Offbeat Divorce, Part 2: The Separating

Guest post by Kate Leroux
Stand By Me

As I said in Offbeat Divorce, Part 1, my marriage failed. After a period of struggle, we decided to separate (and have since divorced). The separation process was also fraught and sometimes felt impossible, but I got through. Here are a few things I learned.

(Note: We have a daughter together, so these guidelines apply to parents more than they might to divorcing couples who can sever all ties if they choose.)

DON'T CHEAT

I'm not referring to actually cheating on your partner. Instead, I'm talking about the rules and guidelines you work out between yourselves as you separate. I agreed with my ex that we would inform each other about certain things regarding our daughter (times when she'd be watched by a third party, for example, or when she has an upsetting experience). We've kept that up, even when telling the other person about an incident leaves us open to criticism. That's challenging, but worth it, because it fosters trust.

ACCEPT YOUR EX'S FAULTS

During the time of separation, you're probably vividly aware of your ex's faults. Some of them may have played a part in your split. But now is the time to stop trying to change, fix, or fight those faults, because you're never going to be able to do that now. Instead, try to find a way to work around your ex's faults, to make allowances for them and the intense emotional struggles they're going through. They're imperfect, and so are you, and it's to both of your advantage to find a way to work together anyway.

TAKE YOUR TIME

Separation is a slow emotional process. It took me a long time before I could even use the term “divorce” for the direction we were headed. That's OK. Don't rush yourself. There are so many things to be decided between you (especially if you're parents), that you can work on the easier stuff while you put off the things you don't feel ready to tackle. In my case, we worked in spurts, focusing on the decisions and paperwork for a while, then taking an (unspoken) emotional break. Once we'd developed a track record of being able to agree and move forward on things, it felt more possible to discuss the difficult issues without derailing everything.

THINK BEFORE YOU RESPOND

During our separation process, we both did things to hurt each other. Maybe we meant it sometimes, maybe we did it without knowing, maybe we couldn't help it in the heat of the moment. The point is, we were each sometimes faced with behavior that was hurtful. Because we were separated, this usually happened via phone or email. When it happened to me, if at all possible, I tried to stop and think before responding. My body and heart reacted in pain or guilt or anger, but I tried to respond as if what he had said were more neutral. I tried to avoid escalating the problem, and instead tried to model the kind of behavior I wanted us to exhibit. I tried to think about the long term instead of the current awful moment.

NO LAWYERS

For us, it was as simple as that. We chose to cling to any remaining shreds of trust we still shared and do everything in our power to keep lawyers out of the equation. Take the time you need to decide things on your own. Consult friends. See a mediator. Divorce is expensive enough as it is; don't pour unnecessary thousands more down the litigation drain, unless it's truly necessary.

Updated to add: please remember that this post is written from Kate's perspective about what worked for her. Avoiding lawyers won't work for all situations, and your mileage may vary. We understand many of you have needed lawyers, and that's ok too.

50/50 CUSTODY FEELS GOOD

If you're a parent, I encourage you to seriously consider 50/50 custody. For us, it was a natural choice because we'd been equal parenting partners all along. In retrospect, though, I'm especially glad we did. It just feels better, when it comes up, to say that we're still equal co-parents. That both of us share equally in our daughter's life, and are both equally entitled to make decisions, get notifications, etc. That neither of us appears, even just on paper, to be a more primary parent than the other.

YOU DID YOUR BEST

Chances are, there are times in your relationship that you look back on and feel bad about now, given how things ended up. For me, I had a hard time thinking back on our good times and shared dreams. It was hard to reconcile that with the current awful situation. Eventually, what I realized was this: I did my best. And so did my ex. Back when we were happy, we did our best. And when things were complicated and falling apart, we did our best, given the mighty challenges and crazy situation. It doesn't mean our happy past was a lie — it was real to us. We just didn't know then what we know now. If you're able to see the past in this light, it can allow you to forgive yourself a little bit more.

Comments on Offbeat Divorce, Part 2: The Separating

  1. Re: avoiding lawyers – YES! And I say this as a person who works in a law office! So often have I seen people line the pockets of divorce attorneys just because they feel the need to fight tooth and nail over every stinking little thing (or because one/both have an axe to grind – my mother purposely dragged out divorcing my dad so as to “punish” him – bad idea, now they’re both bankrupt). I am twice-divorced, and both times, we did it WITHOUT lawyers, despite the free help offered to me by coworkers, and I’m really glad we did. It lended a certain dignity to it, I think – I felt like we were responsibly acting like adults instead of being impossible.

    Again, Kate, thank you for sharing your words of advice.

  2. Woah….careful if you go no lawyers. Oftentimes you can get screwed, especially since women tend not to stand up for themselves as much

    • I am a woman who sometimes struggles to stand up for myself, tegan, and what I found helped was just taking enough time. If there was a request that I found too much or sounded off, I took a break and thought about it for a while. We often tabled issues and came back to them. We wrote down how we thought things in our agreement should be worded.

      Given enough time, pretty much any woman (even the meek) can stand up for herself, even if she does it in writing rather than in person.

      That said, if your soon-to-be-ex lawyers up or is excessively unreasonable, you should get a lawyer too. I was lucky to have a reasonable person to work with, despite all the emotional crap going on.

    • I’m my experience it’s the men who don’t stick up for themselves. Or can’t because they’re ‘the bad one’. Or a multitude of other lame excuses their ex partners thrust on them.
      I get what you’re trying to say about lawyers but I feel all types and stages relationships benefit from improved communication. The author suggests mediation or other forms of working through divorce. Sure sometimes lawyers are best but they are often looking at their monetary contract rather what’s best for the people in front of them. Or one lawyer is better than the other so one side is more strongly defended than the other. Lawers aren’t evil but it’s like opting too demolishing a building rather trying to employ builder to repair it. Sometimes demolition is needed sometimes tlc is all that is needed.

    • This is exactly what happened to me. We agreed no lawyers, yet he went behind my back and got one. I got completely screwed! Now I am trying desperately to take him back to court without any resources. Get a lawyer if you think there is even a remote possibility the other person might go back on their word.

  3. I know a lot of lawyers are difficult. But many times, attorneys are a good idea. In Texas, collaborative law is coming into adolescence. The two lawyers work together and the spouses sign a document saying they will work together. Its much more holistic and friendly, especially if there are children.

  4. Yeah, as far as the lawyer thing goes, it really depends on your individual circumstances. Some couples can handle it really well without one, but in my parent’s divorce my dad was so manipulative that my mom’s friends put their collective feet down and said “honey, you need a lawyer or you’re gonna end up homeless.”

  5. If you can be civil, going no lawyers is great. With my divorce I ended up getting a lawyer but only because my ex dragged his feet on everything and kept saying he “didn’t have the money” to file the paperwork and such. But, once I got a lawyer I did a lot of talking and such instead of paperfiling. My situation just really needed two independent people with no emotional issues involved. Our county requires mediation for any divorce (other than those involving domestic abuse) and I had wanted that anyways. The mediation was all we really needed, my fiance was able to finally agree to things and our lawyers were able to keep things on track and make sure all things were taken care of. If you go the lawyer route and can afford it collaborative divorce teams are awesome.

    But, definitely remembering to be fair and that neither of you is perfect is best. When kids are involved always doing what’s best for them gets you a win in the end no matter what. 50/50 custody didn’t work for us as I live over 2 hours away now but if we’d been closer I would have gone for it.

  6. Continuing on the lawyer/no lawyer front — there are a couple more civil and not-too-expensive options if the two people splitting up agree already about how property/kid placement/etc will work out. One is to work through an organization that will help you with the divorce paperwork and make sure that you’re filling things out correctly. Unfortunately, there is no longer such an organization in our community, so we found a lawyer who was willing to work with both of us (technically, she was representing me & my ex was “unrepresented” — but we both went to our meetings with her and agreed on terms together.) Because we wanted to keep things very simple, this was helpful when we actually got to court — she could explain some things to us and explain our stance (e.g., why we were waiving child support, long story & good decision in our case) without unnecessary drama or fuss.

  7. Re lawyer: See a lawyer in your jurisdiction as soon as you think you might possibly get seperated, let alone divorced. Often women’s shelters or community legal centres will provide or direction you to a lawyer who will discuss your options for free. The reason for this is to simply make yourself aware of the legal ramifications and possibilities. Certainly, if you can arrange your divorce without professional legal assistance that is great but you need to know your options.

  8. Kate, I know you got some positive feedback on your first post, but discussion on this one seems like it got kind of overwhelmed by concerns about not hiring a lawyer.

    I just wanted to say this was a really lovely and honest post, and bravo to you and your ex for being able to be as mindful and constructive as you were.

    Some people just aren’t in a position to do that, of course, but it is great that you were and it will benefit your daughter so much.

    • Amanda, thank you for saying this.

      Gang: this comment thread had gotten completely focused on one small component of Kate’s article: lawyers. We understand and completely respect that many of you had very valid reasons for needing lawyers in your own separations, and encourage anyone considering a divorce to research their options. That said, Offbeat Bride’s comments are not the place to get into explaining what your partner (or a friend’s partner) did to necessitate lawyers.

      Kate wrote her piece as a way to share her experience of divorce. Divorces are going to be as varied as weddings, and as with all other perspectives on Offbeat Bride: your experiences may differ, sometimes drastically.

      • I checked out some books at the good ole library about divorce to educate myself on divorce after my husband split last year. The Smart Divorce by Deborah Moskovitch is a good book. It helped me understand some of the legalese, know my options, and save money. … Also joining a divorce support group has helped. I found one at divorcecare.org.

      • Thanks, Ariel. If I could re-write it now, I’d say something more along the lines of this: Avoid lawyers if you can. In almost every case, lawyers drain trust as well as money. If there’s even a little trust left, recognize that it’s extremely valuable. Cling to it and work from it, because once you lose that trust, I think it’d be really hard to build it back (if that’s even possible).

        Not only do we have some trust left (battered as it may be), I am very proud of me and my ex for being able to accomplish a divorce without lawyering up. That mutual pride is a positive ingredient we can add as we build our new co-parenting relationship.

        Also: to be clear, we did hire a mediator who is a lawyer. He didn’t represent either of us, but was there to advise us on the process and make sure our paperwork was in order. He helped us work through a few issues, but at $300/hour, we were motivated to hash most of it out on our own.

        There are many divorce situations where a lawyer is a good idea; I just hope that offbeat-style couples might be able to avoid it more often.

  9. I think this is the first time I’ve ever read advice on getting a divorce that didn’t focus entirely on either making sure you get your fair share (or more!) of the assets or how to put it behind you and start acting like everything is ok again ASAP.

    Not that I’ve read a huge amount of divorce advice, but it’s still a suprising contrast. It’s nice to see so much focus on getting things right for everyone involved rather than how to get your way all the time.

  10. I think that Kate’s posts put divorce into a more neutral perspective. There as so many emotions that are involved around divorce (the couples, the family’s, friends, and possibly children) and outside influences that it seems like it would be really hard to take a step back and look at your situation through unemotionally biased eyes. I think kate does a great job of putting it into words some things that people may forget in the middle of a very unsettling time.

    Even though I am getting married this year I still try to be realistic about the future. I know that even though I don’t want it to happen, my marriage, my brothers marriage, or even friends marriages may not last forever. I just hope that if that time does ever come, I can fall back on Kate’s advice and take it all on one day at a time.

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