How do we break up as smoothly as possible?
October 10, 2007 8:09 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to know what to expect when my girlfriend and I break up. We've been together for nearly 10 years and we have a four-year-old daughter. I've been through breakups before, but never with so much time, energy, or property involved, not to mention a child.

It's looking pretty inevitable at this point.

I know that other members have been in similar situations, so I'm appealing to the collective experience of the HiveMind. I know that I'm going to have to get an apartment, figure out a schedule for time with my daughter, get the utilities squared away and all that, but I'm sure that there's no end of things I'm not thinking of, and I'd like to be prepared.

Common property includes a car, two computers, and ten year's worth of stuff. No house though.

So, what can I expect? What fussy details blind-sided you when you went through this? All input is welcome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Let me be the first to say that after 10 years and a child you need to get a lawyer.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:27 PM on October 10, 2007

What state do you live in? Might you be common-law married? If so, you really need a lawyer.
posted by clh at 8:49 PM on October 10, 2007

To be honest from the way I've seen these things work, when you don't have that much stuff or money, is whoever is keeping the kid the majority of the time gets about 80% of the stuff.

Practically, just not that much else can happen. If you only have one household full of stuff, one car, and not a ton of money to replace it all, you aren't left with many options that won't totally upend your kid's life. While some people may think this is horrendous advice, just from seeing family and friends go through it, it was the most stress free way to go and all of them say they are glad they did. Fighting over the loveseat and dvd player just isn't worth it and once again you have to remember you aren't just giving it to your ex, your keeping your home intact for your child.

One caveat, even if you and your ex are on good terms when all is said in done, absolutely get a lawyer to formally draw up your custody agreement. It's a good way to make sure you both understand what you have agreed to, to avoid misunderstandings in the future and you never know what could be the situation 5 or 10 years from now.
posted by whoaali at 8:59 PM on October 10, 2007

Depending on the situation you could get a mediator rather than a lawyer. Could be more likely to get a positive outcome.
posted by alms at 9:02 PM on October 10, 2007

Even if you go the mediator route, you still need a lawyer to tell you what the law in your state says. Don't skimp here, a child is involved. A mediator allows you to figure out a solution. He or she will NOT tell you what the law is. To do so would be unethical on his or her part. Usually the parties in a mediation are represented by lawyers.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:31 PM on October 10, 2007

You will need a legal custody agreement and also agreement about child support. A helpful book that gives you somethings to think about in terms of parenting is called "Mom's House, Dad's House"
posted by metahawk at 9:34 PM on October 10, 2007

Definitely get a custody agreement drawn up. Don't ignore this, or think that things will just "work out." It might, but sometimes things can go horribly, horribly wrong. Even if you can't go to a lawyer for yourself, do it for your child, just to make sure that she'll have both of you in her life later.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:14 PM on October 10, 2007

Nthing the lawyer. Not just to get the custody and support on paper legal-like, but also so you will be able to handle insurance and tax stuff with less hassle.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:34 AM on October 11, 2007

Nthing the custody agreement or Joint Parenting Agreement depending on where you are. This will spell out details like when the child is sick at what point does the co-parent need to be contacted, report cards, etc - things that will come up and may cause friction. It's best to get everything covered NOW.
It may seem that immediate concerns are overwhelming but you will have to continue your relationship for at least the next 15 years - when your 4 year old has either gone to college or joined the circus. A good legal framework now will save much heartache over the years. There is more conflict long term over school/sports/health issues than child support. (I do this for a living)
posted by readery at 6:24 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Spend a lot of time making sure your child understands that it's not his/her fault. Repeat this over time. Divorce is incredibly hard on kids. Mine was 5 when his dad moved out, and he fell apart. I've seen many parents say that their kids are fine, but the kids are losing it at school, acting out, and grieving; sometimes the p[arents are too overwhelmed to cope. Also plan ahead for what you'll do as you child grows up - how custody might be adapted, and what you'll do if 1 parent wants to move. Read up on co-parenting.
posted by theora55 at 7:30 AM on October 11, 2007

What fussy details blind-sided you when you went through this?

Since the lawyer up advice has been nth-ed and repeated, I'm going to focus on this part. This may seem completely trivial and dumb but at the end of my first long term (7 years but no children)/living together relationship one detail blindsided me and still bothers me slightly. It is the loss of books. We pooled our book collection and when we split he ended up with all of my books. It's weird how much that bothered me. It still can if I dwell on it. So be sure to amicably split the book/c.d./d.v.d collections.

The lack of noise in the new apartment also blindsided me. You get used to the noise of living a daily life with someone. When it turns to silence it is profound.
posted by hecho de la basura at 7:40 AM on October 11, 2007

If you can (financially speaking) I would take this as an opportunity to take the higher ground and give all the material posessions to your ex and your kid. It would be a fresh start all around.

The rest though should be ironed out with a lawyer.

Also try not to ever speak ill of your ex in front of your child. I would also ask the mother to try and do the same for you.
posted by rdurbin at 8:35 AM on October 11, 2007

It's been said, but in my experience, it can't be said enough in this situation. Get a lawyer. Especially as depending on location you're married by common-law. Heck, in Ontario after 3 years of cohabitation you're good as wed.

Failing that, get any and everything in writing. My wife's ex-hubbie was relatively amicable upon divorce, and agreed to a lot of things, even in front of other witnesses. However 2 months out of the door, and listening to his parents harp on him (and footing his lawyer bills), and suddenly she was hit with a "learning experience." Court's don't care much about he said, she said; even with witnesses.

While in the middle of Ms. nobeagle's dirvorce a friend of her's was splitting with her husband, and Ms. nobeagle reminded her of our story. But no; "it's different for us. He's promissing child support, and some initial money to help me get setup. I've lived with him for 15 years, I can trust him. Besides, I can't find money for a lawyer right now." 2 months later, she was forced to go looking for a lawyer after the house was sold, but she ended up with no proceeds; was recieving no child support ("I don't remember agreeing to anything."), while trying to feed 3 kids with no where permanent to stay, and only the money she could borrow from friends/family. Finding money for a lawyer was much harder then I bet, but she found it.

Get a lawyer; it's not different for you, and even so, just consider it to be hurricane insurance in Florida.

Even if you try to skimp and avoid the lawyer, get everything in writing. I'm not planning on leaving ms. nobeagle, and suing for her inheritence which is solely in her name (see, previous hubby), but when she asked for the insurance policy of a prenupt, I signed without hesitation because I believe in my word.

If someone won't put their word in writing, it's not their word, and they're planning on keeping sole custody of the kid/possessions/demanding more support/or just general lying through their teeth.
posted by nobeagle at 9:34 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's looking pretty inevitable at this point.

This is not the time to be getting a lawyer. This is the time to be pouring all your energy and resources into making this thing work. Commit yourself. Get a counselor. Do everything you possibly can to keep both feet in the door until you actually break it off. You owe it to yourself and your relationship with your child, which will suffer if you're the non-custodial parent.

Once you actually break it off, take all your money out of your joint savings accounts immediately (be fair). If you have any credit cards, gas cards, etc. that she has access to, cancel them or cancel her access. Back up any important files, photos, etc. from your shared computer.

Then get a lawyer. Make it clear to the lawyer that she is the mother of your child and you have no wish to punish her. If she stayed at home with your child instead of working, prepare to help support her as she slowly re-enters the working world. Keep in mind that whatever you do to make her life harder, makes your child's life harder.

Good luck.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:42 AM on October 11, 2007

take all your money out of your joint savings accounts immediately (be fair)

This should read "Take your share of your money out of your joint savings accounts immediately (be fair)"
posted by sondrialiac at 11:44 AM on October 11, 2007

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