It’s official, folks: The Daily Chicana is newly legally single! The final divorce paperwork came through–almost a year to the day that I announced to my ex-husband that I was leaving him–and I feel as though a 220lb weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Emotionally, I’m somewhere between here:
In honor of the occasion, I thought I’d stray from the race and ethnicity focus I’ve focused on in my most recent posts, and instead provide my fresh insights on divorce. So here goes….
Daily Chicana’s Top 5 Divorce Tips
1. Know that despite your best intentions, the divorce will likely not remain amicable. On the day that I announced the separation, my ex and I both tearfully vowed to stay friends and and to never fight over dividing our things; we stoically agreed that possessions are merely possessions and not worth getting angry over.
Well guess how long that lasted? For about a month, until my ex realized that he was going to have to fork over a lot of money to buy me out and suddenly it wasn’t “fair” for me to ask for the couch or for my share of some savings that he hid away, all shady-style. And yes, you will probably learn that this person you completely trusted has suddenly developed a petty, vengeful side that you never knew about before.
Why does it go down this way? Because divorce is HARD. It’s emotionally and logistically taxing to assess the monetary value of everything you own and to go through the business of who takes what. Suddenly those “things” you weren’t ever going to fight over become symbols of your failed dreams and the vessels of your emotional baggage. I was so disgusted that I had half a mind to walk away with nothing; I just wanted to pack my clothes, books and my desk and leave everything else behind to start anew. My mom talked me out of that, though, by pointing out the cost of starting over completely from scratch. So I took some basic pots, pans and plates, as well as the living room furniture, and when I started up my new life, at least I had something to eat on and somewhere to sit.
2. Hire a lawyer. I have two colleagues who, when they were divorcing their wives, decided to forego a lawyer and save money by filing the paperwork themselves. This option really does save a lot of money; all you and your spouse have to pay for is the filing fee, which in our state runs about $300. They both had property and children, which made their case much more complicated than mine.
Nevertheless, I started looking at the forms and trying to sort through all the legalese…and I’m a pretty smart and well-read person, but it gave me a headache. And it made me nervous: filing paperwork ourselves would have meant that we had to go represent ourselves in court, which freaked me out. I suggest leaving it to the professionals. In my case, my ex-husband and I agreed to split the cost of a single lawyer and through it ran close to $4000 in the end, it was worth it for peace of mind. I could rest easy knowing everything was filed correctly. Plus the lawyer was on hand to authoritatively remind my ex that he had to give me an equalizing payment by a certain date, or else my ex surely would have dawdled and I’d be left permanently waiting for my money.
3. Keep track of every communication between you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse. This tidbit comes from a friend of mine who went through his divorce a year before mine. He instructed me to open up an Excel file and log the date of every phone call, email, etc. that occurs between you and your spouse, as well as what the topic of conversation was and any agreements you may come to. It will help both you and your lawyer to have a detailed record like this if conflicts arise later (and there is a 99.9% chance that some sort of conflict will arise).
4. Limit your contact with your spouse (to the extent possible). This seems fairly obvious, but the less contact you have with him, the better because (a) he no longer needs to know anything about your life and what you’re up to; and (b) you can start getting over him sooner. In the beginning, it was hard to not talk with my ex on a regular basis because we’d spent ten years together and it was hard to imagine my life without him in it. Plus we had a dog together and though I got custody of him, I knew my ex missed him and wanted to hear how he was doing.
It was hard to transition from spouses to friends and we underestimated how much time that transition would take. Anyway, the more I talked to him, the more I found myself reminiscing about our good times and inside jokes, etc. I really needed to reduce the contact in order to start moving forward with my life. He told me later that he was really hurt when I de-friended him on Facebook and I told him, “Well what did you expect? We were getting divorced.”
5. Know that in the end, it will be so worth it. I am proud of myself for having the courage to make this very difficult decision. As I’ve written previously, my marriage wasn’t a horrible one. There wasn’t physical or emotional abuse; my ex and I were genuinely friends who enjoyed each other’s company. But that’s all it was. Imagine living with your best gay friend, having great companionship but absolutely no romantic fulfillment or sexual chemistry anymore. I knew that I deserved to be in a relationship with a full partner who gave as much to me as I have to give to him, and who pulled his own weight in the relationship rather than making me the tugboat. And even though there was no guarantee that I’d ever find that true partner, by staying in my marriage, I was absolutely guaranteeing that I would never find him. So I had to take the chance, face my vulnerabilities and take a big leap of faith.
Through the divorce process, I’ve discovered so much about myself; I have a better sense of my strengths and definitely much more self-respect. I’m healthier, happier and more invested in my own life. I look back now in amazement, asking, “Why on earth didn’t I do it sooner?!” Although this has been incredibly stressful, hurtful and costly thing I’ve ever lived through, it’s also been the best thing to happen to me (besides earning my Ph.D.). I’m finally free! And to me, that’s more than worth each penny spent and tear shed.