This is probably one of the hardest posts I’ve chosen to write about, considering how personal the information is and how touchy the subject.
I’m human, just like you, and I’ve made my share of mistakes. Of course, it isn’t always easy to admit when we make them. You see, talking about my divorce isn’t easy for me. It embodied my most regretted of mistakes, ones that I haven’t enjoyed sharing with others. While I don’t regret getting the divorce (I know my ex and I weren’t meant to be) I do regret how I handled the process. I’m sharing tips with you today in hopes that my experience will somehow stop you from making the same missteps I did.
In America, researchers estimate that about 40-50% of first marriages end in divorce. Both myself and James are part of that statistic. The biggest difference was that while my divorce involved a child, his did not.
Now, ending different marriages can call for different approaches. Going through a divorce sans kids can be a walk in the park compared to the contrary. James and his ex never bothered with lawyers. He literally bought a book on how to get divorced and they handled everything themselves. Sometimes, when dissolving a marriage, it can be that simple.
When children are involved, however, that’s highly unlikely. With kids, everything is messier. Harder. Crazier. (As I’m sure most of you parents know.)
When my ex and I agreed to split, I was determined to change the stereotype. I wanted to divorce as clean as possible, to stay amicable, keep everything fair and even. My ex agreed. I knew that even though he and I weren’t right for each other, my daughter still needed both of us in her life.
Sounds logical, right?
I had good intentions, and I suppose he did too. Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly go as planned.
Now, I am not a lawyer, I am no expert on legal affairs in any state…
I’m only here to offer tips and things to take into consideration to protect yourself when dealing with divorce.
5 No-No’s When Your Divorce Involves Children
#1. Relying completely on the other person.
You can’t always rely on the other party to handle the entire situation. You should be involved, too. Take an active role.
I was naïve to rely completely on the man I was leaving to handle the situation on his own. He was hurting, and shouldn’t have had to do it all alone, anyway. I did not take an active role like I should have, assuming things would stay fair and simple the way we had agreed when drawing up terms on our own.
Since neither of us knew how to actually get divorced, he was going to look into it so that we could file after the six month waiting period. So when he retained legal counsel to help file for the divorce, I thought that was all we needed.
#2. Not getting your own lawyer when your ex’s counsel is coming after you.
If the other party is legally represented, it is usually in your best interest to get a lawyer yourself.
Reasons you (like me) may (ignorantly) oppose seeking your own counsel:
- You don’t know how legal affairs in your state work when it comes to divorce.
- Your ex finds a lawyer to help you file and you assume that will suffice.
- You’re used to relying on you ex and trust he will handle it instead of taking an active role yourself.
- And perhaps the biggest reason – you don’t think you can afford one.
Now, when I was first living as a single mom I was working two jobs, 60+ hours a week, just to make ends meet. I was always sick because of the stress, and spending quality time with my daughter was rare. When I cut back to 40 hours a week, I could spend more time with her, but was in a more difficult financial situation. It’s obvious I would think I couldn’t afford a lawyer.
I should have known better!
It’s cost me much more in the long run than it would have had I sought legal counsel from the get go. And not just money-wise. Heartache, my friend. Pain, heartache, and a very complicated and messy situation. (Eventually we made it through and are now co-parenting beautifully! Unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case.)
The fact is, your ex’s lawyer works for them, not you, and therefore only has their best interest at heart. And given that lawyers are trained to always bring up worst-case scenarios, they can fill their client’s head with untrue “what-ifs” to make anyone feel like the opposing party is the bad guy. And if you hire a lawyer yourself, it’s going to be more of the same.
Stop it. You brought this baby into the world, and you both deserve to have time with them.
#3. Signing a legal document you don’t understand.
Signing a legal document you don’t fully understand is not recommended. It’s best to have someone outside of the situation (unbiased) explain the document to you instead of taking your ex’s word for it. Especially when they may not even know, themselves!
Eventually, after finding a job that actually paid me a livable wage and I was able to consult with legal counsel, I learned how grievous a mistake it was to rely on my ex’s lawyer to be entirely fair.
Divorce can be complicated when dictating custody agreements, but in my experience, it’s even harder when you don’t have equal representation. Having your own legal rep can help you navigate the confusing and messy legal situation that is divorce. They enter the fold with a clean slate, not only to show you unbiased truth but also to fight on your behalf, speaking for you where you can’t speak for yourself. Plus, they can explain all that legal mumbo jumbo that most people don’t understand. (Myself included.)
If you’re going through a similar situation and can’t afford representation, check to see if there are lawyers near you who can work pro bono. Check out these listings of law firms with pro bono programs state by state. I wish I would have known to look for a program like that when I was dealing with the situation myself!
#4. Keeping (or threatening to keep) your child away from the other parent.
No matter how your ex may treat you, if they’re a good parent, your child deserves to see them too.
You hear all the time about “dead beat dads” and “meth head moms” and other gossip-worthy stories about parents who supposedly aren’t good influences for their children.
Those are not the parents I’m talking about. If the other parent does drugs, commits crimes, is in jail, is emotionally/physically/mentally abusive, keeping them and your child apart is probably what’s best for your child.
But when both parents are good parents – no drugs, no alcohol, no abuse, etc., then why would you want to prevent them from spending time together? You aren’t just hurting your ex when you do this, you’re also hurting your child(ren).
And I don’t know about you, but I’m all about doing what’s best for your kids. You don’t keep your ex away just because you’re mad they left you. That would be like avoiding disciplining your child just so they always like you. You may not like dealing with it, but it’s best for your kid.
#5. Speaking badly about your ex to your child.
Do not speak badly about your ex to your child. Even if your interactions with your ex may be less than savory, that doesn’t mean you have to ruin things for your kid. I completely understand it can be difficult to explain divorce to children without bringing in adult feelings and issues, but you have to try your hardest to keep it about the children.
Your child loves you both, and there is nothing wrong with that! Even if you don’t love each other, your son or daughter is equal parts the both of you, and not surprisingly, loves both of you. It isn’t fair to make them feel bad for caring about both their parents.
My ex and I agree on this subject, and we’re happy that our daughter loves us both. I’ve seen unfortunate situations with other children where one parent consistently talked down about their ex, not realizing how much it hurt their kids. Ultimately it just made the kids feel guilty for loving the other parent.
Lots of children are people-pleasers who just want everyone to be happy, so don’t be surprised if they agree with the things you say in the moment. They’re more than likely agreeing to the same kind of things with the other parent. They aren’t liars, they’re just saying what they think you want to hear because they want to make you happy.
Don’t get me wrong
I’m not here to speak ill of my oldest daughter’s father. We may have our disagreements, but he’s a good dad. And recently, we’ve finally gotten to the point of successful co-parenting! But getting here was an uphill battle, and I’d hate to see other mom’s make the same mistakes I did.
I also want to make it clear – I’m not telling everyone to get a lawyer. I’m no expert, nor do I know your particular situation. What I do hope you take away from hearing about my experience, is the wisdom to not make the same mistakes I did.
Take an active role, do your own research, know that you can seek legal representation if you need help (even if you think you can’t afford it). Remember that your child loves both of you, and deserves to see both of you. And don’t take your anger out on aspects that could adversely affect your child.
Hopefully these tips help some of you in your own situations.
Remember that Kandy Apple Mama is for open discussion, a place to share your thoughts.
Just remember to stay positive and respectful.
Comment with any tips you’d offer from your own experiences!