logistics of divorce/separation
May 3, 2021 4:02 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are probably headed for a divorce. I know the first thing to do is to talk to a lawyer, but like, there's a lot of other stuff, and I just don't know how it would work. Stuff like moving out, money, etc.

Again, I know to talk to a lawyer before actually doing anything. I'm not quite there yet. So yeah, this is partially anxiety talking, but divorce is pretty anxiety-provoking.

My therapist suggested a trial separation before we actually go all the way to divorce, but like, how does this work? One of us moves out to... where? Sign a lease? Move into a hotel? All my friends and family are 1000+ miles away, so I couldn't just sleep on someone's couch. She does have family in the area, but I can't see her agreeing to be the one to move out. And if I'm the one who moves out, what happens with the kids? Are they supposed to come sleep in my room at the Extended Stay America? None of these options sound all that feasible, or desirable for that matter.

And like, if we do go all the way and get divorced, how do we pay for it? I found an article that said "most divorces in [my state] end up costing less than $100,000", which I think was supposed to be reassuring? That's more than a year of salary for each of us. Where the hell do people get that money, especially considering we'd be doubling our rent, insurance, and utility bills? Both she and I have some savings (separate), but we've both got other plans for it. In my case, a lot of mine is inheritance, and like, I don't think my aunt gave me all that money just to pay a divorce lawyer. Aside from that, I don't have any family money; my mom is retired, I'm not close with my dad, all four of my grandparents are dead, one of my siblings is unemployed, and the other sibling is pretty badly underemployed. I've heard of people getting a shitload of credit cards, but that seems pretty damn unwise long term. Even if we just do the trial separation for a week at a hotel, that's looking close to $1,000, and I don't really have that kind of money to waste.

And like, what about work? Already I feel like having all this stuff on my mind is affecting my productivity at work. What'll happen when I actually have to start taking time off? I've already used a lot of my PTO this year. It just seems like a lot. I have a kindhearted supervisor, so this isn't as urgent as the others, but it's still a big question mark.

If it's not yet clear, assume everything will be contentious. We didn't get where we are by having clear and empathetic communication with each other.

So yeah, a lot of this is probably anxiety and I need to take a deep breath, but I really don't like diving into things without knowing how they work. Since I'm very likely going to need to dive in soon, I'd like to get at least a rough idea of what I'm dealing with. I know none of you can provide legal advice or anything, and that's not what I'm asking for. Just some personal stories of how you managed, for lack of a better word, your divorce. Especially the separation part.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My divorce was affordable because my ex and I managed it amicably; we didn't end up getting lawyers involved at all. So a lot will depend on whether that is viable. We decided custody (joint), child support (none), and how to deal with the house (I bought him out) on our own.

If you both want a trial separation (your therapist may just be throwing ideas out there; it may or may not be a good choice), then it would need to last more than a month to be useful, so getting an apartment or long term Airbnb would likely be a good way to go.
posted by metasarah at 4:25 PM on May 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Well, everyone is different, but I made myself spreadsheets and checklists and just plodded my way through them, big things and small. So, for instance, I made a list of all the house things I needed, from measuring spoons to furniture, and slowly chipped away at it looking for sales or secondhand. I had another one for all the documents and applications or whatever. I'm not sure it was the best way, but it gave me something to focus on and a sense of progress, and it helped my anxiety to know I was on top of things, more or less. But then when the checklists were over, I had to deal with the emotional reality of it all, which I'd pushed off.

It will probably suck, and suck for longer than you'd like, but eventually things will settle and there you'll be with your new life.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 4:28 PM on May 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

You and your soon-to-be-ex need to schedule a session with a divorce mediator. The mediator is generally a family-law attorney. The mediator is a neutral third party with knowledge of your state and local laws. A good mediator will also be familiar with who the local family law judges are and how they view grey-area situations. In my jurisdiction, the judges all order mediation as soon as a divorce is filed, to see what the parties can work out without going to court and having it decided by a judge.

The mediator can help you craft 'temporary orders' -- these are the court-orders that govern how things work during separation. This includes who lives in the house, how the marital bills get paid, who the kids stay with and when-- basically everything that you're worried about.

You can bring your own attorney with you to mediation (as can your soon-to-be-ex) or you can be un-represented. In my own divorce, both myself and my ex-spouse were represented in mediation. However, I know others who managed to do mediation without representation, and I wish my ex-spouse and I could have gone that route (if only because it involves paying 1 attorney instead of 3 -- and attorney time is expensive).

I found that it was difficult to re-negotiate things that I thought were negotiable prior to final orders, once those things were hashed out in initial mediation sessions. This is my way of saying, "be careful what you agree to for temporary orders."

Regarding work -- my work definitely took a hit. I had strong relationships with the people who report to me and the people that I report to, and they all definitely helped carry me along so that all the balls wouldn't drop. My peers at work were less understanding (and probably less knowledgable about what was going on in my personal life). If I had it to do over, however, there are certain things that I should have asked for accommodation on that I just tried to do anyway and I didn't do those things very well and I think it damaged my reputation within my unit.

Good luck and feel free to memail me for more advice.
posted by u2604ab at 4:29 PM on May 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

I should add: The mediator has no actual power to compel resolution of the disputes that you take to the mediator. What you and your soon-to-be-ex can agree on is typically written up by the mediator into a legal document, which is then reviewed and signed by a judge, making what you agreed to a binding court-order.
posted by u2604ab at 4:48 PM on May 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

You don't have to accept the trial-separation suggestion if you don't want to. Moving all the way to separation-separation may be the wiser (and quite possibly less expensive) course. You would then treat it as any move: find a place within your means and (probably) rent it. If you are in a college town by any chance, sublets may be available -- that can give you the space you need immediately, and you can move out shortly if it's not the place you want.

Money: document everything -- assets, accounts, and debts. Whether you use mediators or lawyers or go it yourselves, you can't make a fair agreement unless existing finances are clear. Open checking and (some form of) savings accounts in your sole name; move your inheritance money to those, as well as any direct deposit. The rest of the money stuff you'll likely want a third party to help with, since you say things are contentious between you -- figuring out who pays what on kid expenses is a Whole Thing.

Stuff: Argue about as little as possible. Most stuff can be repurchased, at thrift shops even. Of course you can discuss stuff with sentimental value, and you should take with you anything of significant sentimental OR cash value that you brought into the marriage... but other than that? It's just stuff. If you must fight, this probably isn't the fight to fight.

Insurance: This one's important to figure out at the temporary-settlement stage. Health insurance is the big one, but disability and life insurance may also be important. Don't go bare of coverage you need if you can possibly avoid it.

Costs: $100K seems awfully excessive, even in a complicated divorce, unless that also includes separation of assets somehow? My divorce didn't cost even a tenth of that, but we were admittedly lawyerless and mediator-free, so it amounted to court costs (minimal) and on my side the costs of getting a mortgage on the house to pay him his half of its value (appraisal, loan-origination costs -- not nothing, but not outrageous).

Paperwork: In my jurisdiction, the family court offered a wonderfully succinct "here are the steps to divorce, with associated paperwork" document -- one page, front and back. See if you can find similar for your area? It definitely helped me keep my head in the game when my head really didn't want to be in the game.

Life after divorce: Is a thing! Honest! And yes, my finances are more constrained than they were, but I'm okay. I hope and believe you will be too.

Memail me any time.
posted by humbug at 5:01 PM on May 3, 2021 [7 favorites]

You will need to look for an apartment. It can be very small and modest, so long as there is safe spaces outside for your kids to walk and play. It will not be your forever place, just a temporary place till you can re-settle.

The more you and your wife can amicably decide, the cheaper it will be. If you have a friend or coworker who are divorced, ask them how they liked their lawyer and if they can make a recommendation.

You and your wife need to come up with a timeline and how time with kids is shared. At some point, you need to tell your kids.

In terms of material logistics, it's up there with moving cross country. Emotional logistics are much harder. Plan on your kids having some therapy at some point unless they are still babies. Maybe even then.
posted by emjaybee at 5:07 PM on May 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

I would recommend against the temporary separation.In my case, this just prolonged the inevitable.

I found that an hour consult with a lawyer was worthwhile just to get a lay of the land. My ex and divorced using a mediator. It was much much less than $100,000. Probably less than $5,000 even. A lot of that is because our state has some pretty clear cut rules on how they want child custody/support dealt with and we were both agreeable about splitting things. (This is not to say it didn't fucking suck, but we didn't make it worse by fighting over how to split our lives.)
posted by vespabelle at 5:51 PM on May 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

We separated for a couple of years, then ended up together again though that was not the plan when we parted. I moved out into a room and my wife stayed in the apartment with the kids. At weekends we switched places; that gave the children a simpler life and it worked well, but of course you need good collaboration between you and your partner.

After the two+ years if we hadn't decided to get together again I planned to get an apartment for myself. The room was fine for occasional sleepovers of our youngest (our places were near enough for her to walk from mom's to me, and room mates were cooperative) but not viable as place for living with kids long term.
posted by anadem at 5:57 PM on May 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Meeting up with a family lawyer for a consult will be really helpful for you - they've seen it all, and can answer all of your questions and then some. One big piece of advice that I got from my lawyer that I didn't listen to that I wish I had , is to file earlier rather than later. The clock stops on the financial accounts the day you file for divorce (this is in IL, not sure about other states), so our separation gave him half of 6 months' worth of my 401k.

My divorce ended up costing me roughly $8k in legal fees, after an initial estimate/retainer of half that. (it was unnecessarily dragged out by the other party, which unfortunately, I had no control over). Expensive, but it's two years later and I have it paid off.

It'll be ok. Divorce is very shitty, and very common. There's a lot of people who have gotten to the other side just fine, and it really is worth every single dollar, and all of the struggles.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 6:05 PM on May 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

I am much like you. I moved 1,800 away from my own family/friends so my wife could be near hers, then after 17 1/2 years and five kids, she left me and married my best friend.

Since the abandonment and divorce were a surprise, I didn't have the luxury of planning like you are doing. I found out on Jan. 4 that she was leaving, she moved out on Feb. 10 (into her parents' house, of course, where she could live rent-free), and I had to move by March 1.

All I can say is this: you can make it work. Before the divorce we lived paycheck-to-paycheck. Our rent was $1,450 a month for a nice 3+ bedroom house. After she left, I suddenly found myself paying $1,100 a month - by myself - for a 2-bedroom apartment in one of the worst parts of Portland (92nd Ave and Powell Blvd, with I-205 directly behind my apartment). It was horrible.

Not only that, but my ex got an attorney before leaving, and the attorney told her to stop paying on joint debts, so I had to keep all of our previous finances afloat by myself for 18 months. It was hell. I drank a lot of vodka.

On the weekends my five kids would stay with me in the tiny apartment - 800 sq. feet with all of us crammed together. On the weekdays I'd drive at least 45 minutes each way to go to work in Tigard, OR.

Since my ex had an attorney, I had to get one too. I used my state's Modest Means program (through the state bar) and got an attorney for $100 an hour. Ultimately the divorce cost me approximately $5,000 in attorney fees, which isn't horrible.

Now, more than five years later, things have stabilized. I live in a *much* better apartment. I've paid off all of my debt except student loans and a car loan. I've paid off my attorney. The future looks bright again.

I say all of that to say this: you can make it through this. It sucks, and you should know that in advance, but you can make it work. I relied a *ton* on my friends and family back home. I posted updates on Facebook (after locking down the security so only friends could see my posts, and even then I had some people in a separate list who couldn't see these particular posts) and people helped. For my first "single" birthday I received 37 birthday cards from FB friends, most with cash or gift cards to help. That made all the difference.

As for work, I had a good relationship with my boss, so I went into her office and told her what had happened. I cried quite a lot. And she was empathetic, giving me emotional support and also grace when I slacked in my work. After two and a half years, she heard me joking around with a co-worker for the first time in forever and said "It's good to have you back!" That felt like the best hug I've ever received.

I feel for you. Things get better.
posted by tacodave at 6:17 PM on May 3, 2021 [16 favorites]

Laws will be different depending on where you are, and really it is the best idea to find a lawyer just to do an informational interview. There can be laws about custody based on who moves out first and all sorts of other nitty gritty things that change from state to state. Child support and Alimony are other things that can be sticky. You might want to make a throw away email and ask on facebook groups, reddit or next door for divorce lawyer advice. Usually first meeting is free, then you pay a retainer, and your lawyer/mediator draws their hourly fee from the retainer, and then you have to replenish if you spend it all.

My ex and I initially went the mediator route, and the mediator wrote up a separation agreement that was eventually what our divorce agreement was based on. I ended up getting my own lawyer, I initially had one where I learned a tough lesson- therapists are much cheaper than lawyers- and I should have saved all my rage and angst for my therapist. My second lawyer did not engage emotionally with me, and that saved me a lot of money. He also was very frank with me (as was our mediator) about my ex, and that helped me to negotiate the best deal for me. All told I think we spent about $10,000 on lawyers and the mediator- it would have been less if my ex was better behaved, and I didn't have the first lawyer. This was in Boston about 15 years ago.

There is an old book about divorce called "Crazy Time," and I think it is true- divorce is one of the hardest things I ever did. It was also one of the most transformative, and life changing, and I have no regrets. I think my kids are better off too. The biggest piece of advice I give to my friends who are divorcing is to really try and go along to get a long for the sake of the children. You might have to sacrifice things, and bite your tongue, but your relationship with your children will be better. As a child of divorce who lived through a lifetime of bitterness, it is the one thing I think I did right for my kids, and I have seen other couples do it too. Just put one foot in front of the other, and you will all be ok.
posted by momochan at 6:18 PM on May 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Several friends and their exes have done a "nest" custody plan. Basically, you (as a couple) keep the kids in their existing home, and the two adults rotate out into a basic (and cheap) apartment during their off time. This provides stability for the kids, and one parent is permanently stuck in a shitty apartment, AND both parents have private space when they're not on duty. Good luck.
posted by cyndigo at 6:54 PM on May 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

From your description, mediation doesn’t seem like it will work for you, but it is the best route. But even then, our damn mediator seemed determined to spend the entire retainer and then some. We actually kinda bonded over a shared frustration of our mediator’s failure to make any progress at all at our sessions. Amicable or not, beware of your representation just trying to “fee up.”
posted by sjswitzer at 6:57 PM on May 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Thirding or so to meet with multiple lawyers in your area for a free first meeting. They know it all.
posted by RoadScholar at 8:21 PM on May 3, 2021

Edit window expired: with a nest situation, one parent is NOT permanently stuck in a shitty apartment.
posted by cyndigo at 8:29 PM on May 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

My divorce was dirt cheap. I did a "do it yourself" divorce, which is allowed in my state. You can find do-it-yourself resources online and you can get the necessary forms from your county clerk. I did need to briefly meet with a lawyer a couple of times because I ended up having a couple of questions. Once all the paperwork was filed, I just had to stand before a judge for a few minutes. We didn't do a trial separation ... when I left, I left. But a friend who separated moved into an apartment (had barely any furniture, and slept on an air bed) while they figured things out.
posted by SageTrail at 11:56 PM on May 3, 2021

Right now, make a list of assets and loans and include account numbers and balances. Make copies of all of your old tax returns, and keep this information online securely. Once divorce comes up, people get a lot of very bad advice and may try to hide assets. Don't do this. Also, the more documentation you have ready, the less lawyer time. I know someone whose spouse hired an extremely aggressive but not very smart lawyer, and it made everything so much harder and vastly more expensive, so try to find a competent lawyer for the legal tasks.

Even a relatively inexpensive divorce is expensive because you will have 2 households. There may be a residence hotel where you could get an okay 30 or 60 day rate. Talk about how the 2 of you will handle this expense, and try to make it fair. Sounds like you're having a hard time, and that's when a therapist can be a big help. good luck.
posted by theora55 at 6:33 AM on May 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've noticed a theme in a few divorces of good friends. Couples start out planning to do mediation and maybe nesting to save money. From what I've noticed in these situations, this has worked in the relationships where the people did not date anyone else or waited until the divorce was finalized to date others.
In the situations where one partner started dating someone else and disclosed it, the other party almost immediately started more aggressive divorce filings and did not want to do nesting anymore. (Maybe this would be different if both parties truly wanted to date someone and were open with each other about it. I haven't seen that scenario play out, but it could happen too).
Just thought I'd share because I know with one friend in particular, her and her ex had agreed verbally they would date others during the separation phase as long as the person was not around the kids. They seemed like great candidates for nesting and relatively smooth divorce. But then in reality, the ex was really upset by the other's relationship. And I don't have any blame for either person in that relationship, but I know my friend ended up regretting dating "early" and has expressed regret because it did derail the divorce. It also gave her ex some authority to say he was not "at fault" although he was not happy in the marriage and had also wanted the divorce.
So I guess what I'm saying is, if you plan to date anyone during the separation, know that it will likely affect the divorce proceedings. And if your ex does, consider how your reaction to that is affecting how you handle the divorce. It's a tough situation, but I hope this part is the hardest and you are on your way to a happier, healthier future for everyone.
posted by areaperson at 9:32 AM on May 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I understand your anxiety and I understand where you are right now. This all seems insurmountable. The divorce process generally sucks. You can get through it.

It would be worth having a consultation with an attorney, just so you can understand your options. For example, in my state, an inheritance, even if it is inherited during a marriage, is consider a separate asset of the individual who received it, so depending on jurisdiction, your spouse may not be entitled to that money. You need a lawyer who is familiar with your jurisdiction to understand assets.

If you can try to do something with mediation, do it. It sounds like you and your spouse may not be in that place, and that's okay. But if you come to your attorney with an eye toward fairness and a mediation type of process, it can set the tone for a much more pleasant (albeit still sucky) experience.

Please take some time for self-care, too. If you can find a therapist to help you process the anxiety around this process, that should help you get through it. You will get to the other side of this.
posted by bedhead at 2:22 PM on May 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

From watching friends, I think that what usually happens is that one (or both, but at least one) party decides that it is more or less over. If they are sensible, they then speak to a lawyer, to get the lay of the land.

In your case, you probably have a mixture of joint and individual assets, and you have the kids. Things that are jurisdiction dependent are how the marital home is treated, which may be regardless of on paper ownership, how any inheritances, retirement accounts, insurance policies are treated, and also what is 'normal' for child custody/residence. One thing that is really clear from watching friends, is that the law the works where you live, and what you think is fair in your specific situation will not be perfectly aligned. You may want to spend time complaining about that issue, I suggest that you spend that time with friends rather than a lawyer.

No one's divorce seems to have been genuinely amicable all the way through, but some were amicable enough at the end. If you both want to end the marriage and you don't disagree too much on the major points (assets, and arrangements for kids) then you can divorce with as little unpleasantness as possible. You can't control what the other party does, but you can yourself be reasonable without bending over backwards, and be straightforward in your dealings. That will help.

It will cost money to divorce but the minimum price is not extortionate. You will most likely end up with fewer assets in $ terms in your own name, than the combination of yours & joint now, but you will not be sharing them with another person. You can save on legal fees by making sure that you're not asking your lawyer to do something they're not qualified for (eg therapy) and by making sure you have as much of a paper trail pulled together as possible.
posted by plonkee at 3:47 PM on May 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

What bills are in what names? is each person up to date? If things get difficult, be prepared to cancel accounts, including credit cards. And definitely monitor all accounts. Angry emotional people can get vindictive. Try really hard not to get that angry.
posted by theora55 at 6:38 PM on May 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

In terms of places to stay, maybe check out something like this. It may be called “corporate housing” I’m not sure.

When I moved to Portland, OR, I didn’t have a job but I did have enough in savings to cover three months rent. I was able to rent a one-bedroom apartment, month-to-month in that building. Depending on where you are I’m almost positive you can find something cheaper, but even the $2200 I paid per month is much much less than your estimate of $1000/week.

And I was new to the city so of course it was all new to me, but it may give you an opportunity to explore a different part of your town.
posted by bendy at 9:41 PM on May 4, 2021

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