Now that I'm nearing the end of the divorce process (it's a marathon - not a sprint!), I'm starting to reflect on the things I wish I had done differently or, perhaps, the things I wish I had known before getting a divorce, period. I don't think there is any real book to prepare you for divorce, as each person's experience is so unique. But as you're headed down the aisle - that's the court aisle - of divorce, there are some things it wouldn't hurt to know as you sever your formerly "forever" relationship.
1. How It Would Affect My Toddler
My daughter was just turning 3 when her dad and I split, and no matter how often I googled toddlers and divorce, there wasn't a ton of information on how she might be affected by the experience. I ended up pushing for her to try play therapy, and when my ex agreed, we had her attend for a while. It was the best choice to make, but it would have been great had I known of the potential issues she might have had and the ways to help our child through it ahead of time. The reality is no one can predict how a divorce will impact your kids.
2. Don't Use Friends
Don't use friends for legal advice - meaning, don't hire a friend to handle the divorce even though your friend will cut you a break financially. My ex and I started out this way, and the friend was truly lovely and magnanimous at heart to want to help two broke people divorce, but we ended up switching counsel (to mediators) for various reasons, which derailed finalizing the divorce. It's been 20 months, and it's still not final. Lesson learned!
3. Make It Clear
Our mediator now was shocked when he saw our divorce agreement. Everything was completely vague and open to interpretation. No, no, no! Don't do it! It doesn't matter if you and your ex are cozy now, because down the line, you may not be. Have everything written in detail, and leave no topics untouched, especially when there are children involved. Too much flimsy or vague language in your divorce agreement can kill you later on.
4. The New Partner Will Be a New Adjustment
Even though my ex and I decided together to divorce, when he had a new girlfriend and wanted to introduce her to my child, it was hard for me simply knowing there would be a stranger around my kid. Even if you have zero feelings left for your partner, if you have kids, knowing a new person will be around them can be hard and . . .
5. A New Partner May Change Your Ex
Even if your ex is nice or you are good friends now, a new partner could change things. Reality bites.
6. It Takes Time
I thought a year later I would be fine after separating from my ex. In truth, I am happy and don't want him back. However, it has still taken time to adjust to all the changes a divorce can bring, like new partners, new homes, custody schedules, etc. As much as I am ready to meet someone (even dating now!) and I am happy with my life, from time to time, I get sad and still find sharing my child difficult. It takes time, and everyone grieves at his or her own pace.
7. Imputed Income
I was aware of this upon consulting with a legal advisor, but before speaking to someone, I didn't realize that, even though I was a very part-time working mother, the court would assume I could make a particular amount of money even if the job market stunk. Thankfully, I found full-time work and built my freelance practice, but had I not, the court would assume I could make more money than I was.
8. Separation Should Be Separation - Period
I didn't realize that being nice meant the door would be open for my ex to revisit and for us to question our choice constantly. When you separate, close the door unless the knock is so strong that you're willing to consider the changes that have been made and work to save the marriage.
9. It's More Common to Do 50/50 Custody These Days
I love that my child has an active and loving dad, although admittedly, I find our 50/50 custody situation to be a lot for a young child to manage. This scenario, however, is rather common. Your friends or family from the old days may find this rare, but if you're divorcing with kids, it's common today.
10. Spending Time Together Could Be Awful
For our kid.
When we separated, my ex and I didn't want to miss out on milestones, traditions, and activities, so we did stuff together now and then, thinking it would be great for our daughter. Our intentions were truly altruistic and wonderful, but it didn't help our child. It only confused our little one, who was too young to comprehend what divorce really means. Make things clear in developmentally appropriate ways for your children so they understand that mommy and daddy's marriage is over - for good.
No one can truly prepare you for divorce, but before you decide to end your marriage, talk to divorced people and educate yourself. That way, if you do take this road, you will be prepared as best as possible, for better or for worse.