Inevitable(?) Divorce Filter
January 3, 2007 7:01 PM   Subscribe

My wife has, um, picked and chosen which of her marriage vows she's going to keep to. I am facing probable divorce (initiated by me, I imagine). I need insight, maybe advice. There's a whole boatload

So, yeah. I am 95% sure I am the cuckolded husband. I'm okay with the fact that I'm not really dealing with it emotionally yet. That'll come, whether I want it to or not.

Practicalities: I'm not rich by a long shot, but I have enough to pay the mortgage and keep food on the table. An expensive divorce is right out--I just don't have the resources.

There is a house in the mix. I've paid the mortgage for the majority of the 10 months we've lived here. Indeed, I pay most of the expenses (I make somewhat more money, so, natch). The disentangling of our lives generally is an astonishingly daunting proposition.

I'm worried about our son most of all. He's four, and just a fantastic kid all around. I want him to have this house to grow up in, not whatever his mom is able to find when I ask her to leave. I want to have primary custody. I work at a job where I have flexibility in my schedule, and my bosses are accommodating folks, and I have no doubt I could make it work. But I need to make a good case.

I also, in spite of my baser lizard-brain instincts, don't feel it entirely fair to blindside the painted Jezebel my wife with this. On the other hand, she has lied about this in myriad ways, repeatedly, for a good while now. If she had come clean, told me all, and sworn it would never happen again, I might...might...have considered trying to work it out. She hasn't. She's declined repeatedly in the past to seek out counseling (with me or alone) for some of her issues around relationships. (n.b.: I, on the other hand, am seeking counseling.)

Specific questions to which I'd appreciate some reponses: How to do this respectfully? How to brace myself emotionally? How to get my ducks in a row, financially and otherwise (in ways I probably don't anticipate)? How do I tell my family, and what should I tell them when? How to deal with my inlaws when they're no longer my inlaws (I mostly like them a lot.)? Is it supremely evil of me to be tempted to find cheating-wife's-paramour's-wife and tell her everything I know, and are there potentially adverse legal consequences thereof (I'm calm about this at the moment, but not a doormat.)? How to finally broach this with the one who deserves more contempt than I can muster at the moment (though that will change, I'm sure). Most importantly, how do I help my son understand that his mom told a very bad lie, and broke a very important promise, and can't live with daddy anymore?

I am reading relevant statues about divorce and legal separation in my state, and seeking advice from friends as well. Thanks, hivemind.

So, experientially-based advice most welcome. I also am aware that while you may well be an attorney, you are not my attorney; I will seek competent legal counsel when the time comes.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You'll get a gaggle of good information here, and some bad too. This topic seems to bring out the psychos and their revenge fantasies for some reason.

I just wanted to chime in early and say I'm sorry.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:09 PM on January 3, 2007

i'm sorry for you, bro. mind you, the worst vice is advice, but here we go...

get your legal ducks in a row. as a male, you know that custody is hard to get unless the mother voluntarily gives it up or is a crack-head. make sure you have all that information together. you mentioned that your boss is flexible, make sure he is cuz you'll have to plead your case to a judge. the most important thing is to keep your emotions and your finances completely separated. you want her to to be painted as the bad guy, but you dont wanna be seen as the guy holding the brush.

as for your child, i dont know. i didnt have one at the time. but if i had to go thru it with a child that old, i'd tell her that he and you were headed to counseling and she could join you if she liked.

keep your head up, man. i wish i could be of more help.
posted by Davaal at 7:12 PM on January 3, 2007

I am going to pass along to you something that a dear friend said to me a while back when custody issues reared their ugly head:

"I know you are saying you need to prepare for war, but the way you are talking about it I feel as if I am watching you prepare to go down fighting, and it's not the same thing.

First off, I want to make sure that you know that fathers who come into courts prepared with real lawyers and proof of a passionate investment in their children statistically do very well."

My friend then went on a length to detail specifics in my case, which are irrelevant to you. But this friend's opening salvo was dead on the mark, and something that you should take into consideration. You don't need to demonize your wife, you don't need to be nasty or vengeful towards her. But by the same token, you need to calmly and firmly stand your ground. If you believe having primary custody is in the best interests of your child, then you need stand for that position and make no apologies. It's not about you, it's not about her, it's about your son. It's really that simple.
posted by Lokheed at 7:14 PM on January 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

I am sorry you are going through this. I too have lived through this nightmare with three daughters.

Here is the best advice I can give you: base all your decisions around the best interests of the child and don't speak ill of your estranged wife to your son either, because it will only increase his suffering and confusion. You obviously don't want to do this.
posted by dropkick at 7:14 PM on January 3, 2007

don't feel it entirely fair to blindside the painted Jezebel my wife with this ... Is it supremely evil of me to be tempted to find cheating-wife's-paramour's-wife and tell her everything I know ... How to brace myself emotionally? ... I'm worried about our son most of all. He's four, and just a fantastic kid all around.

I have a relative of the opposite sex going through something similar with a large family of kids, and had another relative say something about the situation that just slammed it home for me.

Paraphrasing, what he said was: "This person needs to stand up and show her kids how an adult handles this situation. That means, no screwing around, no attempts to avoid the situation or deal with it halfway. No heming, no hawing, no revenge, no recriminations, no bullshit. You meet it head on and seek the advice of good lawyers, therapists, accountants, etc. And you do it all visibly, aboveboard, with empathy and a sense of maturity and professionalism. That's how you show your sons what it means to be an adult. That's how you show your daughters what it means to be an adult woman."
posted by frogan at 7:16 PM on January 3, 2007 [6 favorites]

I feel for you, man; you're in a tough situation.

As for
Most importantly, how do I help my son understand that his mom told a very bad lie, and broke a very important promise, and can't live with daddy anymore?
that phrasing seems about right. Not too vague, not TMI. Just don't put him in the middle in any way (telling him to carry messages back and forth, quizzing him about time he spends with her, badmouthing her in front of him, anything like that) or let your soon-to-be-ex do the same--that stuff can mess a kid up.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 7:17 PM on January 3, 2007

Oh gosh, I wouldn't tell a 4-year old; his mom told a very bad lie, and broke a very important promise, and can't live with daddy anymore? Too confusing, too hurtful.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:24 PM on January 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming that you have made up your mind and that your decision is final:

I will of course tell you to get a lawyer. Start with one now and be as objective about the process as you can. If you wife gets wind of what you are planning, she may get a lawyer first and then it will become even more complicated for you.

You Do Not Need To Tell Your Son Why You Are Leaving Your Wife!. I really can't stress that enough. Under no circumstances are you or your wife to put your son between you regarding this issue. It is of no concern why, he only needs to know that you two will work your ass' off trying to make him fell loved and normal. This is a problem between you two, not you three.

Also, you may be getting ahead of yourself with many of these questions - as is understandable. Get a lawyer to help with the financials and logistics first before you do anything. A competent one will have some good advice.

Don't worry too much about telling family and friends. After you and your wife have discussed separating, you can tell them whatever you want. I would basically assume now that you will have no relationship to your in-laws other than through your son for the time being. That is understandable as they will likely need and want to support your wife during this. Don't start pitting family and friends against your wife. They are family and friends to you both. They will support both. Don't make them feel awkward that they don't see how horrible your wife really is. It's not their problem. Don't try to make them see it your way.

Also, get thee to a therapist who can help you deal with the anger and resentment. You want to end a bad relationship, not take an opportunity to make someone else feel as bad as they made you feel. The under-tone of your post makes me think that you may be seeking a way to get back at her a bit and let friends and family know that the reason you are leaving is due to her infidelity. If that's not the case, sorry. If it is, lose the attitude quickly. As I said in the beginning, if it really is over, look at this like a failed business and just cover your interests, don't burn bridges, and move on with your life - which incidentally will always include your ex due to your son. You're mad at her, but this is not the forum to make it known. Again, get a lawyer and follow their advice. Get a therapist and deal with your emotions. Take care of your son through all of this and don't try and "get back" at your wife for causing this all to happen.

Trust me, you will be infinitely happier years from now to take the high road on this.
posted by qwip at 7:25 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Most importantly, how do I help my son understand that his mom told a very bad lie, and broke a very important promise, and can't live with daddy anymore?

You don't. Whether his mom lied to you or not, whether the divorce is her fault or not, you are still parents together, and you never, ever show your child anything but a united front. "Sometimes, grown-ups just can't live together anymore, but that's not your fault, and we still love you" is what you tell him.

(This advice comes to you from someone whose separated spouse left the state with our child on Christmas Day, stayed disappeared for months until just before the temporary custody order came through on my behalf, and thus, paid no consequences and gets regular, extensive visiting time unsupervised with said child. It does nothing for my son to know what his dad did to me; that's still his dad.)
posted by headspace at 7:27 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

First of all, sorry to hear. It's a tough road ahead no matter which path you take.


Sam Margulies wrote an excellent book, Getting Divorced Without Ruining Your Life: A Reasoned, Practical Guide to the Legal, Emotional and Financial Ins and Outs of Negotiating a Divorce Settlement. I can strongly recommend it.

Financially, if you can go through mediation you'll save a ton. The book talks about it more. If it comes down to divorce you and you wife can choose to do the hard work yourselves (rather than pay two lawyers $300/hr EACH to do it for you) and draft your settlement paperwork yourselves. Naturally, with your son involved it may be more complex ... I asked my mediator what her "success" rate was when we first interviewed her. Her response (from memory) was something to the effect -- very few of my clients fail at mediation and have to go with adversarial lawyers, but for those who do my fee is just a drop in the bucket so it doesn't make sense to not at least try it first.

Also financially, it's devastating to both parties in the long term. Generally the wife gets the worst end of it, with a (I'm attempting to quote the book from memory) 70% *reduction* in standard of living. Be aware of this before making any decisions.

DivorceCare may be offered by your local church. Check it out. Also sign up for their daily emails. Make sure you have/find/build a strong support network around you ... you *will* need it.

Divorce is tough enough without going and doing stupid things ... scratch any plans to do anything devious or underhand.


Feel free to email me if you want any more on what I've outlined above.
posted by devbrain at 7:27 PM on January 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Be 100% sure it is over beyond redemption. Cheating is a terrible thing, but a lot of marriages survive it. The stakes are extremely high. Step carefully.
posted by Rumple at 7:29 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Please forgive me for what may seem harsh; I don't intend it that way, as you're obviously hurting. But I know you care about your son, so here goes:

Is it really necessary to explain how this is all Mom's fault, she's a liar, and she's so bad that even though she's an adult, she's being punished by not being allowed to live with Daddy anymore?

I mean, doesn't the four-year-old still need to respect his mother? Not from a discipline perspective, either, but from the perspective that she's his mother and it would break his heart to have her torn down like that. It's hard enough finding out your parents are mere humans when you're older.

You might want to work through some of your (completely justifiable) intense anger, disgust, and upset-ness before talking to your 4-year-old about how his life will be turned upside-down and why that's happening. Just being around those kinds of emotions -- and you won't be able to hide them completely from someone that young -- can be really hard on a tender young thing.
posted by amtho at 7:30 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

how do I help my son understand that his mom told a very bad lie, and broke a very important promise, and can't live with daddy anymore?

You don't because nothing good can come of it, simple as that.

You just tell him that Mommy and Daddy have decided to live in different houses but you both still love him very much and you never let him overhear anything he shouldn't. Let him figure it out for himself in 20 or 30 years, he doesn't need that kind of info about his mom, because she will always be his Mom.
posted by fshgrl at 7:30 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

...Yeah, on second thought, listen to LoriFLA, qwip et al.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 7:33 PM on January 3, 2007

Man, have I been there. Here's what I can tell you, 6 years after our divorce (and 3 years after I found out about my ex's affair, a week after I learned of my pregnancy).
1. Fantasize all you want about evil revenge. Don't do it. Not when you have a child involved. I totally agree with qwip about this.
2. Don't tell your son why you're splitting up. I've never told my daughter her dad had an affair and I never will, though sometimes I long to. He is her daddy, and making her feel bad about him will never make my life, or hers, any better. She doesn't need to know. Four, especially, is way too young. You just say "mommy and daddy can't live together any more, but we still love you".
3. Consider flexible, shared custody. We have done week on, week off for years. Doesn't work for lots of kids, does for ours. The early civility and flexibility I worked hard to show, as angry and hurt as I was, has paid off in spades now. We can be at the same soccer game together, trade custody days for special occasions (my birthday, his trip to Montana, etc) and work together on rules and consequences and expectations.
4. Remember, even if you get full custody, your wife will still see your/her son, and if you make things miserable for her, she'll likely deal it back to you in spades, and your son will be unhappily in the middle of this.

This feels like the worst thing in the world-I vividly remember how sick to my stomach I was for month with grief and anger. And it can pass, and you can be happy again. Good luck!
posted by purenitrous at 7:34 PM on January 3, 2007

echoing headspace and others - you tell your kid the mother is wonderful, not the opposite. You don't break a child's trust in its parent, ever.
posted by anadem at 7:44 PM on January 3, 2007

Yeah, whatever you do, don't say that, because someone told a lie, they can't live with you anymore - guess how he will feel the first time he tells a lie to you if you do that?

I don't live in the US and assume you do, but getting lawyers involved may not be your best bet. You may be better off to give all your belongings to your wife than having to sell them to pay the legal bills, which is not beyond a reasonable possibility by any means.

You haven't given any information about why you want to have primary custody - because you don't think your wife is capable of looking after him, or for revenge? Not accusing, just asking - it's an important question you need to ask yourself if you haven't already. my experience is that the family law system makes it pretty much impossible for fathers to get custody unless there are serious, provable, issues with the mother's ability to cope. No point getting upset at the fairness of the system at this point, just be prepared to work within the system. Would some form of joint custody be a better option? This would be more likely to be accepted by both your wife and the courts - if you go in with all guns blazing and claiming your wife is an unfit mother (which you are doing by default when you apply for custody), you will be required to prove your case beyond a doubt. Think about whether you can really do that and don't count on anything - you are about to find out the hard way who your friends are and who her friends are.

Good luck and be careful - it's a tough road you are headed down and there are lots of potholes. Before you commit to this action, think very carefully about whether you really need to separate or whether there is a possibility of working something out - it is conceivable that your wife doesn't know how serious things are and showing here this may change her perspective. Stranger things have happened.
posted by dg at 7:49 PM on January 3, 2007

I am not married, haven't been.

But I am the child of a protracted and bitter divorce.

You do not, ever, tell your child why. Certainly not at that age. What everyone else said above: "Mommy and Daddy decided to live in different houses, and they still love you very much." That's all.

Second, see a lawyer tomorrow morning. I'm not suggesting that you necessarily engage a lawyer for the divorce--mediation is, if you two can both be adults about it, by far the better option for everyone involved. But you do need to talk to someone to find out exactly what needs to happen in terms of financial issues, and lawyers tend to be the best in these situations.

Third, be aware that a lot of counselling will be needed. You're going to need counselling to deal with anger. Your son is going to need counselling to deal with separation issues and the emotional fallout from this.

But most importantly, when you have the discussion with your wife, you both need to agree, absolutely ironclad and no misunderstandings, that absolutely nothing is ever said to your son. You communicate directly through each other--or through counsel if it comes to that--and you put on a happy face every time the two of you are around your child.

Looking forward through the years: you both need to work out how to deal with things like school performances, parent-teacher interviews (it makes a lot more sense for both of you to be at a single interview, rather than the teacher having to do two), that sort of thing. Even further forward, you're going to have to agree together on boundaries around curfews and dating and all that sort of thing, just as if you were together. Trust me, you don't want to be in the position of "Yeah, well MOM lets me do it"--nor does she--and you want to be able to nip that BS in the bud.

I am deeply, deeply sorry that this has happened to your family. But please try and remember this: however much bitterness and anger you may have between the two of you, and however much it may be justified, first and foremost you are the parents of a small child.

purenitrous writes "3. Consider flexible, shared custody. We have done week on, week off for years."

Absolutely, but I'd refine to: two weeks/two weeks. It's a lot less unsettling than one/one. Alternate Christmas--do Xmas Eve/Day at one place, afternoon of Xmas day &boxing day at the other.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:57 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

IANAL, but I've been in your shoes, anonymous.

Any divorce involving real estate and custody issues is going to be expensive, particularly if the parties are having severe communication and trust issues. From the outset, you should approach this as an adversial proceeding, and let an experienced and successful divorce/domestic lawyer handle it. Don't look for fixed price "deals" and don't cheap out on your own representation, as the "no fault" processes applicable in many states for simple, uncontested divorces don't apply to you and yours, from what you've posted. Expect that your wife will be retaining her own counsel, too, and that the legal bills in this will easily run to 4 if not 5 figures. Mediation as devbrain describes it seems pretty unlikely to succeed for a relationship as badly broken as yours appears to be from what you've posted, and there is some risk that attempting a mediation can cause you to disclose information, or agree to things you might wish you hadn't, if mediation fails and you do need to approach this adversarially.

You might want to hire an investigator to obtain evidence regarding your wife's affair, but do this only on advice of your attorney. In some states, alienation of affection suits are still considered by courts, but your state may not be one in which lurid photographs or other evidentiary documentation is worth its cost, should you be able to procure it. Do preserve emails, written notes, phone messages or other evidence of the affair which may already be in your possession (and put such materials in possession of your attorney), but recognize that your attorney is not going to be particularly interested in it, except as an initial salve to your ego, and that such documents are highly unlikely to be used in court.

Once you've retained counsel, provide them with the financial statements and information they'll need to file for divorce, and file promptly. Unless your lawyer advises otherwise, it would be good if you can remove yourself physically from the household to new living quarters, even if all you can afford is a rented room in someone else's house. Your living expenses are likely to go up sharply under any temporary orders from the court, and you may need to get a second job to keep yourself afloat, and take care of the legal bills during your divorce. You may or may not get joint custody or what you'll consider reasonable visitation during the divorce process, but it's unlikely, if your wife is going to play hardball, and take on the role of the accused but innocent defendant, who wants to keep her home and family together. Whether you like it or not, in an adversarial divorce process, your feelings and concern for your child are likely to be used against you, as are any remaining feelings of loyalty or concern towards your family. Do what your lawyer advises about setting up seperate accounts for yourself immediately, and change your direct deposit instructions, withholding and health care designations only as appropriate. But do what you can legally to seperate your finances as soon as possible.

If you have any weapons, advise your attorney of that, and do what is necessary to put them beyond your control during the divorce process. Expect that for at least the year after you file that you are going to be getting regular doses of news you don't like, and that few things about the process are going to seem sensible to you. You may be served with a restraining order, by cops coming to your workplace, simply as a tactic on your wife's part. You may hear mis-information and accusations about your conduct from mutual acquaitances or friends. You may be denied access to your marital home, except for a sherriff supervised visit to remove your possessions. You may be required to give up your keys to the home, and to find a new mail address. In most jurisdictions, an adverserial divorce is going to take at least 9 months to a year to complete, and the process can drag on much longer than that if the participants are willing to keep hassling one another.

Divorce lawyers are frequently faced with having to get two uncooperative spouses to agree to something the court can rubber stamp, and they are going to be working on you and your wife a lot more than they are going to be whittling on each other. Your pain and desire to get on with life are the most powerful tools they have for getting you to agree to a settlement they can present to the court. If you want equitable treatment, make your best offers up front, in line with the recommendations of your lawyer and court guidelines and worksheets, and don't reconsider or negotiate. You may want sole custody, but if that wouldn't seem warranted by the facts of your wife's life, don't fly that as a trial balloon. Demand joint custody, and a schedule for the child's living situation that is reasonable, and don't back down from that. In the same way, offer a fair division of marital assets at the outset, and stay with that offer. Negotiating anything is often seen by opposing parties as an acceptance of negotiating everything. She and you will ultimately get what the law allows, if you're not able to get to a jointly agreed settlement, so offer what the law allows out of the starting gate, and stick with that.

No matter how wronged you feel now, you're bound to feel more wronged, and much more isolated as you go through a divorce process. It's really important that you have some people with whom you can share the frustration and pain, but surprisingly, those people may not be your family and long term friends. They are certianly not your lawyers. And even psychologist and marriage/relationship counselors don't have all the answers. You really have to construct a network of resources for yourself that can handle various aspects of rebuilding your life. It would be very good if you possibly can to join some men's groups, perhaps even the YMCA, or maybe church or civic groups in your area, as you may find that new male friends are best able to see you fairly as a man going through personal changes, and trying to do it honorably. Burning off anger and frustration in healthy excercise is much better than keeping it bottled up inside, too.

My advice is don't start dating again, obviously, until the divorce is final, particularly if there are custody issues at stake. A year without female companionship may seem a monk's existence, but you don't need any extra expense, drama, or emotional baggage in your life during a divorce process, and any liasons you develop during a divorce tend to drain energy and focus from reconstructing your life in the best way you can. I think you'll find that taking a year off from romance after the divorce is final is even a pretty interesting prospect, once you reach that stage. Some of the best times of my life, and certianly the best vacations, have been as a bachelor, who is not "looking."

It's vital for your own well being, and that of your child, that you come through this process a stronger, wiser, more resourceful man. Living well, and finding new rewards in life, really is the best revenge, because finally, it is not revenge at all.
posted by paulsc at 8:27 PM on January 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

Talk to a lawyer, but frankly, don't expect to get primary custody unless your wife is somehow rather unfit as a parent (cheating on you does not make her unfit as a parent, only as a spouse). Consider mediation to settle your divorce more amicably. That is what is best for your son. Also, don't sweat the current assets too much unless it looks grossly unfair, worry more about future obligations. If you make this a battle you hurt only yourself and your son, even if you technically "win." Of course, that is easier said than done once the emotions start running hot. Good luck.
posted by caddis at 8:33 PM on January 3, 2007

I notice that you've got question mark about the inevitability of this divorce. Given that, I would suggest that you give her an ultimatum: marriage counseling (regularly for at least six months) or divorce.

I did this and feel it was a very good move for me emotionally: it gave my wife a chance to demonstrate that she cared about the marriage and was willing to work hard for it; When she declined ("We don't need marriage counseling...") I divorced her with a relatively clean conscience. Not because she was a bad woman, but because the marriage just wasn't going to work without two committed partners.

I also, in spite of my baser lizard-brain instincts, don't feel it entirely fair to blindside the painted Jezebel my wife with this.

It sounds to me like you've reached a pretty good place in terms of sense of humor and compassion about this. Try to stay there. There will be plenty of time for righteous anger later, when it won't get in the way of helping your child and yourself through this.

I chose a them for my divorce: Integrity. No matter how angry I got (or wishy-washy for that matter) I just kept returning to that basic theme. This worked really well for me when things go sticky. You might try it.

Good luck with this situation. I hope you manage to end things well, or perhaps even pull back from the brink.
posted by tkolar at 8:49 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

The most I know about any of this is that a person needs to be sane, mature, thoughtful, and gracious to do it right. And it sounds to me like you are. I don't envy you, but I think you'll be OK.
posted by eritain at 8:49 PM on January 3, 2007

Oh yes...

Is it supremely evil of me to be tempted to find cheating-wife's-paramour's-wife and tell her everything I know[...]

It's human to be tempted, but screwing up someone else's marriage is not something your karma needs right now. Your wife is the one who has wronged you -- the guy is just a meat puppet she used as a prop.
posted by tkolar at 8:55 PM on January 3, 2007

My mother bailed on her marriage when I was four and my sister five. My dad got sole custody (I believe he made it a condition on his not contesting the divorce, and she agreed). I have not seen her since.

That's hard-core and not the same situation as yours, but maybe relevant in this way: My father's primary concern was protecting my sister and me, and giving us a stable home. I do not remember any explanations given for my mother's departure and certainly no judgments; she had gone on a "long trip," initially, and after that she faded from memory.

A four-year-old is not old enough to remember much of what's happened to this point. But he will remember what happens from here on out. So I agree with the above posters who say, leave the reasons for your conflict with your wife out of the matter when dealing with your son. Model the kind of love and forbearance you'd like him to show, later on. There is time in the future to talk to him about the whys (if necessary).

I'm very sorry that you're going through this.
posted by torticat at 8:57 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Most importantly, how do I help my son understand that his mom told a very bad lie, and broke a very important promise, and can't live with daddy anymore

You don't. My ex and I have had a firm understanding that we never slag the other parent in front of the child, who deserves to love and respect both parents. This has worked very well.

We arranged shared custody, week-on, week-off. It became totally routine. We even have had slightly different rules in each house, and that's worked all right. At my place, we do things this way; at your Mum's place, she makes the rules. No worries.

My daughter was five, is now almost twelve, and is as happy and well-adjusted as can be.

I do suggest that you offer your wife the option of counselling before divorce. Even if it doesn't work, you are likely to achieve a cleaner split. Whatever you do, try and maintain the moral high ground. No revenge. No digs. No nothing. Behave well and enjoy the respect of people who admire your restraint. Your son will thank you later.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:20 PM on January 3, 2007

If you tell you son that a lie split you up he will spend the rest of his life expecting you to stop loving him because of a mistake he makes.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:38 PM on January 3, 2007 [4 favorites]

Just rereading other people's answers, I just want to say that this absolutely echoes my experience:

3. Consider flexible, shared custody. We have done week on, week off for years. Doesn't work for lots of kids, does for ours. The early civility and flexibility I worked hard to show, as angry and hurt as I was, has paid off in spades now. We can be at the same soccer game together, trade custody days for special occasions (my birthday, his trip to Montana, etc) and work together on rules and consequences and expectations.

Don't be a man, be a mensh.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:52 PM on January 3, 2007

Picking a divorce attorney isn't something one does everyday. Let me offer a few thoughts on that important choice.

A lot is going to depend on the jurisdiction in which you bring suit. If you live in a big city, there may be hundreds or even thousands of attorneys that handle divorces, from whom you can choose. In a rural setting, the divorce bar might be as few as 10 or 15 people who handle the bulk of these cases. In a large city, you might be tempted to look in the yellow pages, ask some divorced friends for recommendations, or write down numbers from freeway billboards. In a rural community, you might do better visiting the courthouse and watching a few sessions of family court. You might even walk by a few crying plaintiffs and defendants out in the corridors, being counseled by their attorneys, and see which attorneys appear to be best at giving counsel in a hard time. Of course, you can do this in larger cities, too. You can check posted dockets for the names of attorneys frequently appearing. You can ask a lot of people standing around in hallways for their recommendations, and make note of names frequently mentioned. You can actually meet attorneys you observe, and get their cards and some initial sense of the kinds of people they are, and whether you'll be able to work with them through a difficult year.

There's a lot to be said for visiting the courthouse, when shopping for a lawyer.

If your divorce turns out to be an adverserial case requiring courtroom work, an older attorney with an established practice can give you considerable information about dockets, court schedules, and the predilections of judges and court officers handling your case. The law is the law, but the people administering the law are human beings. Good attorneys understand this, and get a reputation for moving cases through the system effectively, which is in everybody's interests. Going with an attorney who is appearing regularly in the courthouse is good for you, if your case is going to require court time. If you can get time to do it, you could learn a lot about the process, and particularly about an attorney, by attending court for a day. Going with a low cost attorney that does bulk no-fault filings, and rarely appears in court, if your case is going to require court time, is not in your best interests, believe me.

It is fair and expected to ask an attorney about his/her practice and experience, before hiring them. A lot of divorce practitioners are individuals, or small firm partners. Divorce law is a fairly low cost, low risk area of practice, and attracts a lot of young lawyers, or people who don't like the pressure of corporate law, or the competitive side of big firms. But it also attracts iconoclasts at the ends of their legal careers, who often have an interest in human nature, and a lowered expectation of remuneration. My advice is that you are looking for gray hair, and the folds and wrinkles in a face that only constant disappointments in human nature, and a lifetime of rueful laughing can put there.

However you choose an attorney, divorce law for the American middle class is a retail volume business. You're not a wealthy couple, and you're not, so far as you've posted, the relatives of wealthy or famous people who would have an interest in supporting your legal expenses. So, for you, the billing model is generally a straight hourly fee for service arrangement, unlike personal injury law, where contingency fee arrangements are the norm. Typcially, you pay an up front retainer sufficient to cover the bulk of anticipated services, and receive regular statements of billing against that retainer. You are typically asked to make additional retainer payments in advance if the fees anticipated are substantial, against the anticipated schedule. The lawyer may pay court fees, messenger services, and related fees such as paralegal research, court reporting, and witness fees against your retainer, or refer them to you for payment. Be sure to discuss all this and understand it in advance. Nothing is worse for your case than getting behind in paying your lawyer, because an unpaid lawyer is a lawyer not spending any time or attention on your affairs when it may be needed.

Your lawyer is first and foremost, an officer of any court in which he practices, and secondly, a member of the bar in his/her practice jurisdiction. After that they are the sole proprietors of their legal business, or partners or stockholders in a professional legal firm. After all that, they are your lawyer. Unsurprisingly, their loyalties follow their interests, except as such conflicts are resolved specifically by canons and ethics. But no divorce attorney is going to want to represent a client that presents significant ethical issues, not that you would. What I'm trying to point out, is that any attorney you hire that is worth their salt, is going to be trying to package up you and your case, present them to a judge for cursory inspection and decree, and get you out of the courthouse, in as whole a shape as possible. And thereafter, cash immediately any final checks you've presented for services rendered.

You're not a hiring a friend. You're only tangentially hiring an advocate. You're mainly buying some time of an officer of the court. But along with some time, you can buy some wisdom, if you hire an experienced person, can ask simple questions, and shut up and listen to the answers. If you're marked as a "good client" in the attorney's mind, you'll get the human consideration you need, in the 10 most critical minutes you need it, and that will be worth more than what ever you pay, in total.

Once you've engaged an attorney, do exactly what your attorney tells you to do. If you don't understand advice you're given, or if you disagree or think you know something that would change the advice you've been given, ask before doing something else, but always do what you've been told (or refrain from doing what you've been told not to do), not what you want to do in any questionable situation. Forward copies of anything you recieve from your wife or other interested party to your attorney, for your file. Don't correspond directly with your wife or her family or friends, and refer them to your attorney. Briefly recap your case at every meeting or correspondence with your attorney, as they'll be handling 50 to 100 similar cases, and you can't expect they'll be opening your file for recent updates, every time you call or write them. Write them, rather than call them. Lawyers are generally better at remembering written communications, than in responding to verbal communications. Email works for some attorneys, but not for all. If email is an important communication channel for you, verify it is a preferred communication channel for your attorney, or you'll be emailing a paralegal or secretary most of your case time.

Finally, if you've had a good experience with a divorce attorney, refer, refer, refer. Statistically, 1/2 the people you know will be getting divorced, and after you've been through the mill, you're in a unique position to refer. And who knows, you may, God help you, be a repeat customer yourself. It happens.
posted by paulsc at 10:15 PM on January 3, 2007 [6 favorites]

hmmm. this is my take on some points:
1 are you absolutely sure that your wife's infidelity is a deal-breaker? you may find, some way down the line, that keeping the family together is a better option.
2 remember that if you divorce, and if you want to carry on seeing your son, you are going to have to carry on seeing your wife, for 10-15 years minimum i guess. you absolutely will benefit from a civilised relationship with her. just put aside your pain and your hurt for a moment, and remember that once you do separate and divorce the likelihood is that both of you will at some point be seeing and having sex with other people, i e what would be deemed unfaithfulness within marriage will then be the acceptable norm. what i'm leading up to is this: don't let your wife's unfaithfulness, and your hurt at it, spoil the future. DON'T tell your son that his mother told a bad lie and broke an important promise, because if you hurt her reputation with your son it could backfire on you: either he will feel bad (kids love their mums) or she will feel bad and may find a way to make you pay. make a deal with his mother (you're going to have to make umpteen deals with her in future, so start now...) and just tell him that you and mummy are not getting along well any more and that although you both love him, the son, to bits you've decided to live apart. make sure he realises he's not going to lose contact with either of you.
3 i don't know about the legal situation, but going to see your wife's lover's spouse could well put a spoke in her relationship. the thing to ask yourself is, apart from revenge, which is an understandable but not very useful ambition, what actual good can it do you? apart from anything else, how grown-up and sensible will it make you look if there is a legal tussle over your son?
posted by londongeezer at 10:29 PM on January 3, 2007

You know what I think?

I think you can be right.

Or you can handle this in a way that is human and leaves your son with a family, whether his mom and dad are still married or not.

But I don't think you can do both.

And in this post, you mostly sound like you really, really, really want to be RIGHT. And I don't think many people would blame you for that: being betrayed by someone you love is a pretty awful experience.

But I don't think that means that taking the painted Jezebel for all she's worth/ratting her out to her boyfriend's wife/informing your four-year-old son that Mommy is a terrible woman/any other satisfying revenge fantasies you may be having right now are good ideas.

By all means, seek legal counsel. Your lives are joined in many ways, and if you're determined to separate yourself from her, ask a professional for advice on how to do so as neatly as possible.

But don't give in to the voice telling you how terribly wronged you are and how much you deserve to let everyone in the world know. Because whatever decisions you make right now, you and your wife and your mutual families and your actual kid will have to deal with those for the rest of your lives, long after the temporary thrill of everyone knowing that she's the jerk and you're the totally innocent victim has passed.

Once upon a time you loved this woman enough to join your life to hers and make a child with her: I think you owe it to that past, to yourself and, mostly, to your son to be a good man about how you handle this.

Even if you disagree with me, please, please, please don't follow through on your fantasies about telling your son awful things about his mom.

Please. It won't actually make your kid realize that you love him more/are a better person/whatever, it'll just hurt him in a way you won't fully understand until you've spent thousands of dollars on his therapy bills when he's a teenager.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:37 PM on January 3, 2007 [5 favorites]

Sorry to hear about this.

I was also a child of shared custody and it worked well for us. 3 days a week at dad's, 4 at mom's.

After a while it was actually kind of fun to have two rooms and two houses to go to.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:39 PM on January 3, 2007

"... I want him to have this house to grow up in, not whatever his mom is able to find when I ask her to leave. ..."

It's unlikely she's going to be the one to leave. Not impossible, but unlikely, particularly if the question of custody is contested, anonyomous. You could be lucky to get your clothes and shaving kit out of there, in most jurisdictions, even if you file first, and thus become the plaintiff. The question of the child's welfare being paramount to most considerations of occupancy of the marital home, and the mother still supposed to be the more important parent in an child's formative years in most jurisdictions, you're statistically a lot more likely to be the king of the road in this brouhaha.

How do you know she hasn't already talked to a lawyer?

Welcome to divorce, American style.
posted by paulsc at 10:58 PM on January 3, 2007

i will stress again: consider what you may end up with after divorce, especially if your wife decides to try to prevent access to your son (see a lawyer and get the hard realities); consider whether you can still get along with your wife, even if not love her like you once did; consider whether you really want to end your marriage at this time.

and here's another point: if you split now, when your son is four, and for whatever reason your wife manages to make it hard or impossible for you to see him, then you are going to fade somewhat from his consciousness. but wait, say, five more years to split and you will figure much more permanently in his mind, and moreover he will be able to articulate his own views on who he sees, who he lives with, and these views may carry weight in a dispute. is that cynical? maybe, maybe not; i'd call it looking after your own legitimate interests and, if you believe you have much to give your son, looking after his interests too. so, don't get mad, get calculating. although the question is, in this instance, could you make the peace with your wife for five more years? because it wouldn't be fair to expose your son to adult emotional warfare.
posted by londongeezer at 11:34 PM on January 3, 2007

I'll give you the best advice I was given when I was going through the same problem:
"I don't know man, it's up to you."

I'm sorry if that doesn't help, but that really worked for me. No answer is going to be perfect for you other than one you come up with yourself. I recommend counseling of some sort, I wish I had done it in retrospect. I ended up "kicking her ass to the curb" as I like to put it, but I'm sort of vengeful. I probably would have been kinder, but still divorced her, with counseling. Also, I probably would feel better about the whole thing and not have gone through as long and stressful a "mourning period" as I have done.
As far as your specific questions, I only feel competent to adress several of them, and only in light of my own experience.

How do I tell my family, and what should I tell them when?
I would start talking with your family post-haste. My family was ane of the ultimate pillars of support that I had throughout the entire trauma.

Is it supremely evil of me to be tempted to find cheating-wife's-paramour's-wife and tell her everything I know,

No, I don't think it's evil, but I do think that it's a waste of time and not worth it for you. I don't think you should worry about anybody other than yourself here.

How to finally broach this with the one who deserves more contempt than I can muster at the moment (though that will change, I'm sure).

I ultimately just came home early and kicked her out in a big fuss. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. I had tried to "work it out" with her beforehand, and she showed no signs of being honestly trying to change her behavior, so I just told her to pack her crap and go. Earlier in the relationship, I had simply approached her honestly about it, listened to her weeping confessions, and tried to fix things. Now, I feel like that was all a complete and utter waste of time. I should have just kicked her out on day one. And yes, I loved her and wanted to make the relationship work, but sometimes you just can't.

I'm sorry I can't address the issue of your child, I don't have one.

In the end, it's just you, though. I wish you the best of luck. I know from experience that this is a TERRIBLE place to be in your life, and I honestly hope you come through it a better person. I feel that I have.
Best of luck, and you have my sympathy and empathy.
posted by eparchos at 11:46 PM on January 3, 2007

Regarding what to tell your son: I don't think that a four-year-old really needs to hear details or incrimination or anything ("we decided to live apart, but we still love you" is good enough), but once he is old enough to understand, I think you really need to tell him why the break-up happened if he asks about it. Don't tell him in a bitter or mean way, but don't cover up the facts of the matter forever.

Yes, the truth might shake his trust in his Mom, but not nearly as much as some elaborate twenty-year conspiracy of silence and/or lies is going to. Kids are not stupid, not even at four; he probably already knows that something is wrong between Mom and Dad, and you owe him the truth about that. In my experience as a one-time kid, "letting the kid figure it out on their own" does not make for an atmosphere of trust. When and if your son does "figure it out on his own", he is probably going to feel betrayed by your silence.
posted by vorfeed at 12:49 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

1. Don't explain to the kid until he's old enough to face the same situation.

2. Don't write off your wife. People do stupid things and throw away the only real happiness in their lives. Don't play games with her trying to get her to confess. Tell her you want to have a serious conversation, and ask her... what the hell?

3. I don't know why she's doing this. She might be doing this because she's not getting her needs met at home, she might be doing it because she doesn't really care about you. When you understand, it will be easier to figure out what to do.

Dan Savage has a book called "The Commitment" which is a great read. He argues in the book the fidelity is a hard thing to do, and occasional failures often ruin what would otherwise have been a long, happy, and successful marriage.
posted by ewkpates at 3:15 AM on January 4, 2007

A very stressful time for you. My only thought is that your son should know he is loved by both parents. Frankly, I don't think you are ready for divorce. Maybe close. If she won't get counseling with or without you and won't recognize what problems she has created, perhaps that is your only alternative.
I think you will be ready for divorce when both you and your wife can know that it is the best thing. As someone I heard one time say: "you are so not ready for divorce", until you can walk away from your marriage and not be bitter and hateful. You are justifiably hurt and humiliated. Can you step back and consider your son to be the first priority right now?

I don't see it as a given that you will keep the house. There is another side (besides yours) in this equation.

Just don't trash your wife, now or ever. It is never good. Disagree with her but don't be so angry and hurt that you destroy the hope you have for your son in his future. He needs you and he needs his mom. Get past the anger and move on whether it be couseling or ultimately divorce.
posted by JayRwv at 4:30 AM on January 4, 2007

Lots of good advice here, so I'll just put in a few points. I was married for 10 years, and have been separated/divorced for nearly as long, with one child in the mix. I didn't have an affair, though I very nearly did, and I think my ex pretty firmly believes that I did. That wasn't really the issue, though--infidelity, whether actually consummated or not, is more a symptom than a cause, I think.

Lawyer up, and soon. It doesn't have to be terribly expensive, but it is a necessity. I remember paying mine about $1000 total, but the divorce was (essentially) uncontested, and my lawyer didn't have to go to court.

If you do decide to go through with it, get your child some books on the subject. Borders and the like have good selections of them. Read through them first, though, to make sure they're sending the message you want.

And as far as telling friends and relatives, well, that won't be easy. It'll be a real bitch, actually. So don't even bother worrying about how to make it easy--you won't succeed at that, so just forge ahead and do it. Hell, that's good advice for most of the process. 9 years later, it's still not easy, but it does get better.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:24 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

(1) Get a lawyer, now.
(2) Tell close family that you trust
(3) Prepare Exit plan. (where you will be living, etc.) Do you want the house?
(4) Continue going to therapy.

I think you're already doing well, as far as you can.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:03 AM on January 4, 2007

You may be apprehensive about leaving the house, especially when your son is still there, but the same situation happened for my parents and my father ended up being the one who retained the house, although he pretty much had to start the mortgage over and my mother didn't have to pay a cent for her new condo.
posted by furtive at 8:20 AM on January 4, 2007

This might seem a little silly, but it echoes some of the comments made earlier, so I'll go ahead with it.

I generally try to model my life after Cary Grant. No, not the real Cary Grant with his five marriages and possible bisexuality, but the movie Cary Grant who was always charming, debonaire, and a perfect gentlemen. In one movie (I think it was The Awful Truth with Irene Dunne, but I'm not sure), there's a scene which pretty well sums up the Cary Grant ethos.

It goes something like this. Cary Grant's wife has fallen in love with another man, and so they are in the process of getting a divorce. Back then, of course, we didn't have no-fault divorces, and so there had to be some reason (usually infidelity, often caught on film by seedy gumshoe detectives staking out the no-tell motels, but that's another movie). Anyways, to protect the honor of his soon-to-be ex-wife, Cary Grant volunteers to tell the judge that he had been having an affair.

I don't know how accurate my memory is, but man, that story (whether true or not!) has really stayed with me.

OK, so it's only a movie, but there's still a lesson here. When you look back at these events, years from now, do you want to be the person who was petty, cruel, vindictive, and spiteful, or do you want to be the kind, thoughtful, considerate gentlemen who did the best he could for his son and, yes, for his wife? I'd say stick with tkolar's advice, and choose the path of integrity.

(I'm not saying that you should be a total doormat and let people walk all over you. I am saying that you consider carefully what would be best for your son, for your wife, and for yourself, and then do the best you can to follow that path. And under no account tell your son that Mommy's a painted Jezebel and got kicked out of the house. That's not what Cary Grant would say.)
posted by math at 8:41 AM on January 4, 2007 [5 favorites]

Consult an attorney BEFORE you talk to your wife or anyone else. There are mistakes that you can make very early on in this process that will affect the outcome, and you should get advice so that you can avoid them. For example, in some cases, the house is more likely to be awarded to the person currently living in it and primary custody is more likely to be awarded to the person currently living with the child. On the other hand, action that can be construed as kicking your wife out or keeping her from the child may be held against you. A lawyer will be able to tell you how to proceed without jeopardizing your chances for getting what you want in the settlement. Do not talk to anyone else about this until you have consulted an attorney.
posted by decathecting at 10:45 AM on January 4, 2007

Tons of good advice. I just want to nth the statement that you do not tell your son anything beyond some very basic version of the "mommy and daddy are living apart now; it isn't your fault; we love you and always will." You will do him a grave disservice if you shatter his image of his mom like that, plus you will simultaneously instill the fear in him that if he tells a lie or otherwise makes a bad mistake, he'll have to leave the house too. I've seen this happen to kids (and to adults who had it done to them as kids), and the damage done by a parent just being "honest" with a child about the Very Bad Thing mommy or daddy did to lead to the divorce can last a lifetime.
posted by scody at 10:51 AM on January 4, 2007

... primary custody is more likely to be awarded to the person currently living with the child ...
I forgot about this - courts will sometimes look at the status quo and, unless, there is a good reason to, won't change it.
posted by dg at 3:52 PM on January 4, 2007

One more voice saying Don't tell your child that his Mom lied or cheated. Tell your child, over and over again, that the 2 of you decided you needed to be apart. The more you do to help your child have a healthy relationship with his Mom, the happier and healthier he'll be. Think about what kind of man you want him to grow up to be. Think about helping him have a happy childhood.

Help your child stay close to grandparents and his extended family, but that's your wife's support network, and I'd back off. I miss my sisters-in-law, but they're his family.

Work on your own anger. It's never as one-sided as it seems, and you may have some personal growth opportunities.
posted by theora55 at 4:03 PM on January 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

« Older Should I buy a Mac ahead of MacWorld?   |   Thoughts on consulting: Hell or just Heck? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.