here’s what I would advise:
Contact an attorney IMMEDIATELY!
You are going to need an attorney to start protecting your interests, as well as those of your children. A bad divorce decree and visitation/custody plan can destroy your finances, ability to get enough sleep, and ability to have relationships. (I’ll tell those horror tales in future columns.)
If you can, find a referral from a divorced friend (if he got a raw deal in the divorce, find out who represented his ex!). The Internet can also show you some reviews of local attorneys.
Pull yourself together.
You need to be at your best right now and self-pity will only dig you an early grave.
Get your hands on all the financial records you have. My ex, towards the very end, hid bank records in her car trunk and claimed she lost the key.
You need to know where your money has gone for the past year, at least, and where it is going from the moment the “D” word was mentioned. Proving that joint funds were removed, stocks were sold or credit cards were maxed out buying things is something that will be the biggest first step in your divorce.
Know where the money is, where it went and who spent it!
Play it straight!
Don’t hide money or possessions. While it’s tempting to make sure you have a cushion, either financial or belonging to the comfy chair you love and want to keep, stay on the legal path. Straying from the truth will come back to bite you. Eventually what was done will come out and you’ll have to deal with it.
My moment was when my former mother-in-law demanded I remove the boxes of our records stored in her attic. One box was my ex’s hidden bank account info, among other legally embarrassing information, but she had put it in our plastic file boxes and it was still marked as joint material. Her day is coming and she doesn’t even know I have those records.
Study the law.
Yes, your attorney should know the law, but the more you know, the more you can help supply the right information, as well as saving time by not making your attorney go through useless information.
Visit your division judge’s court while in session and see how the judge runs his/her court. Chances are the judge favors women in decisions, sorry to say as it’s the truth, so the more you know, the better you can help your attorney.
Each divorce and couple is different, like snowflakes, floating downward towards the warm ground, where they’ll melt into dirty water to be stepped upon. The more you can help your case, the better.
Find a support group.
Having the chance to talk with and listen to other divorced dads does two things. The first is that you can find tips that worked for other divorced dads. Second, you’ll hear horror stories that make you glad you will end up with what you’ll get.
In person or online, misery loves company. You employer may even have a divorce support group or pay for mental health costs for a dad’s group run by a therapist.
Don’t say anything on social media!
As a writer, I’ve done my share of ex-wife jokes, along with mother-in-law jokes, stories of my kids, etc. and it really irks my ex. She brought it up once in front of the judge and he suggested it belonged in a different motion (thanks, your dishonor!).
My ex’s third husband was banned from personal and home Internet use. They tried to hide this from me, but while speaking on the phone about Skyping with my kids, my ex was heard screaming at them to not let me know they had Internet service.
Those little digs, or all-out blatant attacks have consequences. Even that friend of yours can be subpoenaed to testify about things you’ve said. Keep the venting to a professional therapist or group where they can’t testify against you.
Watch what you say to your ex.
Most of my communications have been emails and texts. Both can be saved and both can be used in court.
Name-calling, sarcasm, and examples of being “difficult” without flexibility will not do you any good.
Keep it short, pleasant and cordial. I now have over 5,000 nasty emails from my ex that take up several file boxes. I probably won’t need them, but one day I might.
Save all paperwork as digital files to save space (because you will probably be downsizing your living space and budget, anyway).
The first step is the biggest.
What comes out of your divorce will follow you for years, perhaps forever!
What you give up on your divorce decree and custody agreement will be almost impossible to get back later on, so make hard decisions on what you want. Do you want shared custody, for instance? Do you want the kids raised with a certain religious beliefs?
All of this has to be worked out to the best of your satisfaction at your divorce. The better you do, the less court dates you’ll have in the future.
I’ll cover these issues in detail as well as other terror tales a divorced father will face over the years, after divorce. There are, unfortunately, many, even with the friendliest of exes. Check back on the first of every month for the next column.
To arrange an initial consultation to discuss divorce rights for men, contact Cordell & Cordell.