Sage Advice

Something I’ve noticed after going through an 18-month divorce is that I am now, apparently, an expert on the subject. I find this sort of funny because I hardly consider myself an expert. I read a great deal of articles during my own divorce. It shouldn’t be any surprise that most of them basically say the same thing:

  • If you have kids, keep them out of any discussions
  • Do as much as you can on your own because if you make the lawyer do it you’re paying a lot of money to do your busy work
  • Do not get petty and vindictive (the best advice I read was “those who seek revenge in divorce should start by digging two graves”)

This is all very good advice. The problem is that it is counting on two rational-minded people to follow the same mature course of action. Now I can’t speak for all people who’ve gone through divorce, but when you’re separating a marriage, rationality tends to be a very rare commodity, indeed. You are, after all, dealing with the separation of a life that you’ve built with another person. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding that decision, it is an emotional time. Hell, even if you’re a greedy, money-grubbing bastard, you’re going to get emotional about your finances.

Most of the people who have approached me (of course I’m not going to name names, here) have done so because they’re putting serious thought into divorce and want to know what they’re facing. The very first thing I always do is ask them if there’s anything that can be done to change the situation that, to them, has become so unbearable. “Have you attempted counseling?” “Have you talked to them about how much you hate hamsters?” etc. To my surprise, a couple of people hadn’t even entertained the idea of addressing the problem directly. And for the sake of their kids, I told them flat-out that they absolutely needed to address the problem before looking at pressing the mutually-assured destruction button.

The second tier are those who have addressed the other party, either directly or through professional counseling. These are the folks I really feel for. And their demeanor towards marriage is very different. The aforementioned people, who haven’t addressed issues with their significant other, tend to view marriage as something of an inconvenience — a buyer’s remorse of sorts. The latter people are genuinely hurt that the marriage they put their bets on as being a life-time deal went south. And I’ve talked to a couple of people like this. Sometimes this emotion is buried underneath a great deal of anger or outward defiance, but the underlying feeling is the same; “What the fuck happened and what can I do to make it better?”

My advice to any who reach this level is to prepare for anything and everything and get a lawyer. Every single relationship is different from the next, so there is no clear road map to follow — But getting a capable attorney is key, and making sure all your business is in order is absolutely necessary. My Ex would complain that I somehow failed the lawyer portion of this, and she may be right. But to me it clearly demonstrated that having a solid, knowledgeable and professional attorney is worth his or her weight in gold. My original attorney ended up being disbarred for embezzling money from his clients, his partners and even his own parents. Thankfully I wasn’t one of his targets. (If anything, I think I got a deal because the guy didn’t know how to bill for his own time properly.) Had I done a proper background check on him, I probably would’ve seen the warning flags from his history and gone with someone else. But having an attorney familiar with family law helps to successfully navigate the Ethereal Realm of Legaleezia, where they have their own customs, codes and language. Those who cross into its borders without a proper guide are looking to get run over by the Judge or opposing counsel.

And to reiterate the point I made earlier: Get your shit in order. If nothing else, you’re going to have to do this for your attorney who will need it for the divorce decree. Know every last asset and debt in your financial history. Get a copy of your record, including driving record, and be ready to have it reviewed. Get your medical history from your doctor — this is especially important for those who have a complicated medical history, physical or mental, and they’re seeking custody of the children. And as you’re doing all of this, recognize that your soon-to-be-ex is probably doing the same. And remember the golden legal rule: It doesn’t matter what you know, it matters what you can prove.

Now for the last-but-certainly-not-least part: Child Custody. I assume the reason most of the guys who’ve approached me asking about divorce stems from the successful result of the three-month child custody evaluation fun-time-party-land I went through. I’d just like to point out a couple of things about this, because I think it’s relevant. One, I was successful because had it been 100% up the kids, that would’ve been the result. Two, it didn’t hurt me any that they were of an age where their voice mattered in a court of law. While it is true that the modern day family court has come a long way from the “Mom always gets the kids” model from as little as a decade ago, the fact is that what matters to the legal system — meaning the court, the lawyers, the custody evaluator and even the court reporter —  is what’s in the “best interest of the children”. If you end up going the route of having a custody evaluation done, it’s going to come out very clearly to an unbiased party whether or not your parenting skills are a weakness or a strength.

I had one person ask me about the idea of working out a way where one parent gets one set of kids and the other parent gets the other set. The advice offered here is simple: Don’t separate the kids. They’re not furniture or decorative flatware. I know it seems like a logical course of action, but the fact is that the kids in a divorce are already going through an emotionally traumatic event wherein Parent A no longer lives with Parent B and “is it my fault?” When you throw separating their siblings into the different households, you’re literally destroying the only world they’ve ever known — and now their sibling has “chosen a side”. And, by the way, if you re-read my previous statement, how will it look to a custody evaluator that you want to do this? How does it rate on the “Best Interest Of The Children” meter? (Answer to both questions: Terrible.)

Now this is for all of you out there who are in the midst of divorce: Look in the mirror. Okay, wait until you’ve read this and then look in the mirror. Ask yourself, “Is <InsertExName> really someone who has an active and loving role in the life of my child/children?”

The answer should come quickly. Don’t over-qualify it. Normally that snap answer that comes to mind is the right one.

Now ask yourself this: “Am I a good parent who will go to the ends of the earth for my children?”

Again, this answer should be quick. Even if you’re an asshole.

Here’s the fun part of this little exercise — if you answered “Yes” to both questions, you’re going to share custody with your Ex. Get used to this idea. It doesn’t matter what ill feelings you may have with them, fundamentally, the kids have absolutely nothing to do with that. And all your kids care about, if you answered “Yes” to both questions, is that they’ll be able to see both of you as much as possible. That’s ALL that matters.

Now for the nitty gritty…Child Support. *Insert Scary Music Here* Here in Minnesota, child support is determined not by the old “full/shared physical custody” anymore so much as parenting time and disparity of income between the two parents. Why did I just smack you with that? Because your kids need your support. Even if you’re of the opinion that the other party is simply going to spend the money of themselves and not the kids, pay it anyway. Pay it happily and on time and don’t try to weasel out on technicalities. Why? Because even if the other person is using the money that they get on child support to buy collectable spoons of the 50 State of the Union, they’re still the ones who have to buy groceries, pay the heat bill and get money in the school lunch accounts. Unless you find that your children are being seriously neglected (in which case you immediately sue for a new custody hearing), how your ex spends their money is their business. Their personal finances are not your concern and, as an added bonus, your finances are none of their business either. You’ve been divorced and one of the better spiffs is independence from one another.

That’s all the advice I have for now. Just remember that if you decide the pull the trigger, it’s a long, tedious-to-the-point-of-madness process for those who are in contention. So do your own personal best to avoid turning the process into a way to punish your ex, and get through it.