What unexpected things happened during your divorce?
June 30, 2020 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm back, again; please don't judge me. I am waiting on a consult with a family law attorney. I need a little help thinking through all the stuff I might not anticipate if I move forward with a divorce.

I am in a community property state now. I wasn't before. I'm sure that changes things. I'm aware of the possibility of paying child support or maintenance to the less solvent partner. I'm aware that I may also be losing the in-law family who I actually like aside from their politics. I'm aware that I will have to grieve the bits that I still value. I'm aware that I will temporarily be worse off financially, most likely. I'm aware that I will probably become the primary parent for at least 300 days out of the year based on my spouses previous communication about what he would do if we divorce. I'm aware that sick days for myself and my child will become more challenging. I'm aware that I will need to strengthen my tribe living outside my home. I'm aware that I need to do my own internal work to avoid repeating the same problems/patterns in my next relationship. I'm aware that perhaps my expectations of a relationship are not reasonable. I'm aware that I may be alone forever. I'm aware that there are definitely things that I will miss. I'm aware that some of the issues in my marriage are par for the course in a cis het relationship. I'm aware that I may have been gaslighted into taking more than my fair share of responsibility for the breakdown of my marriage. I'm also aware that having complex PTSD due to interpersonal trauma, I do have a valid part to play in what has gone sideways in my marriage. I'm aware that an attorney is not a therapist or friend and I need to focus my time with them to avoid unnecessary ballooning of expenses.

So, what am I not aware of? What am I leaving out that may be relevant in this calculus? I believe I asked a similar question before but that was a while ago so I am hoping I can ask again for fresh information.

I'm hoping that my spouse and I can share a lawyer and do this as amicably as possible. I cannot really tell yet whether that can happen. I've talked about divorce so much they don't hear it anymore and by the time he realizes I'm serious I do not know how he will react. He attempted overdose last time a wife said they wanted out. One reason I've stayed is concern that they will fall apart in their mental health, end up jobless, and then the courts will hold me responsible for taking care of them financially. If you have advice on how to avoid that, I would appreciate hearing it. And yes that's a question I'll be asking the lawyer.

This may or may not actually happen and I'm afraid to post this only to deal with backlash if I cannot follow through on it. Please be kind. I am embarrassed enough that I've been unable to make a clear decision after all this time and keep getting sucked back into a marriage that meets basically just my need for a coparent.
posted by crunchy potato to Human Relations (47 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You are going to be making decision that will impact your financial future for the rest of your life. Be careful about "being fair" to a partner who is not being fair back and make sure you are keeping on eye on what you and your children need.
posted by metahawk at 10:57 AM on June 30, 2020 [50 favorites]

I'm hoping that my spouse and I can share a lawyer and do this as amicably as possible. I cannot really tell yet whether that can happen.

I have never heard of this working. In my case I was the one paying for the lawyers and my ex husband decided to represent himself. I would periodically get phone calls from the attorney that went "I'm only telling you this, because I'm your lawyer not his, but that latest language he asked for is gibberish/not legally meaningful [visitation for the dog]". This was mostly amusing in my case. I did not have a child, tho. Think about it this way - the attorney has to have a duty to some entity and it's surely not the relationship so it's gotta be to one or the other of you. If you want the lawyer to do any smoothing out of friction between you, you each need your own. If you want the lawyer to protect you, only you need one.

Please be gentler with yourself than I was.
posted by PMdixon at 11:05 AM on June 30, 2020 [34 favorites]

nobody better be unkind to you here. We've all seen how hard you have tried to make things work.

One thing I think does surprise people who get divorced is that even divorces that start off amicable don't stay that way for very long. It's better to go in without that expectation, and (conversely) without any idea of punishing an ex, just with the goal of looking after oneself and one's children, keeping one's eye on the long term ball.

Your plan to talk to a lawyer about how to avoid being on the long term hook for your husband is a good one. That advice is jurisdiction specific so don't expect to get it here.

The idea of sharing your lawyer with your ex will not work, best to get rid of that now.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:07 AM on June 30, 2020 [25 favorites]

You need your own lawyer.
posted by aramaic at 11:08 AM on June 30, 2020 [65 favorites]

1. Be gentle with yourself. I kept being sucked back into a marriage that met my need for a coparent (but I ended up liking solo parenting without the ex's bullshit better). It's hard to leave.

2. A thing to be aware of: if you do divorce and things are amicable at first, if your ex finds a new partner, that may completely change your dynamic. Everything was fine between my ex and me for the first few years, but now he's with a poisonous, jealous partner, and everything has broken down.
posted by missrachael at 11:08 AM on June 30, 2020 [8 favorites]

Sorry you're going through this. It's difficult but you'll thank yourself soon.

Be prepared for the person you were married to to change substantially - you won't be imagining it, it's really happening. Sometimes they may change into what seems like a completely different person. I've seen it, and it's quite scary but very real.

Also, get your own lawyer for sure.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:11 AM on June 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

First, BIGGEST OF INTERNET HUGS TO YOU. Second, to your last sentence, it's ok! You will make the decisions you need to make when you are ready. If you're not ready yet, it's ok. Whatever choices you make will be the right ones. And, if they're wrong, they are correctable. Very little in this life is un-doable.

I am in the middle (hopefully towards the end?) of a divorce that has dragged on for far, far too long. It's been over a year for something that on paper should have been settled in 3-4 months. Here's some lessons learned, hopefully they are helpful.

- Get your own lawyer. It's impossible to determine how things are going to go ahead of time. It's good to have someone with your best interests as a first priority. If possible, find one you 'click' with and meshes well with your personality. Don't trust your soon-to-be ex. You might be surprised at how quickly motivations and behaviors change. My case has taken some Bizarre turns.

- Every time the divorce case hit a new milestone it caused a spike of pain and grief. As it goes on it lessens, but it still is surprising.

- I held on to a lot of shame. I am a "trailblazer", in that none of my friends or family (up to a second cousin level) has gone through a divorce. The closest people to me that have done this are siblings of friends. I felt like I had a scarlet letter of a sort, that I am now damaged goods, and a failure. It took lots of therapy to get past this.

- Divorce is an energy drain. Be kind to yourself, feel free to say no to things you don't have the energy for.

Feel free to memail me if you ever need to rant.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 11:19 AM on June 30, 2020 [10 favorites]

A close friend of mine who went through this found out some unexpected and very hurtful things about her partner (cheating, etc). But while they really hurt, they just solidified her desire to proceed with the divorce.
posted by sallybrown at 11:23 AM on June 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

You feel very guilty and ashamed here, which is very much what our culture does to people. You're very worried about "fair".

You're going to get monstrously taken advantage of and your child is going to suffer. You are married to a manipulative person; they will use the divorce to additionally manipulate and punish you.

Get your own lawyer. Tell them up front that you do not have a lot of fight in you right now and that you need them to force the hard things, for your sake and even more so your child's sake. Arrange a sort of reverse safeword with them for them to use with you when they are trying to tell you something important and they don't think you are hearing it over the roar of your own guilt-shame.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:23 AM on June 30, 2020 [48 favorites]

Do not share a lawyer no matter what; I have seen the results of trying for that sort of thing up close and it's really bad. It is not worth it.

The main thing I don't see on your list or in your thinking is that you can't control your spouse, and with your decision to sever your family unit comes the obligation to put your new family unit (you and your child) first.

So you need your own lawyer, and you also need to accept that you cannot control your soon-to-be-ex. You can't control their mental health. You can, however, control you, and all you need to do is fight for your own best interests. Once you have a final divorce decree in front of you, then if you like, you can take steps to make anything 'fair' that needs to be.

Also, most women I know who have gone through divorce have found their lives much easier even with sick days, etc. Don't forget that you will have some great times ahead pouring your energy into your own blessed apartment, eat popcorn for dinner when you feel like it, etc.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:30 AM on June 30, 2020 [14 favorites]

I have a client who is a divorce lawyer (though not in the US). I asked her what the biggest mistakes are that women make during divorces. She said (paraphrasing)
1) They often don't know enough about the money issue: who owns what assets, earns how much, and who spends how much on what household expense. They don't collect proof for what they do know before the paperwork mysteriously vanishes. That makes it easy for exes to squirrel earnings and assets (entire houses and properties!) away and claim to own much less than they do.
2) In their earnest desire to have it over with already, they make far too many concessions and try to be the bigger person in the name of fairness. Very often, this concerns money that their children are entitled to and will need and that will be taken from them if their parent is not willing to fight for it.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:43 AM on June 30, 2020 [21 favorites]

Amicably divorced person here. Hey we all know you've been trying really hard and even though it may feel bad now, it's a good thing to try. Put your kids' needs first and try to remember that once you say "I'm serious, we're divorcing" you have to be planning for yourself (and kids) and NOT THEM ANYMORE. My gosh I'm so sorry you've been dealing with this.

1. Agree you need your own lawyer
2. If they get an aggressive lawyer it's possible they may say untrue things about you in order to try for better child support or custody arrangements. This can be very upsetting. Stick to your guns and consider doubling up on whatever your mental health regimen is.
3. Plan loosely in your mind who needs to move and try to have a plan. If they say they *can't* move (if it's them) or *can't* pay to stay (if it's you) suggest they work that out with their own support network, it's not your problem to solve. That said, if you CAN solve it simply and easily, do it.
4. Set some limits on communication. Possibly this is "talk to my lawyer" but it could just be "I require communications to be in email" and then just check that email once per day. No sense in getting overwhelmed by whatever their needs and concerns are.

most women I know who have gone through divorce have found their lives much easier

Yes. It's a slog for a while but it's SO GOOD when you get your life back and that dysfunctional person who is NOT HELPING is not in your immediate space day in and day out.

Good luck, try to find some therapy and support for kids who will have their own paths through this.
posted by jessamyn at 11:50 AM on June 30, 2020 [11 favorites]

Hire a great lawyer.
posted by heathrowga at 11:55 AM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

You are getting a lot of good advice here, especially the advice to not share a lawyer. And I would add: do not get yourself what is sometimes called a "collaborative divorce" lawyer, or a lawyer who frames themselves as particularly non-adversarial. I did that when I got divorced, and I regret it.

Even if your divorce seems likely to be amicable, and especially if you are inclined to want to bend over backwards to be fair: you need a lawyer who is firmly, squarely on your side, and who will advocate solely for your interests. You want to be in a situation where you can tell your lawyer stuff like 'oh no, actually he can have the car, that is fine' or 'no it is okay if it takes him 90 days to get his things out; 30 days feels too short.' You do not want to be in a situation where your lawyer is soft and you need to be hard.

(Like, short story: my former husband got what I felt was a skewed appraisal for the value of our house, from a friend who worked in real estate. I asked my lawyer how many additional appraisals we should get, and she seemed confused and asked why we wouldn't just accept his. Which is what I ended up doing, because it was all so exhausting.)

I'm not saying you need to crush and destroy your former husband. You totally don't: you can be as generous and flexible as you want. You are the boss, not your lawyer. But the thing is that when it comes to divorce you are an amateur/newbie, and so you need a professional who is 100% on your side guiding & advising you. Not someone who is muddling around in the middle making things confusing.
posted by Susan PG at 11:57 AM on June 30, 2020 [22 favorites]

Good for you for doing what's necessary for yourself and your kid! I have a good friend who's going through a divorce that started out amicable and now is not. You definitely, definitely need your own lawyer.

One reason I've stayed is concern that they will fall apart in their mental health, end up jobless, and then the courts will hold me responsible for taking care of them financially. If you have advice on how to avoid that, I would appreciate hearing it. And yes that's a question I'll be asking the lawyer.

This is not impossible, I suppose, if your ex sues for alimony. But my understanding from what you friend is going through is that most of the ongoing financial support that gets awarded during a divorce is for child support. In this case, you have something powerful on your side:

I'm aware that I will probably become the primary parent for at least 300 days out of the year based on my spouses previous communication about what he would do if we divorce.

Generally speaking, child support isn't calculated based purely on who has more money, but instead flows from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. Since you'd be the custodial parent in this case, it's unlikely that you will be ordered to pay child support. Note that you'll need to document the fact that you're the custodial parent - it's no good if you've got joint custody on paper but you're doing all the parenting without accumulating any evidence that you're doing so. That's in NY though, so your state may be different.

Please be kind.

Of course! I hope you can find a way to be a little kinder to yourself as well.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:09 PM on June 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I forgot to mention that I am the reluctant breadwinner. My spouse owns an old car that was a gift and aside from that just has debts. He doesn't really have anything I can go after. We rent, and my own vehicle isn't paid off. We are married less than 10 years so I believe he's not entitled to my 401k etc.

My main concern is not being responsible for financial issues that I didn't create, that are due to his own issues. I've heard if you go collaborative it can circumvent issues with how community property states work which would normally mean we split debts - even those that are not my fault. I have heard if both parties agree to something that runs counter to the state laws, judges will generally approve it. I wonder if going collaborative increases the chance that I'm not sucked dry financially after the marriage like I have been during it. I wouldn't mind taking on more debt if it means I am not compelled to pay him any maintenance. The credit cards are in my name only because his credit is crap. But I only have that debt because he's not solvent, so I'd like him to share responsibility for paying it off.

So, if anyone has additional comments with this context in mind, I appreciate it.
posted by crunchy potato at 12:14 PM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I tried to divorce amicably and share a lawyer. If I understand correctly, you are the higher-earning partner. So was I; he made a fraction of my annual earnings. We didn’t have children. Luckily, I owned the house years before I met him, so he couldn’t get his hands on it.

It’s a well-established dynamic, but it’s time to start learning how to make you and your child the first and only priority. It’s really hard. I was so acclimated to caring and managing life for both of us that making the divorce palatable to him was important to me! Gah! When think about that old iteration of me, I am glad that I’ve moved on. Fully comprehending that I was the most important thing in my life had unexpected positive knock-on effects: with increased confidence and surety, I made better and more equitable connections, attracted different types of partners, and transmogrified my subconscious checklist of what a good partner is to be. It’s been transforming, letting go of that heavy, burdensome framework. Out with the old, in with the new!

But the real reason to have your own lawyer is that they are your voice when you cannot speak. They work for and defend you and yours. Divorce proceedings are painful. Period. Negotiating terms like finance, support, and childcare are so laden with history that it’s hard and painful to discuss with clarity. Your lawyer doesn’t have that baggage. Let them do the heavy lifting. For once you have an advocate, they are on the front lines now. Take that shield. They are the wall against the chaos that is your soon-to-be ex.

On preview, I’ve just read your follow-up request to focus on the finances. What I’ve written above applies doubly so. Have a good solid discussion with your attorney about protecting you financially. And ask about insurance: severing joint coverage and minimising your exposure.

I wish you and yours the very best of luck. If you want to chat, feel free to MeMail. I promise — having only one person to manage and raise will be so much better. And as far as your one likeable in-law? They may be afraid of losing you and their grandchild. There could be a better future on that front, too.

Take good care of yourself.
posted by lemon_icing at 12:25 PM on June 30, 2020 [16 favorites]

+1 Get your own lawyer ASAP

I went through a divorce in 2016 and we initiated it amicably with a single lawyer. It finally ended very very bitterly 2 years later. She had a hugely inflated view of our community property and my income and retained her own lawyer once it became clear how little money she would actually get.

The plot twist - her lawyer was recommended by someone else and was not a family law specialist. He was a moron, to be blunt. My lawyer put in several thousand dollars worth of extra work to fix her lawyer's numerous persistent mistakes. I would pad your budget a bit to account for that, if you haven't already.

For the most part, she ended up getting what she wanted because of a very effective threat to just let it carry on for years in court, intentionally or otherwise. Believe me: if one party wants it over fast, that's a huge advantage.

Emotionally prepare yourself that this relationship will devolve into a financial transaction, regardless of how nice it might seem now. It might not get nasty, but it will become a number and that can be really tough to absorb.

Be aware of the tax implications, especially wrt alimony. Talk to an accountant, your lawyer will not be aware of tax codes.

Lastly: avoid relationships like the plague. There'll be a few months of quiet after separation but they won't last. Any partner you take on will also be taking on the stress of the divorce and few people are prepared for that in a new relationship.
posted by misterdaniel at 12:30 PM on June 30, 2020 [9 favorites]

I've heard if you go collaborative it can circumvent issues with how community property states work which would normally mean we split debts - even those that are not my fault. I have heard if both parties agree to something that runs counter to the state laws, judges will generally approve it. I wonder if going collaborative increases the chance that I'm not sucked dry financially after the marriage like I have been during it

You really need to talk to an attorney in your jurisdiction, if at all possible, to discuss this kind of thing. Talking to an attorney doesn't obligate you to have them represent you during the divorce. And having an attorney represent you doesn't mean that a judge will make all the decisions - it's entirely possible to have an attorney negotiate an agreement for the judge to approve.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:31 PM on June 30, 2020 [12 favorites]

You'll be surprised that one day, after you've grieved & healed & started a new life, you'll look back & go. I should have done it sooner.

Get your own lawyer & do what they say. Get an accountant & do the same thing. Seriously I've watched so many people derail their own divorces by going against what the trained person they are paying to advise them advised them to do. You are paying them to be impartial & look out for you & your child. Surprise, you two are your number one priority from now on.

On a more practical note. Keep notes. Record everything. Keep a note book, write done conversations & note things they said times, dates & anyone else present. Keep emails & messages. Get all your paperwork for the financial situation together. Get copies of everything.
Not saying this won't be a perfectly fine & amicable divorce, but if it turns bad you need to be prepared. Talk to your lawyer about how best to track these things as they'll know what works best in your state with your judges. But keep records, paperwork is your friend.
posted by wwax at 12:35 PM on June 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

I've heard if you go collaborative it can circumvent issues with how community property states work which would normally mean we split debts - even those that are not my fault.

The law doesn't change if you have no counsel or bad counsel or shared counsel.

Everything in your agreement is (eventually!) agreed to by both parties; the question is just whether your negotiating position is supported by an attorney who's giving you advice on what to demand; what you should and should not be flexible on; where the pitfalls potentially are down the line to you personally and to your kid, etc, before you sign your agreement. You want that advice to be in support of YOUR interests, not your ex's.

Of course IANYL, I do not practice in your state, I don't know your judges. You should ask this and all of your questions of a lawyer that you (only you!) consult with.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:44 PM on June 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Do not base any aspect of your divorce on "I heard something I want to hear".

Real talk: the chances of you getting away from this off the hook for that debt is slim, under any circumstances. Come to terms with that in your head now; it can be a delightful surprise if it works out in your favor in the end. You're going to end up hanging everything on that hope and give in on a bunch of other financial support along the way and THEN get stuck with the debt, too.

You need to keep that debt on the top of the deck the whole time. He wants spousal support? Sorry, there's all this debt. Keep the house/sell and split? Mmm the debt though. Conflict-free divorce? You're his source of funding, you think he's going to go gently - look how much he spent! He's already told you he won't parent!

You need to go ahead and start from the things your heart already knows: you WILL have primary custody OR he will fuck with that just to try to get money/not because he wants to parent. You WILL have to bear the brunt of the financial mess because you're the only one with any money (and he likely believes or will act like you have/make more than you actually do, this is really common). He will NOT be fair or want fair things. He will NOT prioritize your child.

If any of that turns out to be wrong, that's great, but it probably won't. Get your own lawyer. Fight for YOUR future as the primary parent of your child.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:05 PM on June 30, 2020 [48 favorites]

by the way, I just saw you snuck this in there:

some of the issues in my marriage are par for the course in a cis het relationship.

not according to what you've been telling us here for years, they aren't. If this is what the voice in your head is telling you, ALL THE MORE REASON to make sure you have a lawyer who is wholly, unreservedly, clearheadedly 100% on your side.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:39 PM on June 30, 2020 [12 favorites]

Forgot this: are you living in a state or country that has a mandatory separation period prior to finalising divorce? If so, move now and get the clock ticking. I was living in Chicago when I was married and the mandatory minimum period in Illinois is six months unless waved by both parties. If things get complicated, getting this agreed upon could be fiddly.

If husband won't move out, can you extend your bubble and move in with someone? This will have the positive effect of removing your child from the day-to-day emotional turbulence. They always know more than you think, no matter the age.
posted by lemon_icing at 1:46 PM on June 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm hoping that my spouse and I can share a lawyer and do this as amicably as possible. I cannot really tell yet whether that can happen.

Do not do this. I went into divorce and chose an attorney negotiator when I should have hired a bulldog. It's far more important to be represented by someone who will fight if needed to be sure you and your child are protected and able to live decently. The time for trying to get along or working together was before you decided to divorce.

This requires a major shift in thinking on your part. From here on out you are no longer partners, you are co-parents only. Do not lean on your partner for anything, and don't confide in them. Find a new support group ASAP, hire a therapist, consult your minister or priest - begin immediately to set up your new life. Your spouse will have to learn to handle their own life - you are not responsible for whether they commit suicide, overdose, or deal like an adult with the divorce. Do not try to help him, let him find his own new support group. Move out with your child as soon as you can.

Blessings as you take this step. A better life is ahead, I promise, once you get through this.
posted by summerstorm at 1:58 PM on June 30, 2020 [14 favorites]

Oh and as far as cars and finances: if it comes up, use whichever of Private Sale or Trade In Kelly Blue Book values are more favorable to you - private sale if you're keeping the car, trade in if you're giving it up.

Don't worry about fair, worry about what's good for you. I get a sense from your past posts that you are uncomfortable doing that, but this is one of the most important times to fight the voices saying that you don't deserve it.
posted by PMdixon at 2:14 PM on June 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

I was the (slightly) higher earner in my marriage too, and my (collaborative! amicable!) lawyer literally at one point suggested to me that I "might want to" pay support to my husband. At first I thought this was a legal thing that I might actually be on the hook for, and so I was seriously entertaining it, until a friend told me it was ludicrous. When I followed up with my lawyer to ask on what basis she was suggesting it, she told me she "just thought it might be something [I] would be willing to do."

Seriously: get your own lawyer. Don't do the collaborative/shared lawyer thing: it is very confusing and could end up seriously harming you financially.
posted by Susan PG at 2:15 PM on June 30, 2020 [12 favorites]

So, what am I not aware of?

As a general overview, the MeFi Get a lawyer page offers information about finding an attorney, which might be helpful to review, as well as this taxomony of divorce attorneys by jayder.
posted by katra at 2:21 PM on June 30, 2020

I had a friend who started her divorce with a shared lawyer — it got ugly and unfair VERY fast. Do not do this.
posted by Malla at 2:38 PM on June 30, 2020

lemon_icing reminded me of a good point -- in IL anyway, the clock stops on the day you file for divorce for financial things -- ie, whatever money is in your retirement accounts, bank accounts, etc on the day divorce is filed is what will be in contention. Anything you make after that is all yours. When I called my lawyer up when I separated, she told me the earlier, the better for filing for divorce. I wish I listened to her and filed sooner than I did. It's a big, scary band-aid to rip off, though.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 2:40 PM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't have experience with divorce, but I just want to peek in here and say two things. The first: I am so proud of you! I've been reading your posts here for a few years now, and even though I haven't chimed in very often, my heart leapt when I saw your username attached to this post. Congratulations! I want to celebrate in advance for you. This is wonderful news. The worst is yet to come, it's true--but only for a little while, and then you'll be freeeee!

The second thing is, someone else writes "I went into divorce and chose an attorney negotiator when I should have hired a bulldog. It's far more important to be represented by someone who will fight if needed to be sure you and your child are protected and able to live decently."

This is 100% true. Get an attack dog lawyer. You don't need them to be an attack dog, but you do need them to have that ability if it becomes necessary.
posted by tapir-whorf at 2:46 PM on June 30, 2020 [14 favorites]

Even if they've said otherwise in the past, be prepared for your spouse to angle for more custody/more time with the kids. I hate to say this is a not uncommon tactic to get one spouse to cave on financial issues. Assuming spouse is not an unfit parent, I would also prepare emotionally for the fact that if your spouse were to have a change of heart - whether genuine or not - regarding custody, they may be likely to receive up to 50% custody if they want it. Obvously, IANYL and every situation is unique. I would just want to emotionally prepare myself for imagining that possible future, if that makes sense.
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:23 PM on June 30, 2020

I went the mediated route with good success, with the key being that we each had our own mediator. They were a pair of lawyers who made a business out of it. I told mine what was important to me, she told hers what was important to her, and they came back to us with an agreement to review and sign. The judge signed off on the completed article and we were done.

One thing you should know is that the simple, uncontested, uncomplicated divorce took just over a year to complete in the state of California.

A separate thing you should be aware of: During the process of divorce and for one year afterwards you have a substantially higher risk of being in a car accident. Be careful out there.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:40 PM on June 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Amicable separation, gotta do the divorce papers soon, still amicable a year after the separation and with his new gf, sharing custody and so on.

Get your own lawyer. My country won't let you share one at all, and while it was a pain for us (we needed one to draw up paperwork for financial settlements) it is the only way to approach this.

I was the partner with a lower income - there was a question of alimony and child support but we split childcare reasonably equitably, and my ex took on all of the costs. His lawyers did poke at trying to shift that, and the financial settlement, but backed down. He bought me out of the house, I bought him out of the car. He has a terrifying loan but is well capable of paying it, I have a nest egg but no property beyond the car. We kept our own retirement funds, and student loans. We used property and debt excel spreadsheets from our national organisation for separation.

We tried for mediation but it turns out we were the most obnoxiously happy separation story they'd heard and had no advice beyond "get a lawyer to sign the stuff you've agreed to".

Custody is shared, we live a few streets from each other and have a bedroom at each home for our daughter. We have dinner together once or twice a week, supply each other with leftovers etc. His gf can get a little uncomfortable apparently, but I very much leave that to him to deal with. Our daughter is happy, doing okay at school, and enjoys time with both of us. She spends the school week at his house since it is closer, but two afternoons a week walks to my house and the other three are after school care. Weekends depend on what is happening and also her preference - at first she spent almost all her weekends with me but after she said she feels like she doesn't get to spend enough actual time with dad, we switched it up. Holidays are mostly with me since I have the most flexible schedule.

I have had to put aside a lot of things though. There is a friend of his I dislike, and whose child I genuinely think is a danger. Both my ex and my child disagree with me. I've said my piece and made my point and have to let it go. Similarly both my ex and I were concerned about the safety at my parents house and had agreed we wouldn't visit but while I was overseas for work my ex got a call from my dad that worried him, so he and my daughter went and spent the day with them.

My ex still comes to a lot of family gatherings, and dinner with my folks, but I don't go to his family things. I do still chat with his sisters.

Living alone has been a blessing. Expensive, occasionally annoying (god I hate changing the sheets, augh that pimple on my back, I wish someone else could make me dinner, etc) but in general? The minor annoyances are almost imperceptible compared to sleeping and waking how I want without having to modify my behaviours to fit into someone else's patterns, ordering whatever kind of pizza I want instead of family negotiation, choosing every bit of the decor, the sheet blessed silence and everything is where I left it or want it to be.

I don't have a partner and I don't plan to have one either. I flirt with a few friends online, fellow queers, and it's fun. I occasionally miss hugs or sex but mostly I do not. I've done a lot of therapy to feel this good within myself and part of that is realising how deeply and unconsciously I compromise a lot in a relationship or social situation. Being alone is delightful.

Things I didn't expect were often based on how different my kid is from me, and how much like her dad she is. And that for her all the things I love about my new life - the solitude, the quiet, the calm - don't play well with her extrovert ADHD tendencies. So that's been a learning curve.

But yes, get a lawyer, plot out the details of the finances and all your belongings, and find your freedom. My ex is my best friend and we get along well and still do, but we still had lawyers and drew up written agreements.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:47 PM on June 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

If I remember correctly, your ex had children from another relationship prior to marrying you. If he was married or partnered then, how did that separation / divorce go? I mean, in terms of how it was handled, how he took responsibility for the children, how it worked out financially etc? Obviously every divorce is different and every couples finances are different but you will have an idea of the kind of man he is and how he handles conflict and responsibility by how that breakup went. If he was fair and stepped up to the plate and was a reliable decent father after the divorce, chances are you can expect that too. If he was adversarial and did his best to screw her over, though... all I’m saying is have a look back if you can and use that as your benchmark. Forewarned is forearmed and all of that.
posted by Jubey at 5:10 PM on June 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

I used a mediator in my mostly-amicable divorce (this person had a law degree but was no longer practicing law; once we came to a financial agreement, the papers were sent to a lawyer's office to prep them for court). That's different than collaborative divorce, as I understand it. In collaborative divorce, you both have your own lawyers. I would go ahead and call a collaborative divorce attorney for a free consultation, but you'd both have to agree to it. I think you should stop talking to your spouse about divorce until you're ready to actually do this.

I think you're making a lot of guesses and assumptions about money and such. You really need to talk to a lawyer, and one that's representing you and only you.

One reason I've stayed is concern that they will fall apart in their mental health, end up jobless, and then the courts will hold me responsible for taking care of them financially.
You might be catastrophizing (is that part of the reason you've put this off so long?). A friend of mine was getting a divorce and when her husband said he wanted spousal support, the judge looked at him and said, "Get a job." If your spouse is truly unable to work, then perhaps they should be on disability. Also, if the child is with you more, you would have less child support to pay. There are all sorts of different financial situations that you just can't figure out on your own.

One thing I don't think you're realizing: how much lightness you will feel at some point in this process, when you have made a decision and you are moving forward and you are no longer stuck in ambivalence and an unhappy marriage.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:13 PM on June 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Divorced a year and a half ago, no kids, house, community-property state. I too was the breadwinner; he didn't even retrain for a job until I made him do it, and in a marvelous stroke of irony, me making him retrain is basically how he could afford to leave the marriage. Not that he was grateful. Of course not.

There's a LOT of good advice in this thread. I want to pull on one specific thread: BE COLDBLOODED. Be a shark. Bite. Fight for yourself and your child. Why? Because you are not responsible for him any more, and there is no more you+him to be responsible for. That was the retraining of self that I had to do -- I spent our entire relationship looking out for him, and putting him above both me and us -- and it sounds like you might need that retraining as well.

I actually didn't get a lawyer, but that was an extremely coldblooded decision on my part based on how well I knew him. He was lazy, clueless about all things adulting (despite much prodding from me early in our marriage), and very unwilling to consult professionals or even read up. I knew that I could do better for myself if neither of us lawyered up, so I didn't and as expected he didn't. I didn't exactly take him to the cleaners, but I definitely came out far ahead of where I would have if lawyers had been involved. I kept all my retirement accounts and pension and paid him "half" of the house value based on the tax valuation -- he'd have gotten an easy $10K more in the settlement if he'd known to get an appraisal.

The judge asked him whether he wanted spousal support -- which based on the difference in our incomes, a lawyer might well have gotten him -- but he didn't and that was that. So I got out cash-poor but asset-rich, completely free of him, and with a decidedly higher total net worth than his. I'm totally okay with that. It wasn't my responsibility to advocate for him! It wasn't my responsibility to tell him he should have driven a better deal!

And it is not your responsibility to save your soon-to-be-ex. It's not.

Based on my own experience, do I think you should lawyer up? Yeah. I absolutely do. You're in a more complicated situation, you sound less coldblooded than I was, and your ex sounds at least a bit less feckless than mine.

Okay. The other thing I want to echo is that learning to be single again is a ride and no mistake, but it's just so much more comfortable. Plus, spouses like mine (and it sounds like yours too) create a crapton of extra work. It's astonishing how much time and energy you reclaim when the albatross leaves your neck!
posted by humbug at 5:32 PM on June 30, 2020 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I'm aware that some of the issues in my marriage are par for the course in a cis het relationship.

I disagree so profoundly about this. but it makes no difference until and unless you decide to consider other partners at some unknown future time.

I think that even though commenters have probably seemed or been unkind & impatient along the way, including me I'm sure, it's better to move very slowly but never look back once you're gone. better than than to leave and have second thoughts. you are going in the right direction.

I think that you are still not yet completely on your own side yet. for this and so many other reasons, you absolutely need your own lawyer. A good lawyer will not burden herself with dutiful disclaimers about how you aren't perfect and therefore something or other must be somehow partly your fault. she won't think like that; you will be her client and she will want to get everything she can rightfully get for you. she or he will be on your side, with no mixed loyalties. you need and are entitled to this.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:55 PM on June 30, 2020 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I'm one year out from a divorce that has been reasonably cooperative, but we didn't have the burdens that your soon-to-be-ex has loaded your situation with. So I'll offer some suggestions, but other posters' advice might fit you better.

1. Get your own lawyer. You need someone to advocate for *you*. You also need someone to whom you can tell things that your STBX shouldn't hear, like goals/strategies/worries. Plus, the money you spend on legal fees needs to be for your benefit and under your control. Your STBX's behavior makes it sound like he's likely to piss around on this, and that would waste your legal time and money if you tried to share.

2. A mediated divorce was possible for us. Each of us had a lawyer. We also met with a mediator several times to establish and draft the settlement agreement. That let us have quicker meetings with our lawyers between mediation rounds, checking in with them on yes/no/revision advice on the evolving agreement. I believe that our mediator costs plus our lawyer costs totaled less than we'd have spent if the lawyers had been our sole conduit. We did have a lot of shared goals and confidence in each other's good(ish) faith. Your situation seems messier, but mediation plus your own lawyer might be useful even if your STBX is lazy about his own lawyer situation.

3. As Lyn said, with that debt, setting your expectations and your strategy is crucial. In your own mind, plan for having to take it on. But use that apparent anchor as a firm foundation for fighting to get other economic decisions to go your way.

4. Having a good friend in whom you can confide is valuable. Having a friend like that who can also gently call you on self-defeating/too-accommodating stuff (and it's natural for every divorcing person to have some of that) is invaluable.

5. Get some physical exercise regularly. Even if it's just a walk around the block or a minute of push-ups/squats/curls, it helps. The stress of all this will naturally do a number on you physically & mentally. You can push back on all that reacting by choosing to have your body act in some positive ways.

6. Know that your future self, and your kid's future self, will thank you immensely for all the hard work and difficulty that you're going to be navigating.
posted by NumberSix at 9:20 PM on June 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

Based on what I have seen a number of friends go through: be prepared that even a partner who says they don't want any custody or want minimal custody could change their mind drastically.

In some cases, as someone pointed out above, that might be about money. But in others it can represent a true change of mind, or a lack of understanding of how hard solo parenting is, or the wishes of a new partner, or giving in to the wishes of extended family (grandparents etc). The experience of one of my friends, whose partner was an emotionally absent (and frequently physically absent) dad who took on no parenting tasks while they were together, was that he agreed in the amicable divorce that he would only have custody for a week a couple of times a year during school holidays, but after a remarriage with new blended family, and a couple of enjoyable one-week visits, then suddenly decided to sue for full custody(!) (Which he thankfully didn't get, but she still wishes that the divorce agreement had been stronger in certain respects to make the later court battles simpler).
posted by lollusc at 9:48 PM on June 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

I wanted to add that the single biggest reason my separation went easily is that we acted from the single central principle that our daughter was our priority. So custody and financial arrangements were keyed to "what serves her best". My career is likely to involve me leaving the state, or area, and certainly much more travel; the house we shared was walking distance to the school she had one and a half more years to attend; my ex was able to get a loan to keep the house and his work stays in the city: this meant he bought me out, even though my parents volunteered to help me buy him out, because it made our daughter's life easier. She stayed in the family home, with my ex, and I could move with a friend.

My parents were annoyed, and upset, but I couldn't let their emotional responses dictate my actions. It upset me when they talked about it, I cried, then returned to that central tenet of "best for my kid".
posted by geek anachronism at 1:35 AM on July 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have supported a friend through a divorce with similar financial setup although no kids and a more generous husband, which makes a big difference. My thoughts are, that you need to prioritise your kids, be fair to yourself, and be merely 'not mean' to your husband. The point of divorcing is that you don't look out for each other in the same way any more, you are forming separate families. Agree with everyone else that you should get your own lawyer, rather than share a lawyer.

Also, there will be some aspect of the law that does not work in way that you hope/wish/think it should. In my legal jurisdiction, the aspect people typically don't like is that behaviour in the marriage makes no difference to the financial settlement. It may be something completely different in your jurisdiction (and the debt treatment is a good candidate) but divorce law is rarely written exactly as you would prefer to have it yourself. Rail to your friends about this for a bit, but the best way forward is to come to terms with it and work with your lawyer to get the best possible overall result given the law as it is. At a guess, a clean break may be better even if it leaves you with some debt, than anything that has ongoing involvement in your soon-to-be-ex's financial arrangements.
posted by plonkee at 6:28 AM on July 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As dumb as it sounds, the thing I had not considered was that when I left my ex, I wouldn't be around to do the emotional management of him that I'd been unconsciously doing for years. I couldn't assess his mental state, I couldn't remind him to focus on the kid's well-being, I couldn't talk him down from his over-the-top reactions, paranoia, escalating anger, etc. Before, he would flip out about something and we would talk and I would gradually try to push him toward a more reasonable, mature reaction. Now, he flips out about something and posts about it on Reddit where an army of misogynists can fan the flames. For the first couple of months I was blindsided, repeatedly, by how angry and unstable he can be when I'm not around to manage him. The amicable divorce that seemed possible when we were living together went out the window.

You know who your spouse is with you, but you have no idea who he'll be without you. You married a friend but you're divorcing a stranger. So lawyer up, as everyone else said, and prepare in every possible way (e.g., squirreling away money and important papers, making damn sure he has no access to your digital accounts, taking care of necessary car repairs and medical visits and other stuff that will get harder when you're on your own) while you're still with him and can still manage him to some extent.
posted by xylothek at 8:08 AM on July 1, 2020 [11 favorites]

You married a friend but you're divorcing a stranger.

WOW yes xylothek has nailed it here.

So many things can change once the process starts, so how he is behaving now means almost nothing in relation to how he might behave down the line, hence why you need to prepare yourself (lawyer, support, planning) for the worse case rather than based on what seems likely now.
posted by greenish at 9:26 AM on July 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Do not under any circumstances get a collaborative attorney.
posted by Transl3y at 9:46 AM on July 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Comment and a reply removed. Please try and keep the focus on the question asked here and don't use it as an opportunity to relitigate the asker's past questions.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:14 PM on July 1, 2020

Thought of something else... The whole "division of stuff" thing got weirdly and unexpectedly fraught in my divorce, mostly because the feckless ex was horrible at planning and executing the removal of said stuff from our formerly-shared home.

We didn't fight over anything -- my mantra was "it's just stuff; stuff is replaceable" -- but his repeated visits to pick up more stuff really wore on me. Plus the one thing I asked him to do was alert me before any visits, and that's exactly what he didn't do. I would gladly have vacated beforehand -- whatever else he is, he's not a thief -- but he didn't have the courtesy to give me that option.

You should be able to discuss the rules of engagement (so to speak) with the attorney you consult. Might be worth thinking about what you want those rules to be.
posted by humbug at 6:47 AM on July 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

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