Another one bites the dust... divorce advice?
May 12, 2008 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Is there some good advice you wish you had been given when your marriage or LTR ended? A practical "to-do" list if you will.

My sister's 5-year common-law relationship appears to be ending as her husband/boyfriend informed her this weekend that it was over. There is a history of infidelity on his part and for a long time the relationship has been broken. She had lots of advice from friends and family to DTMFA but she stuck it out, trying to make it work, and now she is the dumpee.

They have no kids, a jointly-owned mortgaged home, separate cars and car loans (I think), separate bank accounts, no excessive unsecured debt, and are both securely employed. To my knowledge he did not actually leave the house but she did take off for the weekend to get away.

Obviously she is not ready for this advice quite yet because she is still in shock and tears but over the next weeks, if indeed she wants advice, I would like to have a list of things for her to think about and be mindful of emotionally, financially and in any other way you may think appropriate. For legal issues she is a resident of Ontario, Canada.

Yes, number 1 is talk to a lawyer but what are items 2 through 10?

I have never been through this myself and, so far, my searching hasn't provided many first-hand accounts of "Don't do this" or "I wish I had done that". I did find this previous AskMe and Corky's great answer but does anyone have further advice or personal experiences? Thank you.
posted by pixlboi to Human Relations (27 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
2) Don't do the psycho "throw everything out that is even remotely connected to the other person" thing. Put stuff in a box in the attic.. you may want the memories someday. Maybe not.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:17 AM on May 12, 2008

The best advice I got when my 15-year marriage was dissolving was, "The pain will pass." I didn't think it would, but it did, after about 2 and a half years.

After the sorrow and desolation passed, I finally got angry about being treated so shabbily, and that hasn't passed yet even though my ex and I are on cordial terms these days. We both have secure new relationships. I know I can't really move on until I forgive her, so I am working on that. But I'm mighty pissed.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:26 AM on May 12, 2008

10. Go kiss someone else sooner rather than later!
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:31 AM on May 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sorry to hear about your sister. I've been sucks.

Here's a few things I can recall:
1. I was in such shock from the whole ordeal that I had to call a friend just to sort of get me through the "ok what are you doing next" parts. Be there for the tearful phone calls and just be available to talk her through what needs to be done. It seems like you're invested in that. Friends also just kind of hung out with me in my misery -- kept me active, etc. One friend made me go shopping and then we watched crappy 80's teen comedies that night. I was totally miserable, but at least I was miserable with friends!

2. Make sure that even though they have separate bank accounts that he does not have access to any of her money. Get his name removed from all the accounts. He may have to sign some stuff -- I had to fax a form to my ex so he could get taken off the bank account. His pay check was deposited into another account, but he still had access to that joint account

3. I was married, (In the US -- I am not sure what common-law entails in Canada) so there is a part in the separation agreement that basically puts a restriction on you throwing any of their crap out. Make sure she gets all of her important papers, priceless treasures, etc, etc out of the house ASAP so that isn't a worry for her.

4. I had enough time between the ex filing papers and moving away (we were not living together during this time) that I was able to mediate the separation of stuff myself. Basically he told me that he wanted X, Y, Z and some of the towels, some of the kitchen stuff, etc -- so I chose for him. This was much easier for me than sifting through all of the possessions together. Why yes, I gave him those totally nasty brown towels. Since we weren't married for very long, our stuff really only commingled for a few years, and we didn't have a lot of stuff other than wedding gifts that was "ours." So it was pretty easy to split up the furniture, etc.

5. I'm pretty sure I took him off the car/renter's insurance fairly quickly, and he took care of getting his own phone plan.

6. I'm not sure if she had a name change, but that was the hardest part for me. You can deal with that a few months down the line, after papers are signed and you have a new life figured out. If she did have a name change she can revert to using her maiden name for most normal stuff anyways, and then just do it legally later on. Just shoot people a nasty look if they try to make you explain why your driver's license doesn't have the right name...I just made sure all my paperwork was in order by next year's tax time.

7. My ex did all the initial lawyerin', but my dad made me get a lawyer shortly after the papers were filed. It is nice to have someone on your side, rather than someone that is just mediating the process. Of course, money and the amiability of the separation come into play here.

-I didn't own a house with the ex, so obviously this will be the most legally difficult portion of separation.

Good luck her, and I'm glad you're there for her.
posted by sararah at 8:35 AM on May 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

The best advice given to me was "You are going to have to make a lot of decisions. You will feel like they all need to be made quickly. They don't. Very few of your decisions need to be made quickly, so take your time, rather than make a hasty decision you will regret later."
posted by juggler at 8:41 AM on May 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yes, kiss someone else, but beware the rebound.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:41 AM on May 12, 2008

If you can do it, stop talking to him. Cut off all contact except through the lawyers. That was simultaneously the hardest thing and the thing that made the biggest difference.
posted by msamye at 8:59 AM on May 12, 2008

Assuming she's keeping the house, change the locks the same day as he moves out.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:07 AM on May 12, 2008

Well, nobody really was all that aware back then. But I sure someone would have told me *be prepared to grieve - for a long, long time*. I took it really hard. Many do. Even if you're la dee da about the split - when it happens - it hits you like a bloody ton of bricks. And you cry, and it's like mourning. I felt the grief years later. It was hard to shake.

Breaking up is hard to do.
posted by watercarrier at 9:14 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding juggler. Alone, emotional and rushed is a recipe for poor decision making. Take it easy, get everything straight and be there/have someone to talk questions and decisions over with.
posted by Skorgu at 9:40 AM on May 12, 2008

Something I recently ran into: taxes. We divorced, I moved far away...and then discovered that because we'd filed jointly, the refund check was made out to both of us, and the only options were to deposit it into an account with both our names on it, or we had to both be physically present to cash the check. The bank said that if we'd had something in the settlement about it that would have worked, but we didn't think of that because all of our finances were separate.
posted by solotoro at 10:12 AM on May 12, 2008

"This too shall pass."

Distract yourself and cut off all contact. You need to decisively chuck that person out of your life to make space for other things to fill the gap.

Fall back on friends and family but don't take their emotional support for granted.
posted by nihraguk at 10:39 AM on May 12, 2008

Ouch. My sister just realized her LTR was over with this weekend. Lots of time on the phone with her crying. Best advice I had for her was to try to figure out what was going to be best for her in the long run, and start making plans to get there. Small steps with a goal in mind mean something to focus on in the short term. Don't know how helpful it is, but there's also Step 11, which is for you, not her - "make sure that the people going through this know that you are there for them, 24-7, if they need to talk."
posted by caution live frogs at 10:41 AM on May 12, 2008

One of you no longer knows anybody.
posted by genghis at 10:51 AM on May 12, 2008

To followup on solotoro's comment -- she isn't going to want to think about this now, and I know you said the back accounts are separate, but she needs to double check every possible way that the two of them could have become financially entangled over the last 5 years, and untangle it immediately. Is he listed as an authorized user on any of her credit cards (even a department store card)? Is he listed as the beneficiary on any of her accounts (retirement, life insurance, etc.)?

If she's seeing a lawyer, the lawyer should be able to help with this, I hope. Regardless, Priority #1 should be protecting her assets -- you never know when things will get ugly.
posted by somanyamys at 10:51 AM on May 12, 2008

Read What You Should Know about Family Law in Ontario, from the Attorney General's website. It covers some of the basic differences between marriage and common law relationships in Ontario and how that affects things like division of property and support payments. Her relationship will be recognised by the province as a common law relationship because it was over 3 years.
posted by heatherann at 11:04 AM on May 12, 2008

It seems to me that you disapprove of her staying in the relationship for so long. I would avoid telling her any version of "I told you so" or "it's too bad you didn't leave earlier" or "he was such a jerk, I don't know what you saw in him". It's pretty insulting to be told that you wasted years of your life.
In fact, the best part about being dumped after a lot of long, difficult work on my part was that I could say that I did everything I could. That gave me a lot of peace in the more difficult moments after the breakup, the fact that I didn't give up. It also bolstered my self-esteem--instead of viewing myself as a sucker, I felt that I was tenacious and I followed through on my commitment, even though he didn't.

If you can help frame the breakup in this way it would be helpful. "You did everything you could, even though it didn't work out. We're so proud to have you as our sister, and we love you."
posted by sondrialiac at 11:08 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you can do it, stop talking to him. Cut off all contact except through the lawyers. That was simultaneously the hardest thing and the thing that made the biggest difference.

Alternatively, if you don't want to cut off all contact forever, at least give it awhile before you try being friends.

The "don't think you have to make all decisions immediately" is good advice. Another suggestion I would make along the same lines is , in these situations, don't expect yourself to bounce back immediately. Give yourself some time to just be upset and feel bad and indulge yourself a little. Set a time limit for this perhaps. I've read that a good rule of thumb for this is one month for every year you were together.
posted by orange swan at 11:13 AM on May 12, 2008

ugh. bank accounts. i need to learn to type. apologies.
posted by somanyamys at 11:52 AM on May 12, 2008

There are a lot of cool innovations happening in family law now. People who use variations of mediation and arbitration tend to much happier with both the process and the results. It's a good idea for her to know her 'rights' so she can't be taken advantage of, but depending on the situation and their characters, she might want to explore alternatives to the conventional antagonistic legal model.
posted by Salamandrous at 12:29 PM on May 12, 2008

In the U.S., divorcing parties are able to use the same attorney to cut down on lawyer fees, etc. If the same option is available in Canada, do not do it -- no matter how amicable things seem to be going. She must have her own lawyer.
posted by _Mona_ at 12:39 PM on May 12, 2008

Take the time. Yes, to grieve, but also to learn about what she wants from her new life. Divorce/separation/LTR breakups are hard but they're also just about the best opportunity in the world to:

1) learn about yourself
2) determine what needs were and weren't met by the last LTR
3) prioritize your needs going forward - in your life, in your friendships, in your work, and in any new relationships down the line

Also, dittoing the not trying to be friends straight away (there's too much resentment there, oftentimes) and separating all money as soon as possible into his/hers so there's no more "joint"ness.
posted by twiki at 2:12 PM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Assuming she's keeping the house, change the locks the same day as he moves out.

Check with a lawyer on this. I changed the locks on my now-ex three days after he left, and then found out that as long as his name was on the lease, it was illegal to lock him out*. I know this is a "jointly-owned mortgaged home", not an apartment, but Ontario may have similar laws about access to property.

(*Fortunately he never found this out.)
posted by shiny blue object at 6:00 PM on May 12, 2008

Draw the line between mutual friends and friends that are just yours. It seems obvious, but it's good to keep in mind that mutual friends aren't going to want to hear about the minutiae of your breakup and all the negative feelings involved, or will at least feel very uncomfortable. Save your emotional outpourings for family members or friends that are more yours, and either don't speak or speak in civil terms about your ex to mutual friends. This will minimize the friend custody damages and post-breakup bad blood.

Nth-ing the minimal contact advice, at least for a few months. You may be tempted to rehash things, try to get back together, gloat about subsequent conquests, or just talk. This is usually a bad idea, and can turn even low-resentment breakups into ugly creatures.

I found after my breakup that I had a lot of spare "giving" energy that had gone towards my ex -- you know, the parts of your brain that are occupied with making him happy, doing things for him, existing as half a couple. Your family and friends are your main support network now; use this spare energy to give back a little. It's natural to feel a little self-absorbed after a breakup, but maybe volunteering or paying attention to friends/relatives you may have neglected goes a long way. (I realize as her sister it may be weird to tell her this, but volunteering is generally a good way to get one's mind off of one's own misery)
posted by landedjentry at 7:06 PM on May 12, 2008

Immediately change all computer passwords - personal email, Windows login, online bank accounts, etc. I would probably change non-secure passwords like AskMeFi as well just to be safe. Most long term couples know at least some of their partner's passwords whether the other realizes it or not. If the separation process turns really ugly she needs to make sure her information and future communications are confidential. My bastard ex-boss really screwed with his ex-wife during their divorce by knowing her email password.
posted by bda1972 at 7:32 PM on May 12, 2008

What I wish I'd known is, take more for myself and make fewer concessions. Do things that make yourself happy, even little things. If you're broke, get a library card to rent DVDs, have stuff to read and music, too.

Make a schedule for each day so you have a reason to get out of PJs. Go to the gym to work through the pain. Don't overeat (often). Don't drive drunk (get drunk, cry, scream, eat crap, sleep in... but then STOP).

Realize that you never have to introduce yourself as "so-and-so's wife/girlfriend" ever again. It hurts, but right now, when the dust clears... you have a chance to reinvent yourself and fall in love with who you are.

Remind yourself that you're still young and can do whatever you want. You can move, change jobs, get an entirely new set of friends... it's your time, use it to learn about who you want to be NOW.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:03 PM on May 12, 2008

Now that there is no great obligation or reward for giving the ex the benefit of the doubt, how about making mental lists of all the things that suck about them, that you previously denied, glossed over or otherwise somehow rationalised?

"a history of infidelity on his part" sounds like an ideal place to start.

What also worked for me: distance. From the breakup to my next scheduled holiday was only about five months, so I spent the time planning & researching a three-month trip to the Middle East. Then I took a three month trip to the Middle East.

That's in the spirit of immediately looking to the future, and looking to a future that will be better than the relationship. Reflecting on their failings helps in this, as you can substitute an imagined future partnership with somebody who happens to not suck.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:21 AM on May 13, 2008

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