We all know the statistics: Divorce rates are sky high. We’ve heard the ball and chain jokes and know of weddings where people have placed bets on how long the couple will last. We also know a handful of couples who seem genuinely happy and whose mere compatible existences can make you question your own uninspired relationship.
For almost two years, I delved into the unfortunate world that is family law. Day in and day out, I dealt with people’s ugly, sometimes wanton drama. I don’t wish that life on my worst enemy. Sitting in a mediation or going through trial is as enjoyable as having to smell the stale air in an overused, dirty restroom at a sports stadium during halftime. That said, having gone through that experience teaches you a lot about common denominators that cause relationships to break down.
Here are the top ten things I learned in that realm. Hopefully, they will provide you with some insight:
10. Men tend to drag their feet on everything: There are many wonderful men who love their wives and are excellent fathers. It’s admirable, really. However, a marriage takes a lot more than love. If a person is constantly carrying their own weight, plus the weight of their spouse’s responsibilities, eventually, it gets to be too much. Often, in heterosexual relationships, it’s the woman who carries all the weight.
There were so many cases where I had to repeatedly ask male clients to bring specific financial documents. Most of them said their soon to be ex wife was the one who knew where all of said documents were kept; or they would ask that we talk with their new girlfriend about what was needed. Some would have their sister or their mother call the office, asking what it was their male relative had to bring. This happened despite the fact that I would give them a list, in writing, of the required documents.
The feet dragging also happened frequently when the husband was the opposing party. If the divorce was uncontested and it was a matter of negotiating a Marital Settlement Agreement and where applicable, a Parenting Plan, we’d give them 30 days to return the paperwork. Did they ever return them on time? Rarely. We would let our client know that the deadline had passed and whether they wished to proceed with a contested divorce. Often, neither party wished to proceed contested. The husbands were just dragging their feet getting the documents signed before a notary. The wives would then complain that the husbands always did this. Couldn’t count on them to carry their own weight, on anything; not even on the simple task of reviewing paperwork.
9. A lot of women seem to think that because they gave birth, they get to dictate the terms of the father’s relationship with the children: Sorry, ladies. This is not how it works. It takes two to make a baby, and unless you procreated with a dangerous person, more often than not, the Court will want to foster a relationship between the kid and both parents, since that’s what tends to be in the best interest of the child. I’m not talking about deadbeat dads or anyone with a substance abuse or domestic violence problem. I’m talking about your run of the mill average Joe who wants to take his kids to soccer and to dinner at Chili’s on weekends. Some mothers have complained that they don’t want their kid to eat Cheetos for lunch, or go to bed at 9:00 p.m.when they should be in bed by 8:00 PM. This type of micro managing only creates unnecessary drama that, in the big scheme of things, only harms your child. Just let it go.
8. Millennials don’t seem to take marriage as seriously as they should: Whenever I looked at an intake sheet and saw that the date of marriage and the date of separation were only a few months apart, I knew for a fact that the parties were born in the 1990s. Kids, just don’t. Finish college. Live a little.
7. People can get really petty and vindictive: Couples have argued over who gets to keep the George Foreman grill. I’m not kidding. A bailiff once told me that he wanted to stop a trial, drive to Wal-Mart, and get a new grill for the couple so they could move on. Mature people know when to cut their losses and call it a day. Immature people prefer to pay a couple of hundred dollars an hour to their lawyer because their ego won’t allow them to be the bigger person and just walk away.
6. Your lawyer knows more about Family Law than you do: You may have read something on Google that makes you think you know a little bit about how alimony works. We went to law school for three years, passed a bar exam, took an ethics test (hilarious, I know), got sworn in, and deal with divorce cases every single day. If you have a question, by all means, ask. You want to make informed decisions. But please do not second guess everything or counter with a “but my neighbor said...” When you’re sick, you go to the doctor because they know more about medicine than you do. When you’re divorcing...
5. Your lawyer is not your friend: Every time you call or email your lawyer, chances are you will get charged for it. Read that Retainer Agreement carefully. The part where it says the hourly rate? That’s not just for drafting documents and going to mediation and hearings. It means that every time you call on a Monday to talk about the weekend drama, your bill will go up. Even the nicest of lawyers are working on your case because they’re getting paid to do so. If you need to vent, call a friend and get together for coffee, or go online and find a forum for people who are going through the same experience as you.
4. Talking things out with your spouse will make things smoother (and cheaper): For some people, divorce is the most difficult decision of their lives. It’s excruciating, they cry a lot, and often feel like their world is falling apart. For others, it’s a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. I had a client who scheduled a divorce party once her husband FINALLY returned the signed papers (see item number 10, above). In either scenario, if at all possible, trying to be on the same page as to creating a time sharing schedule with your kids, and what to do with assets and liabilities, will ensure that the process is the least painful and least costly as possible. You can choose to pay for your kids’ college education or for your lawyer’s kids’ college education. Choose wisely.
3. Hiding assets is never a good idea: Depending on your jurisdiction, your spouse may be entitled to half of your earnings during the marriage. This includes your retirement account as well. Always be forthcoming with your attorney about what those assets and those debts are. Don’t think for one minute that you’re being smart by transferring assets to your mother or undervaluing them. If your spouse has a good lawyer, this will come back and blow up in your face. Even if your spouse has no lawyer, if they find out later on about what you did, it will still come back and blow up in your face. Don’t risk committing fraud. It will never be worth it.
2. Your kids are not pieces on a chessboard: Please, please, please, whatever you do, never use your kids as a way to punish your soon to be ex-spouse. Even if they’re really small now and you think they don’t really understand what’s going on, they are perceptive little people, and eventually, they will understand what you did and resent you for it.
1. This too, shall pass: Even if you feel like you’re drowning and your life is over, eventually you will start a new chapter in your life. If you didn’t have kids with your ex-spouse, you get a clean slate. Move to a new city; do whatever you want, whenever you want. If you do have kids, you’re going to have less options for starting completely over, but guess what: You’re still free. You get to rebuild your life without that one person who caused you so much frustration and heartache. Take some time to lick your wounds, but I promise: Even the most awful of pains eventually become bearable, and then, life goes on. Cry if you must; drink wine with your friends. But know that you will be happy again.
*Disclaimer: This piece is by no means legal advice, nor does it create an attorney/client relationship. If you are going through a divorce and need to figure out what to do, consult with a family law attorney in your jurisdiction.