Note: I posted this and then took a 5 mile walk with my dog. As I walked, I thought about this and realized that it may sound like I think every divorce is going to devolve into a fight between a sneaky, lying man and a victimized woman. I don't. However, I went through hell with mine and I'd like other women to be able to get some advice if they happen to find themselves in a similar situation.
If you're headed towards divorce, please keep this in mind: Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. I wish you the best.
So, I recently discovered the "Stats" tab, and already babbled on about how interesting it is to see how people find this blog. I check it more often now, and am blown away by how many women end up here by typing in, "What to do when your husband leaves you". Literally, at least a dozen a day. They end up here because of the first post I wrote about What To Do When Your Husband Leaves you, which you can find here.
I wrote that one kind of tongue in cheek, it contains some very real advice but as I read over it now, I realize when you are in that zombie-like state right after you're abandoned, you may not want to read about how much fun it is to have sex as a single woman or how the Divorce Diet is real. You want advice, serious advice, advice you can hold onto and if you want, wear it like a Superman cape to give you strength. You want to know that you're not the only one who has felt this way, not the only one with so many different feelings and thoughts ricocheting through your brain that you're half-convinced one will shoot out of your skull and accidentally boink someone else.
So here is my stab at Part Two of What To Do When Your Husband Leaves You. Read the first one if he's just left, or maybe he's left and come back a time or two.
Read this one when you know it's over.
Read this one before you sign your decree.
Read this one if he stops paying child support or alimony.
First off, here's a high five, or if you're not creeped out by stranger hugs, a big fat hug. I'm proud of you for getting this far. I hope that you have surrounded yourself with good friends (you only need one or two to get you through this, but don't be surprised if you find yourself with many more). I hope you realize, or are starting to realize, just how strong and amazing you are. I hope you have properly mourned the death of your marriage, and if you're still in the grieving stages, you have my heartfelt condolences.
You will be ok.
So let's do this.
1. Save every single email, every single text, every single note you get from your husband.
If I had done this, things may have turned out a little bit differently for me. Mine promised to pay all of my attorney fees. He promised to pay for my health insurance. He promised to do lots of things that never came to be. In fact, some of the things he promised, he ended up fighting and trying to do the exact opposite. If I had saved some of his earlier emails, it may have helped. Don't just save them in a file on your computer. Print them out. Every single one. At the very, very least, you will have some interesting reading material when all is said and done. I like the ones where mine just plain old lies his ass off, and the one where he obviously hit the keyboard after hitting the bottle and went on and on about regret and apologies and how the person he ended up with isn't "anything special". Those aren't going to do squat for me in court, but they do reinforce the fact that I am infinitely better off without him.
2. Hire the best attorney you can afford.
Beg, borrow, sell whatever you can live without (tools, golf clubs and other boy toys sell really well on Craigslist. Just sayin). Ask any friends you have who are attorneys, or who are married to one, or roomed in college with one. Get loans from family. Try contacting organizations in your city that help women in crisis or community groups that help low-income people. They may be able to lead you to an attorney who will help you free of charge, or who will allow you to make payments. You need someone who has experience with divorce, and lots of it. My first attorney was ok. She was cheap, and she had some prior experience. But she let a lot of stuff get past her, stuff that ended up costing me lots of money in the long run.
Another thing to keep in mind: unless your attorney was a good friend prior to the divorce, they aren't your buddy. They may be awesome, they may be super friendly and they may kick total ass at their job, but at the end of the day you are simply a source of income to them. You need to make sure that you keep tabs on what's going on, double check the information that they have about you, your income, your expenses, etc. And just a heads up: once you're out of money, you're out an attorney. It's not a case of them being a-holes or scoundrels, it's just business. But after sitting in someone's office weeping into tissues for a couple of months, you kind of form a quasi-friendship feeling about them. You have to get over that.
3. Read every single word on every single piece of paper, ESPECIALLY drafts of your Marital Termination Agreement.
Have a friend read it too, or your mom or dad or anyone who isn't going through a divorce. In our first MTA, my ex somehow got all four kids as tax exemptions. Yes, that's right: he leaves, doesn't spend more than 4 whole days a month with them, and then wanted to use them as exemptions? He also wanted to claim the mortgage interest on our house which he hadn't lived in for 2 years. He got away with these things for a year. And then I got them changed. Stand up for yourself, even at the risk of sounding like a harpy in your attorney's office. Question everything. YOU are the customer in this relationship. Write down questions that pop into your head in the middle of the night, send an email or leave a message. The things you do now will determine your quality of life in the near (and far) future. Don't sit back and assume that others will look out for you. They will, of course, but you need to be in charge of your destiny. You must grow some balls and become your number one advocate. You can do it!
DON'T FORGET TO READ THE FINAL MTA BEFORE YOU SIGN IT! Take as long as you need, don't let anyone rush you. You sit down, and you read every last word. Some attorneys have been known to sneak in some changes between the last draft and the final, official MTA. Check things carefully: holiday schedules, length and amount of alimony/child support, who claims the kids for taxes, who's responsible for what marital debt, etc. Your attorney should be with you when you sign it, to go over it with you. If that's not possible, bring a friend who is familiar with your situation.
4. THINK AHEAD!
You and your kids are young right now. But that's going to change. You need to think of your retirement. When I got divorced, my husband had one small 401k, which we had to split, and part of it had to be used for some overdue tax payment. That shouldn't have happened. It should have been mine, the tax payment should have been his responsibility. I essentially got nothing. It was like I worked at a job for twelve years, gave it everything I had, sacrificed my youth and got nothing. No retirement, no severance package, no going away party with cake and balloons. Nothing. Make sure you get something for your part in the marriage.
And your kids. At this moment the biggest expense may be shoes and camp, but as they grow, so do their bills. School supplies are spendier (hello? Graphing calculators for three kids?). Sports will become prohibitively expensive. They will need driving lessons, behind the wheel classes, they'll need to take their driver's license test and there will be car insurance and gas money (not to mention a car to drive). They'll have to pay for college entrance tests and COLLEGE. Make sure all of this is addressed in your MTA. All of it. Don't worry about sounding petty. Make damn sure that your soon-to-be ex is assigned at least half of these expenses. This was one of my biggest mistakes. None of this was even touched on in my MTA, and now I have 3 teens, two who should be driving but I can't afford the classes. And considering that their father won't pony up $100 for new eyeglasses, they won't even ask about this stuff. Don't let this happen to you.
He's also responsible for their health insurance. Which he did take care of, for a while. Then he switched them all over to New Wife's insurance, which sucks. In my humble opinion, they chose the absolute worst package available. I don't know if it was a subtle way to say, "Screw you" to me or if they are truly the most miserly people on the planet, but it sucks. Some crazy high deductible, so high that I cannot afford to take my kids to the doctor. We've had to wait out ear aches and put off well-child examinations until I can afford to pay for the whole visit. We lost our awesome dentist because mid-way through a batch of appointments, my ex switched the insurance to a group that wouldn't pay. That bill was in my name (he would never agree to be the guarantor...get that in your MTA, too!!) and it's being lumped in with my bankruptcy. Now I have to face this dentist, who is a family friend, at school events and even though she knows it's not my fault I still feel like a deadbeat.
I was surprised to find out that you can go back and have the terms of the decree reviewed by the courts, and quite possibly have them modified if they are unreasonable. I found this out because I did the next thing:
5. Research. And read the fine print.
You have the internet. Spend some time researching divorce cases in your county. You will be amazed at what you find. One thing you will learn is that nothing in a divorce decree is etched in stone. It can all be changed, it can all be modified, it can all be worked around. There are more loopholes in an MTA than there are in a latch-hook rug kit.
If my ex-husband was able to go back and have his child support obligation reduced to zero dollars a month, you can bet there are loopholes. It's a matter of finding facts to support your claims, keeping good records and again, having the right attorney. As far as my case goes, yes, he was able to do that. But...and there's always a big but, isn't there? But I have done my research. I've gone through our MTA and found that there are certain conditions that had to have been met in order for some of the waivers and claims to stand up in court. Conditions that haven't been met...or were met, but only for a bit. These are the loopholes you'll be glad to find. Trust me on this one.
This next one is tough, but if I had done this...oh my. Life would be much different for me and the kids.
6. Dump the house.
Or at least consider it. Look at your mortgage, really look at it. We had three mortgages, which I had "kind of sort of" known about prior to the divorce, but didn't really think about it until I became solely responsible for the payments. Can you afford it? Is it going to go up? Are your property taxes affordable? How about the utilities like water and sewer and recycling? Add up your utilities and what you pay to maintain your home, include everything right down to how much you spend on gas for your lawn mower. How many years are left on your mortgage? Can you do it on your own? I don't care how much you get in alimony or child support, pretend that's not there (because sadly, out of 6 million women who are owed child support every year in the U.S., 2 1/2 million don't get it). Can you cover it? Unless you have a pretty good job and a smaller mortgage, you won't be able to do it. The house is the number one biggest piece of marital debt in most divorces. Don't let it become all yours.
When my husband left, he left me with close to $300,000.00 in house debt. He moved in with his girlfriend almost immediately, and closed on their new house (with a pool!) within a week or two after our divorce was finalized. They tied the knot less than a year later and are now expecting a baby (his fifth child. Seriously.). My milestones haven't been so sweet...I've gone through the humiliation of being left, the shame of foreclosure, the embarrassment of bankruptcy. My children and I are working through everything, and in the end I'm sure we'll all come out stronger people for it.
But, if I had been able to avoid even one of the many hurdles I've had to jump over the past few years, it would have made everything just a little bit easier. That's why I'm writing this down, that's why I'm exposing my past and my mistakes and my moments of bad judgment.
If I can help just one of you get through this and end up with fewer battle scars than I have, it will be worth it. I'm not an attorney, I'm not an expert, I'm not qualified or certified or accredited in any branch of the gnarled legal tree. I'm an average, every day woman, a woman who married a guy, had kids with him and went along with everything he said. I'm a woman who trusted a man with her life, and realized too late that it was a mistake.
Oh, and one more thing:
7. Don't have sex with your ex.
Based upon my experience, and the experiences of other divorced women I've talked to, this is fairly commonplace. They come back. They come back with hard-ons and crocodile tears and sometimes a bottle of wine. They crawl back into your bed and whisper to you about how they're sorry and they're lonely and they miss you. They do this even with a younger piece of ass waiting for them at their bachelor pad, sometimes they've even married this piece of ass and yet, there they are at your front door.
Don't let them in. Not into your house, not into your bed, not into you. Sure, at first it's nice. You close your eyes and the shitstorm that has become your life dissipates for a few minutes. You have your man back where he belongs, and you think, just for a bit, that you've won. Everything is going to be all better.
But it's not. When he's done, he leaves. He may stay overnight, but more than likely he'll go home to whatever or whoever is waiting for him. Just like you used to wait for him. You'll be left feeling used, feeling cheap and wearing the stench of bad decisions and regret like some cheap body spray from Walgreens. Don't do it.
Ok, I lied, TWO more things:
8. What if he stops paying child support/spousal maintenance?
First thing; don't panic. I mean, yes, you can panic a little bit because things like bills, electricity, gas for your car and food for your kids can't be paid for with wishes and dreams, so yeah. You can panic about that. But you'll get through that. Trust me, I fed four kids and kept the lights on with about $700.00 a month for a while. You are tough, and this will be one of the times you prove it.
But in the long run, don't panic. This is one example of the law being on your side. If a man owes child support and/or spousal maintenance and doesn't pay it, it's going to haunt him. Unless he goes all Unabomber and slides off the grid, his social security number, name, address and all that good stuff will be flagged. He will have problems getting loans, getting credit cards, buying a car...hell, he may find his auto insurance rates go up overnight.
You have to make sure you file the correct paperwork with your county, however. The first time he's late or misses a payment, you can call your county's Family Court division and ask about collecting child support. There is a certain length of time that you'll need to wait (it has to be a certain number of days/weeks overdue before the county can step in and pursue it) but it won't hurt to have the paperwork all ready to go. This is another instance where you need to keep diligent records. If he tosses you some cash, record the amount and date. A check? Photocopy. Promises to do it? Get it in writing. Keep the voicemail.
Past due child support and alimony cannot be dismissed no matter what. Not if he files bankruptcy, not if he loses his job, not if he becomes incapacitated and unable to work. And no, if he remarries and Wife #2 (or 3, or 4...) has a good job, her income cannot be touched. If she has a heart or soul, she'll help the poor man provide something for his kids, but her income is off limits as far as legally collecting support in arrears. Even if your ex is purposely under-employed, or is able to hide some of the money he makes or under-report it, the courts will only look at his income when determining the amounts and collecting the arrearages.
However...courts will look at all of his available resources when determining some of this. And having someone else who has been and is able to continue helping with the household expenses is definitely a resource. But this isn't something I know too much about, just relaying what I've read elsewhere. Situations like this are best left for your attorney, and someone else who you may get to know (and love, just a little)...a forensic accountant. Expensive, but they can make or break your case. If it's suggested you use one, and you are able? Go for it.
And that's all I have for now. To my regular readers, I'm sorry...we'll be back to our regularly scheduled fluff and filler in a jiffy. To anyone new reading this, welcome. I hope you've at the very least found some comfort here. I am sorry that you've found me this way, but glad you did.
Hang in there.