Some of us see divorce coming from a long way off. And others don't see it until they hear those terrifying words: "I want a divorce." Especially for women who don't see it coming, that separation can send you into an emotional tailspin. And your turmoil can propel you to make some horrible mistakes that can cause an awful lot of trouble later on.
We talked with divorce attorney Randall Kessler of Kessler and Solomiani in Atlanta about the most important things moms need to know about divorce, especially when it's an acrimonious split. Here's what not to do -- and why, even if your husband has left you with nothing, you should still hold onto hope.
1. Don't panic. "Knowledge is power," Kessler says. So don't freak out -- get educated. Go online and find out everything you need to know (his firm's website has a list of helpful resources, and every state has divorce information online). Meet with a lawyer -- or better yet, more than one lawyer. Find out what your rights are, because you do have rights. And know that you're not going to get kicked out of your home immediately just because your husband isn't paying your rent or mortgage anymore. Explain your situation to everyone as soon as possible, and don't get intimidated into agreeing to a settlement before you're ready to.
2. Don't just get a free consultation if you can avoid it. Kessler says you'll get better legal advice if you pay for it. There are exceptions, and a free consultation is better than nothing. How do you pay for that consultation? That leads to the next don't.
3. Don't borrow money from family -- yet. I was surprised when Kessler recommended against borrowing money from family for a lawyer. But he says you should save those resources for another time. Instead, see if you can borrow against your home or get a credit card. If you are financially dependent on your husband, he is responsible for paying for at least part of your representation. But you're less likely to get that money back if you've borrowed it from your family.
4. Don't allow your ex to intimidate you. "When your husband tells you that your lawyer just wants to make money, that's an intimidation tactic," Kessler says. Your husband may know how to scare you, but he doesn't know how to scare your lawyer. If you're in an acrimonious split, let your lawyer talk with his lawyer.
5. Don't run into the arms of another man. Or as Kessler puts it, "Don't commit adultery." Even if your husband has been carrying on an affair, starting one of your own will only add emotional heat to your divorce. Kessler says he's seen it too many times -- wives feel lonely, but husbands get angry, and then they make everything difficult. Don't give your husband any ammunition. Wait until you have a settlement to start your new romantic life. No, it's not fair. But it's practical.
6. Don't demand money before you've made up a budget. Kessler says it's important that you create a budget, even if you've never had one before. "You need a well-organized, detailed budget. It's your backup for why you need the alimony and child support you're asking for. You need to make sure all your needs are addressed."
And now, the hopeful part: "There are silver linings in divorce and I think you need to find them," Kessler says. Everyone who gets divorced feels terrified. Every woman is afraid she'll be a bag lady. But you get through it. Eventually, "you'll realize the benefits of not living with someone who isn't happy living with you." Kessler's book, Divorce, Protect Yourself, Your Kids and Your Future, comes out in fall 2013.
What's the first thing you would do if your husband suddenly demanded a divorce -- or if you suddenly realized you should demand one?
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