Advice for People Going Through Separation/Divorce

In 2015, Park Slope Parents conducted a survey of single, divorced and seperated (SDS) parents, asking about their experience, advice and tips to share. Here, parents respond to the PSP SDS Survey question: Based on your experience, what advice would you give people going through separation/divorce? We realize that divorces are different and there is NOT a one size fits all approach to getting through a separation/divorce. 

 

ANSWERS:

 

Give yourself a break!

"My separation/divorce has been amicable, but even so, it has proven a lot more emotionally and logistically complicated than I would have anticipated. Give yourself a break and take all the time you need to sort through your emotions. Be honest and frank with yourself, but also gentle on yourself. Try not to let guilt or self-doubt cloud the process, which is complicated enough as it is."

 

Keep calm and legal on:

"My divorce was extremely contested and therefore extremely expensive. My recommendation for you is to file for divorce as pro-se then select the right attorney based on the relationship of the attorney with the judge in your case and the opponent. Shelter your children from the divorce as much as you can. Honor your spouse in front of your children. Keep yourself healthy (exercise and try to have some fun). For Women... DO NOT DATE!! while you're divorcing. For Men... PAY CASH for girls (don't charge to your credit card). Close your Facebook account and keep the news on your divorce within a handful of trusted close friends. NEVER EVER respond to an inflammatory communication from your ex; you can ignore it (you are not obligated to respond) or simply say something like: "Thank you for your email. Have a good day." Fight for the things that matter: your children. How your spouse is treating you (disrespectfully so) is not of interest of the court (it's noise); so do not waste any judiciary resources on your disputes with your ex, not worth a penny. Settle as soon as possible. Divorces are toxic and the longer the litigation the lower the probability to settle. Pray and hug your kids. It will be over soon."

 

Be civil:

"Just try to be civil, don't escalate the situation if possible, but don't roll over and play dead either. Try to keep it non-litigious if possible."

 

Rely on friends to get you through:

"Lean on friends. Take the word "should" out of your vocabulary. If you have children, love them and be fully present with them, as much as you can. For me, avoiding my ex as much as posible was/is key."

 "Find a support network of friends who can be "your people.”"

 

But don't rely on them too much:

"Tap into your networks - I found resources in people I never imagined. I also tapped into my own resources and hired a coach so that I wouldn't burden my friends too much.”

 

Get professional help early on:

"Seek both individual therapy and legal advice early. Peer advice is of limited value as circumstances/cases vary quite widely."

 

And if you can't find friends to rely on, don't give up on finding them:

"My separation/divorce is very difficult because of why it is happening. There was a confrontation, and it has lead me to release I would never really be safe with this man again. He on the other hand really wants to reconcile and I don't think he realizes how bad the event was. So far- because we are not far along in the proceedings it is amicable, but I think that is because he is still hopeful that I will take him back. I have found that my situation is pretty unique and not many people can really relate. I was pregnant at the time of the attack. My advice is to not give up on finding other people who can truly understand what you are going through, even when it seems you are alone. My divorce was relatively amicable but our two year period post-divorce has been somewhat hostile (no courts involved, but a lot of angry feelings and actions) so I've had a range of experiences to draw upon."

 

Be fearless:

"Have no fear. Surprises hardly ever happen in Family Court. The law is clear about the terms of splitting assets and sharing parenting rights/duties. Just learn about the law, and make peace with what is supposed to happen. Make sure you have competent legal representation, and all will be well. If you have bad luck and a Judge gives you a hard time, you can appeal and get a better outcome. With time, all will be well and you will move on."

 

Have a team of support:

"My divorce began as friendly (with mediation) and ended in the courts as contested. I was naive and trusted my former spouse, but found he had been lying about his affair for several years. I dumped anyone who minimized the post traumatic stress the children and I experienced. I found a team of people (attorney, National Coalition for Family Justice & ethical therapists) who were able to help/push me to advocate for myself in the face of the deceit and attempts to bankrupt me financially and emotionally. My advice is to get that team of people together to work for you and get what you need or as close to it as possible."

 

Find help in therapy:

"Seek professional help if affordable. Therapy has kept me focused and moving forward. It also provides an ongoing opportunity to work through difficult issues with someone knowledgeable and without judgement."

 

Be smart and professional:

"My divorce went from amicable (1st day) to 3 days later high conflict. In regards to my husband, I have stayed distant, professional and as non-emotional as I could. For 17 months he berated me and my loved ones and used my daughter as a Ping pong ball to suit his plans. Now he is pretty much radio silent, unless it comes to parenting time and it not working out with his schedule. My advice is to be smart. Keep it professional and only communicate when you have to so as to not bring in the emotional pattern of your marriage."

 

"Never ever (if you can help it) say a bad word about the other parent to your kid - even if the other parent doesn't follow that rule."

 

"If in doubt about sending an inflammatory/angry text or email, don't.  Wait.  You can always send it later.  And get others' advice before you do."

 

Make sure your children have something predictable:

"Try your best to give your child a predictable custody schedule. If your work lives are crazy (as ours are) and not always amenable to a fixed schedule, at least trade weekends or have one day a week your kid knows she is with you or the other parent, and/or do a monthly schedule so your kid (and you) have some sense of how it will be that doesnt change last minute except in emergencies."

 

Have a post-divorce, detailed arrangement in writing:

"Put everything that could possibly be a source of conflict or confusion (custody schedule, changes to schedule, finances for everything from extracurriculars to babysitting overtime if a parent has to work late or go in early, etc) in writing in your separation/divorce agreement.  You can always diverge from it later and be more flexible if both parties (or the advantaged party) agrees.  But in times of conflict there is nothing like a binding written agreement to bring a quick halt to a stupid argument with your ex!"

 and another member adds:

"Co-parenting by ex partners is rarely possible. If the two of you were really good at communicating, compromising and putting your children's well being ahead of your own wouldn't you probably still be together??? Make sure what ever decision making arrangement you work out has some kind of "tie breaker" default so when you can't agree things still get done (scheduling dr. appts, picking camps, buying clothes, etc)."

 

Try to talk it out first:

"Try to talk to your partner and work it out first so you can minimize costs. If you're going to go through lawyers they will keep billing and billing, so if possible try to work it out -- even if it's by email, which is great so you don't have to see the person and have a fight each time you have issues."

 

If there has been an infidelity, be a better advocate for yourself:

"My advice would be to particularly for those who are in high conflict, situations involving infidelity or an unstable spouse-protect to advocate for yourself and children. I was naive and in trying to be fair to the cheating and manipulative ex, negotiated away some things that would have helped me financially now. I wish the PSP-SDS group would encourage the victims of infidelity to be better self advocates and not engage in the peace at any cost model of divorce. ”

 

Do what is right for you and your family, and no one else:

"My divorce was amicable and hostile....Divorce is hard no matter what.  I guess the once thing I would say is: Divorce your partner in a way that works for you and your family.  And hold onto that belief no matter what others (outside of the marriage) say.  I say this cuz my divorce is/was very different from others: Yes, it was amicable but it did in fact have moments of hostility (especially when my ex told me about his Tinder and "OKcupid" hook ups-so ridiculous) but from the get go we agreed that he would come over for breakfast every day, spends the holidays with me and my family (and vice versa), vacation together...basically, continue to be a family for the sake of our son...needless to say, I had a lot of friends tell me I was gonna get screwed and many told me to get a lawyer asap, but I help firm in my belief that this was the right thing for my family and I am glad I stuck to my guns cuz it seems to be working out.  Do not get me wrong, its hard work, but its worth it."

 

Always try to move forward:

My separation from my daughter's father was amicable - there was no trigger event - just a relationship that didn't work.  It felt hostile initially as I fought to defend what I wanted my family to be (a traditional together unit).  I immediately engaged a life coach (who is based out of Philadelphia, which is why I did not list her in this survey) to help be sure that I handled this situation to the best of my ability for my daughter and myself.  It is easy to be angry and upset and totally normal and you need to feel those things to move forward - but the end goal is to move forward and to get caught up in those feelings only serves to hurt your children...and really yourself."

 

"Keep it kind and respectful."

 

"Try to be practical & not too emotional."

 

"Taking care of myself is important. Therapy helped my daughter articulate her experience, which helps me be a better parent.”

 

Pick your battles:

"I initiated my divorce, and my husband did not want it. It was hostile and contested, and I had to take fault because he would not agree (NY was not yet no-fault). My advice in these situations is just do what you have to get it over. Pick the one or two things that REALLY matter (for me it was the dog) and let everything else go (for me it was the money). Now remarried with two kids, there are certainly times when I wish that I had gotten some money from the ex who now makes a million a year, but I nevertheless believe that walking away from the money was the best thing I could do for my sanity and life."

 

Don't feel uncomfortable about new relationships:

"Start dating immediately and don't feel uncomfortable about "rebounds." Marriages usually end much earlier than when you actually call it quits, so ignore stigmas about taking time or jumping in too quickly. The end of the marriage gives you clarity about what you want out of life and who can do that, and some of the best 2nd marriages I have seen are those from people who were married within a year of getting divorced. Don't be ashamed by the overlap."

 

Communicate, communicate, communicate:

"We have been very lucky.  It is very amicable.  We worked very hard during the last few years of the marriage - individual and couples counseling, al anon, communicating, so when we knew we had to divorce there were many fewer hard feelings."

 

Think of the big picture - and how divorce will take you and your family to a happier, healthier place:

"It may seem like the worst thing that has ever happened to you, but you can find your way to a stronger, better and even a happier place."

"We often underestimate the value of divorce. It's a great option, when the relationship is not good anymore. It should be celebrated more. Also for the kids, if they could just see it as a fair solution to a big problem, they would suffer less (or not at all?)."

"Staying together ‘for the kids’ isn't necessarily the healthiest choice.  I always said, ‘I would never leave.  Unless someone were being abusive, I wouldn't leave.  I made a commitment.  We have kids.’ Then it got to a point where I realized that maybe that isn't the healthiest approach--for me or my kids."

 

Divorce advice, the Powerpoint version:

If I were to make a powerpoint slide of my divorce it'd be something like:

1. the hardest part.

trying to decide what to do - either keep trying and give your partner another chance or decide enough is enough.

2. Also the hardest part (it doesn't make sense, but its so horrible you CAN have two "hardest" parts.)

separation or divorce is happening, and you can't imagine a new or different life than what you were so sure you were going to have and built all your dreams and plans on. You're shell shocked that the assumptions you made for your life have completely gone away. I mourned my old life, so much, asked "why is this happening? how could it have happened to ME?" and I couldn't imagine any kind of future - I just couldn't see it.

3. The sad part

just slogging through the day to day, trying to make it all work and still trying to understand where its going to lead to. figuring out how to single parent. This was the time I was trying to just get everything done that I needed to get done, I didn't have any energy left to think about what I wanted, how I felt, or any of it. I just wanted my family around me to help me. there were times I met friends and laughed and genuinely smiled and enjoyed myself, but overall I would be relieved when the day was over.

4. The surprising part

...and then one day, I realized I was getting my mojo back and I was happy again. Looking back, the sad part little by little got less sad and I became more myself. I had started going on dates by then, which was a big deal b/c my ex blew up so spectacularly, I thought, I am never ever not going to be repulsed by men. and I seriously wished I could change and be a lesbian, thinking women are stronger and men break. and when that wasn't happening then I decided to be celibate. but yeah, then suddenly I realized, I wanted to try and I didn't find the entire male population gross and weak.

5. the good part

and then I came to love my new life, and felt like I dodged a bullet had I stayed w/ my ex. I loved the flexibility of having a custody schedule, finding myself again, going out and seeing friends again, everything about learning to be by myself that was a difficult chore before became an exciting discovery. I had trips to look forward to, I ended in a good place financially, etc. My ex continues to be a sad, small person w/ mean actions but it bothers me less often and for shorter periods fo time.

6. and now, the unknown part.

Reach out to your support network and you will be amazed at how many people want to help and have been through similar things.”