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Woman's hand on a window thinking about why divorce hurts

Why Divorce Hurts

I think if you ask a woman why divorce hurts so much, she’d probably ask you in return, “Um, how much time do you have?” But there’s also the chance that she might recoil from you—unless you’re her close friend or a family member and you have a large tub of ice cream nearby—because of how intimate the answer is.

Divorce hits us at the core of who we are, in the most deeply personal ways. Prepared or not, whether we’re the initiator or not, it pulls the rug out from under us, out from under our sense of possibility, our hopes, our dreams for ourselves, our children, and our union, our own potential and the potential of our coupledom.

Divorce yanks away our identity. It drops us off the edge of what we know, and for a while, it feels like we’re going to keep falling, getting more and more lost in loss. It upends reality in all the public and practical ways, too, certainly. But that stuff is more tangible; you can define it or at least see the general shape of it. We can put more of those things on a to-do list.

It’s in the loss of the unseen—the spirit of the relationship—where self-doubt, hopelessness, and a surreal alienation from who we thought we were creep in and blind us for a while.

As if that fog wasn’t difficult enough to navigate, there are also all the little things that were unique to the two of you hiding in it. If the saying “the devil is in the details” has relevance in any life event, it’s in divorce. Those little day-to-day grace moments that were the divine of the relationship—the comfort and bliss of it—become swift, devilishly sharp memories that tunnel so quickly out of the pigeon holes we put them in. They fly at us unexpectedly, just when we think we might be okay, and they burrow in, becoming a lump in our throats.

As you’re doing dishes at the sink, suddenly you feel the weight of his* hands on your hips as he comes up to stand behind you, and your head leans back to rest on a chest that isn’t there. You’re hanging up a coat and from the cold scent of the fabric rushes a memory of him coming in from pruning trees in the backyard, tracking mulch and leaving piles of branches everywhere but delighted to see you. You open your arms for the hug that doesn’t come. You bend down to pet the cat and say something to her with his inflection, and it levels you and leaves you on the floor with her while she licks your tears. All you can do is curl up in a ball as you hear him in your mind, discussing the state of her tummy.

Maybe you wake from a nightmare and all you want is the rumble of his voice under your cheek, telling you it’s just a dream. But all that’s there are clammy sheets, too much quiet, too little air, and an aching solitude you didn’t have in mind when you said you needed “me time.”

And that’s really it. When we’re honest with ourselves, we know why divorce hurts: it comes the loss of a really wonderful dream that you had, not just about your own potential but the potential of your union, the possibility of joy and hope. We have that in common, but the intimacy of it is particular to each of us. If you’re reading this, you are likely still living in your pain and feeling vulnerable, but this is, after all, a shared experience. That’s why we’re all here—so that we know we’re not alone.

“Sometimes, we outlaw our own grief, failing to give value to our feelings; seeing the tears as intruders that must be defended against. But grief is not on a timetable and doesn’t always run on schedule. Sometimes it even leaves the station, only to double back and park again. And stay,” writes Jonathan Trotter, a contributor at The Gottman Institute.

“…So please allow grief, in your own heart and in the hearts of others. Don’t send it underground. If you’re uncomfortable with other peoples’ grief, you might want to look deep, deep down in your own soul and see if there’s some long-outlawed, long-buried grief. If you find some, begin gently to see it, vent it, feel it.”

If I am honest, even though I had released and let go of my Ex, there was for a while a tiny ember of hope glowing that we’d have another chance—that I would have a chance to do things differently. That ember was still there because of regret.

There are a million reasons for regret. There’s the regret of disappearing from the “we” to avoid the “I.” There may be regret for not being anywhere close to our best selves for a good chunk of the relationship; for being too frequently sad, angry, or hopeless during periods of our togetherness and letting him carry all of that too often. Some of us make the mistake of making our partnership the main source of our sense of accomplishment and pride and allowing ourselves to shrink into that and stay stuck there.

Sometimes we let fear stop us from finding our courage and reaching for something meaningful that’s just ours. Without realizing I was doing it, I wrapped more than a little of my identity around my Ex; I’d been chosen by a good man, and I half consciously made that my mantra for when I didn’t feel good about myself. I left him alone in the midst of us a lot; when I released us from our partnership (and then panicked), we remained friends, but even so, he took off like a wild creature finally freed.

It isn’t just that we can lose our identity in marriage (in any long-term relationship) and have to face choking fear and bewilderment when we start to find our way back to ourselves. The sharpest facet of that pain is the realization that no one took it from us; we gave it up. We fail ourselves as much as we fail our partners. It is the regret of that realization that’s another reason why divorce hurts. That and our own conscience. We can try to ignore it, but while ignorance may be bliss, it’s a mindless bliss. It isn’t until we truly understand this that we can forgive ourselves for giving up on ourselves, even temporarily.

You sit with the grief for a while. Sometimes it consumes you. And then you sit with the nothingness for a while, and it’s terrifying. And finally, when you get through the self-recognition, the ownership and the elusive self-forgiveness, you begin to see your sense of vulnerability ebbing away.

You realize that hope, like love, never really dies. They just change form, and it continue to do so. From the ashes of the hope you had for the relationship and all its potential, you have the hope that, now that it’s over, it might be reborn because you have yourself back and are strong enough to do things well this time, and then it changes form again and now you know that your hope for yourself isn’t fragile at all.

So remember, grief, hope, love—they are never really gone. They change form, and so do you. You may not get to do things differently with him, but you do get a chance to do things differently for yourself—be a different woman. However you created that chance, you did, so blot your face, lift your eyes, and go and meet yourself.

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

A woman looking out at a window thinking about her unwanted divorce

What to Do If You Are Dealing with an Unwanted Divorce

Your husband took you by surprise—but not the good kind. You never saw the end of your marriage coming. For many of us, that’s how it happens. One night you’re looking at Airbnb’s for a trip to Mexico with “Suzy and Ed,” your long-time married friends, your parallel soulmates whom you always travel with now that you’re reaching a certain age. You were picturing the guys playing golf together, while you and Suzy visited local markets. And then that word: divorce. Worse yet, maybe he told you there’s someone else.

You deserve so much—happiness and love and respect. Loyalty too. Deep down, you know this. But being served with divorce papers was never on the list of things you deserved.

If this is you, or close enough (maybe there is no third party to the story, as far as you know), then you are a woman facing an unwanted divorce. Below are ten things you should know.

Take your time as you read them over, and before you take action, give yourself permission to cry and mourn and hold space for your feelings. Start your divorce recovery journey in the place that feels right to you. And above all, be kind to yourself. Dealing with an unwanted divorce may feel impossible, but we promise you’ll get through this.

1. Understand that he’s* known he was going to leave you for a while

He’s been preparing for this divorce much longer than you have—he will be pulled together and clear-headed, ready for what comes next after he’s gotten the news off his chest. And in return, he’ll want you to fall in line, play your part, and sign the papers so he can officially call game over and move forward.

2. And because he’s had time to prepare, you’ll need a script to lean on

Here’s a good place to start: “You’ve been preparing for this for a while, but I’ve just been hit with the news. I need time to process what you are saying and what this means. I need to get educated.”

Prepare for him to react, for eyerolling, and more while you make it clear: “We are not operating by your clock anymore.”

3. Then find safe ground

This means find your people and get educated. Yes, it’s only natural to call your mother, brother, and best friend. But after sharing the shock you’re feeling, recognize you need more than empathy and verbal support. You need expert feedback on your situation. You need the what to do, how to do it, and above all, how to do it healthily feedback.

So that one day, one fine day, you can say you are recovered and healed from the complete devastation you are feeling now.

Our best suggestion is, of course, to meet with a divorce coach. You’ll want to hear how you can most efficiently get educated on what your life choices are right now and how you will take care of yourself. The right coach will help you understand what to do with all the outrage, anger, rejection, and grief you have over your unwanted divorce AND how to handle the aspects of it that are more business transaction than emotions. The business transaction of divorce, the legal and financial angles to the divorce, must be dealt with smartly and separately so you can protect yourself from being hurt again.

4. Be prepared, some people aren’t going to understand why you can’t just move on

This is especially true when it’s clear your husband started everything, or was maybe two-timing you, and you so clearly deserve more. Remember what we said about the clock above? Well, similarly, you are not healing or getting “back out there,” dating or otherwise, based on anyone else’s sense of urgency. This time is about you and how you choose to help yourself cope and heal.


Read “How Long Does it Take to Get Over a Divorce and 4 Signs You are on Your Way”


5. Find your tribe

Find women who understand you, who inspire you, who lift you up. Surround yourself with women who make you laugh and women who remind you of who you really are. If this is a support group, that’s great, but make sure that support group is facilitated by a pro who helps steer the conversation to a new, empowered and take-charge kind of place. A healthy divorce support group for you is one that teaches you things and, when you leave, has you feeling more positive and lighter.

6. No matter how blindsided you are, recognize there was something wrong in your relationship

You knew it on some level. Trying to second, third, or quadruple guess what exactly it was is a waste of energy right now because it was probably a lot of things. When a person gets to the point of leaving you, it was a process, not a single action or moment.

It could have been a slow or fast burn, but trying to fix it now is not going to work. It’s not all his fault or her fault. Your coming to terms with what you did will be the work of the next stage in your divorce recovery. But not now. Right now, you’ve got to get educated on what your rights are and what you’re entitled to. You must be treated fairly in this business negotiation.

7. Here’s what not to do: stalk him

You have to treat your Ex like an addiction. You cannot be with him more than you absolutely have to. Because whenever you are with him, your heart at varying degrees wants to go backward, to “return to the familiar.” You can’t afford to keep going backward, living in the past. You need to learn what steps to take and accept that they will be hard, but you need to learn how to fix your broken heart.

8. Do not compare your divorce to others

With an unwanted divorce, your recovery process is not the same as another woman who chose to leave her husband. She might be feeling excited and empowered, finally free, which bears no resemblance to your great sense of loss, disappointment, betrayal, and rejection. Your experiences are different. Your divorce recovery is probably going to take longer, but it will happen if you do things to support yourself and not go backwards too much.

9. You are human

You’re made of flesh and blood. And sometimes, the pain you feel will appear unbearable. And because of this sometimes you will fail, you will fall, and you will cry. But you progress every time you get back up and dry your face, all the times you pick your kids up from school, show up for work, or drive by to check in on your mom. That’s you compartmentalizing. Managing that makes you a master. Take stock of what you can do in spite of what you’ve been through!

10. You were part of a team before, but there was something flawed

Now you are no longer a team but a woman at a choice point, staring at a fork in the road. You must decide how you will meet the change that is coming toward you.

You may be going through an unwanted divorce, yes, but you can choose to consider it a foe or meet it as a friend. You can focus on the facts of what has happened to you and how they were not fair, or you can get curious about what’s in front of you. Get in the driver’s seat of your own life—it’s the only way you can see better.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

Getting through divorce

Seven Ways to Keep Your Sanity as You Get Through a Divorce

Getting through a divorce with our sanity intact is a real challenge. We have to grapple as much with what’s going on in our minds—with our beliefs about ourselves—as we do with what’s coming at us from the outside. It’s no wonder that divorce is typically ranked as one of the top three most stressful life events, possibly because it so often involves many of the other stressful events in life: loss of income, change of residence, changing jobs, loss of our friends and social network, worry over the health of a loved one…the list goes on.

And that’s what’s outside. Inside, the “I’m not enough” voice, the “I failed” voice, the ones that tell us that we can’t provide, that our children will be harmed, that we won’t experience love or passion again—they’re loud and they are on repeat.

A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in October 2019 cites that young adults of divorced parents experience more depression, loneliness, childhood trauma, attachment avoidance, attachment anxiety, chronic stress, and less paternal care. But while concern for children of divorce is justified and should be addressed, there’s good reason to be concerned for ourselves, as well.

“Divorce can exact a greater, and in many cases longer-lasting emotional and physical toll on the former spouses than virtually any other life stress, including widowhood,” writes New York Times reporter Jane Brody.

The research supports what we instinctively know: we need to get our feet under us. If marriage is a ballet, then divorce is an entire production of unrehearsed spins—no one auditions for this swirl of bewilderment, fear, anger, and hurt.

So, making a list of what you will need to get through your divorce is a great idea, but in the meantime, let’s loan you one.

1. Find one foundational thing

Dancers have a technique called “spotting” they use to keep their balance in the midst of a turn, so that even while spinning over and over again, they keep dizziness at bay and come back to center. Like spotting, your “One Thing” needs to be simple because you’ll need to be able to come back to it quickly and often, especially when your stress levels ratchet up. It’s a practice, a part of your routine, an affirmation, an essential oil, a green drink, a talisman—whatever you need it to be. It’s healthy, and it stays on repeat. It will probably become a long-term ally, even after you’ve gotten through your divorce. But until you do, it’s simple. It helps you find stillness in the middle of the tailspin, and it stays.

2. Get an objective third party to help you

Whether it’s a divorce coach, a therapist, or someone else, it’s a person who is not part of your village of friends and family, and that person is a professional.

A therapist can help sort through the past; a divorce coach can help navigate into the future. Or vice versa. Either way, they are trained and experienced in helping to redirect our thoughts and get us through the chaos of divorce without bias or judgement.

3. Listen to the uncomfortable truths

Relationships, for the most part, are two-way streets, and we need to own our side of the road. (Unless you are extricating yourself from an abusive marriage—in that case, this does not apply. Get yourself out. You can deal with this later, if you’re able and in a safe enough place externally and internally to do it. There is a huge difference between conflict in a balanced partnership, which is more like a verbal sparring match between two equal participants, and abuse, which is one person battering another.)

Your village—the friends you’re able to keep through this change, your community members, your family, your kids—all of them may tell you things you may not want to hear about how you contributed to the marriage’s end. Therapists and divorce coaches will too, although they will most likely say it in a way that’s easier for you to digest, not to mention deal with the fall-out if you get angry or feel remorseful.

Maybe you weren’t present in your marriage. Maybe you drank too much. Maybe you cheated. Whatever it is—and it’s likely more than one thing—if you don’t accept your own contribution and learn from it, you will be missing a huge learning opportunity and you will likely repeat the same mistakes.

As a former co-worker of mine put it, quoting Einstein, “Doing the same thing over and over again the same way and expecting different results is the definition of crazy.” Why would we want to get through a divorce only to be the same person with the same behaviors?

4. Expand your village

Support groups are available everywhere and get as specialized as you want. Ask around, look on-line, and on bulletin boards at the grocery store or at the library. Exercise caution. If you choose a group that’s linked to social media, make sure your Ex and anyone the two of you have in common doesn’t get too much information about what you’re doing. As you likely lost some friends you had in common with your Ex, how you are making new ones is none of their business. And the more resources you have, the better equipped you’ll be to get through it.

5. Exercise

For me, working out consistently was my “One Thing,” and it continues to be, along with a couple other practices. I know, I know, everyone says it. But you need endorphins to combat the grief, anxiety, and stress, and you have a much better chance at feeling mentally strong if you’re increasing your physical endurance. Improving your looks is just a side benefit…although it is delightful to see the expression on your Ex’s face when they see you a few weeks, months, or years later. If this is an ending, you may as well be happy.

6. Find low-cost ways to boost your earning

Providing for yourself and your family looks different now, and if you’ve never done this before, it will be particularly intimidating. This is where a divorce coach can help.

  1. Temp agencies like Kelly Services offer training for their employees and function like an agent. They find temporary positions that often turn permanent; you just have to be available and have a means of transportation. But in the meantime, you can log into their site and learn different computer programs that make you more valuable to employers.
  2. Learn a language. You can probably YouTube your way into being multilingual.
  3. Find out how to do a side business.
  4. In order to put a side business together, you may need free legal or tax advice. Agencies who might be able to direct you to CPA’s or attorneys doing pro bono work include Area Agencies on Aging, community mental health facilities, Safe Place, homeless shelters, and senior centers.
  5. Airbnb just may be the stay-at-home mom goldmine of the future. Renting your place out, even for just one week out of the year in some areas, can add thousands to your annual income.

7. Avoid turning comfort into vice

When asked how she got through her divorce, a friend of mine said, “I drank a lot of coffee, smoked a lot of cigarettes, gained a lot of weight, and had a lot of sex.” We all love our comfort foods, our rebellious little habits, the lover we find on Tinder, the totally unnecessary stilettos with the tassel on the back, or a good Scotch or microbrew. When we’re in the thick of divorce and losing the person we looked to for love, the things that we can now look forward to become more important. But, they can also become more important than they should be. Most of them are expensive and all can be addictive. So, lean on your crutch if you need to, but keep in mind that a crutch is meant to be temporary. The longer you use it, the harder it will be to give it up. As we get through divorce, the idea is to walk (or dance) without it.

Divorce is a messy whirlwind of change, of belly-dropping fears, and it makes demands on your abilities you never planned for. You can do this. You can get through your divorce. You may not have auditioned for it, but even across its slick surfaces and on the precarious tip of a toe, you can do it with grace and you can do it with your sanity intact.

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark), her new guy and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

“Divorce can be on your terms, one step at a time.” ~ SAS for Women.

Divorce Support Chat Rooms as suggested by a woman with a computer

Get the Support You Deserve But Exercise Caution with Divorce Support Chat Rooms

There are so many reasons women turn to divorce support chat rooms. Divorce feels isolating. It can feel terrifying to open up to others, but when it’s the right person, it can also feel like taking a deep breath after a long time spent underwater.

It’s natural for women to seek out the solace of other women. You may have more friends and family than you can count or you may have come out of your marriage realizing just how many people you’ve left behind—either way, entering a divorce support chat room offers the chance to tap into a community of people who understand exactly what you’re going through.

But as with most things on the internet and in life, there are two sides to every story. Exercising caution in these chat rooms is crucial.

Reaching out to others from behind a screen feels safe

When you talk about your divorce with friends and family, it’s not always easy to be that honest. You might be afraid, rightfully so, that your loved ones will judge you or your Ex, who may still be a big part of your life, especially if you have children. Your friends and family will often have opinions you never asked for and questions you can’t even begin to answer. Did you decide this together? Have you tried everything to save your marriage? What exactly? Aren’t you mad? I know in my marriage I just had to …

Your loved ones are (usually) well-meaning, but their entire perspective is limited by which aspects of your relationship you chose to show the outside world. And as we know, that’s not the full picture of your marriage. But beyond that, you won’t have the answers, or maybe, you’ll have too many answers. And as well, it’s hard for your friends and family, who are not experts to hold back on their own stories, judgement or agendas.

If you are dealing with divorce and feeling frustrated or disappointed by friends and family (especially as you approach the holidays, maybe with dread!), you might prepare a script for yourself — one that blocks their questioning, but kindly: “You know, Karen, thank you for your interest in hearing what’s going on. Let me assure you, I’m working on myself right now and if I think of a way you can be of help I will let you know. How are your cats?” You can redirect the conversation away from your divorce. You don’t owe anyone anything, after all. Or, you can simply go online.

Divorce support chat rooms feel private and safe. By definition a “chat room” is a space on the internet that allows users to communicate with each other, typically limiting the conversation to a particular theme. Search Facebook for divorce support groups for women and countless choices will appear in front of you. Most, if not all, are not public. You have to request to join the group, and once accepted, it feels comforting to see other women posting about their own divorces—their stories might not be the same as yours, but you can see glimpses of yourself in them anyway.

Places like Reddit Divorce are full of people anonymously asking others for divorce advice, too, and because those responding are strangers, it can feel like the conversations are more honest than those you might have with someone who actually knows you in “real life.”

But do you want to simply chat about your pain? And take in the anguish of others? Do your homework to find out which type of online support you really want.  Perhaps what you are looking for is something that allows you to share but also provides traction or structure to move forward and do SOMETHING with your pain so you get to a better place. This action could be doing something with your emotions or taking critical legal, financial, or practical steps. For especially these reasons, it’s important to research what kind of online divorce support group is best for you.

The downside of easy access

Not all divorce support chat rooms and groups are the same. Many are unmoderated. Others are facilitated by professionals from large organizations with a standard set of materials to work from, leaving little room for addressing the specific needs of individuals. And other groups have their own personality, combining educational steps, guidance and support.

One problem with online divorce support chat rooms is that many of the conversations you have aren’t guided. They are full of other people who are struggling and hurting just like you—people who might not be in the right headspace to offer you the kind of advice that will help you move forward with your divorce recovery.

Women first enter these groups to vent, but the venting can quickly turn into endlessly reliving of your trauma and that of others. Instead of feeling better about your situation, you end up spinning and wallowing, comparing your marriage to others and searching for meaning and connections. Does it really matter who’s at fault? Is that a riddle you can even solve?

What if instead of looking for answers that still won’t change your reality, you worked on finding yourself? You need a professional to facilitate your conversations and direct your energy so that you can release it and reach a better place.

You can revisit and tell your story until you turn blue in the face and grow sick of hearing your own voice, but if the person you’re speaking to can’t tell you which direction and steps are right for you specifically — “right” meaning healthy and smart — then you aren’t getting the help you need. And you may only be reinforcing your spin cycle or your painful status quo of knowing and doing what you already know.

Putting an end to conversations that go nowhere

An expert, like a therapist or a divorce coach, is trained to guide you through conversations with specific goals in mind. If you need true and lasting divorce support, be selective about whom you reach out to.

When you’re looking for a divorce support chat room or group, do your research. Be aware that there are people out there who lead programs without proper training. The group you participate in should not simply be an endless series of conversations where each person takes her turn to complain about her life and funnel negative, contagious energy. Are you learning and growing? Chances are great that this group format is not serving you and is a waste of your time. Ask yourself, do you have a lot of energy to spare right now?

Getting support when you need it is good and positive and necessary. When we bottle up our emotions, they weigh us down. The world feels heavier and darker, and we can get lost in our own sadness, unable to see a way out. But if the support you’re getting isn’t the right kind, then conversations move sideways instead of forward. They feel circular, and progress is halted.

Believe us when we say that you have so much life left to live—your best memories are not behind you. They are in front of you! Now is the time to step outside yourself. Indulge in some self-care. Take up kickboxing or find a local hiking group. Find your way back to an old hobby or explore new ones. If you are recreating after divorce, join a productive women’s divorce support group to find other people ready to heal and move forward. If you are in the confusing state of not knowing if you should divorce, or are beginning the process, find the right group that focuses on the legal, financial and emotional needs you have in this stage. It’s healthy and natural to reach out to others, even in a divorce support chat room, but the wrong kind of help can lead you to the wrong place. You need a leader to guide you, as you create a genuine vision of what healing looks like for you and the concrete actions steps you must take to get there.

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

“Divorce can be on your terms, one step at a time.” ~ SAS for Women.

divorced women share survive holidays

Divorced Women Share 14 Secrets to Surviving the Holidays

The holidays can feel anything but “holy” or “holly-filled” this time of year if you are reverberating from divorce. If you are thinking about divorce, for example, you could be feeling schizophrenic right now, or like a fraud, trying to honor the hallowed rituals at the same time you are feeling fragmented and splintered about your future. If you are dealing with divorce, you are coping with some of the cruel realities of what change genuinely means now for your life (and your children’s). And if you are recovering from divorce, well, let’s face it. It’s a whole new game and you are probably looking at some time alone. All alone.

To help lessen the impact of the season and its expectations, we’ve turned to thoughtful, divorced women who are survivors. We’ve asked them, what suggestions and ideas might they share with you for coping with the holidays? What we’ve learned is that these other women who have come before you — those who have experienced the pain and isolation of living outside the conventional norms — want you to not suffer as deeply. What follows are 14 secrets divorced women want you to know about surviving and indeed, repurposing the holidays.

The reality is, we could all use a little help.

1. Don’t deny reality

“The holidays are a construct! They are celebrated by what seems to be EVERYONE. But don’t beat yourself up if you’re not feeling it because of your divorce or something else. Don’t participate if you’re not into them this year. Give yourself a pass to hang out and do anything you want if you’re alone. Ignore the holidays if you wish. Or go all out if you want. Don’t stop with the tree, hang a holiday light from every inch of your house. Inside and out! The point is, you have a choice and don’t go along with something that’s not comfortable. The holidays will come again. And you may want to lead the Macy’s Day Parade next year.”

June B., Minneapolis, Minnesota

2. Give yourself permission to do it your way—or not at all

“If this is your first (or second or whatever number) solo holiday, my best advice is to be gentle with yourself. Be grateful for what remains and then seek out others. Accept invitations that you historically would have turned down for whatever reason. Try to cultivate a new tradition for yourself and your children that is uniquely your own. Reach out, it gets better…I’m told.”

Susan, Boston, Massachusetts

“If you are in the throes of divorce, instead of trying to figure out how to do the holiday cards like you always have—with you, your spouse, and your children—give yourself permission to skip the holiday cards altogether this year. Or if that’s just not possible (you are too committed to the tradition), create a card that focuses on your children. That’s right—nix you and Mr. X from the photo!”

Molly K., Geneva, New York

3. Make a plan well in advance

“If you don’t have children or they’re not with you this upcoming holiday, make a plan right now on how you will spend that day. Brainstorm ideas. Maybe you are going to connect with long lost friends and have a meal, or go away on a trip or a retreat, or spend the day hiking, or go to a movie marathon. That’s what I did ten years ago, on December 25. That was my first Christmas alone, I mean utterly alone. And somehow sitting in a warm, dark movie theater with strangers — the theater was packed! — and getting caught up in a 4-hour epic drama transported me. It transported me out of my own drama, giving me a sense of warmth and community on a day that could have gone done as one of the worst in my life.”

Liza Caldwell, SAS for Women Cofounder

4. Love yourself this holiday season

“I bought myself a new bed with a good quality mattress and some new bed linens that cater only to my taste. The linens are a very feminine design and are superb to the touch. This new bed gives me good quality sleep and a better mood in the morning as a result. Instead of being upset that I sleep alone, I feel like a queen in a queen-sized bed on my own. This has worked so well that I’ve asked myself what else can I do to love myself. So I’ve changed my diet a little. First, I realized that I get more pleasure cooking for myself than I do eating out. I try to really listen to what I would like to eat and not compromise. I buy ingredients that I didn’t used to buy. They are ones that give me pleasure, like very fresh fish or a mango for breakfast.”

Eva, Moscow, Russia

“At 2:30 am, I admitted it was insomnia and I opened up a free app on my phone called Insight Timer for a guided yoga nidra session. The app offers lots of approaches to stress, insomnia, and more. I don’t know if I was conscious for the whole thing or not but I had an awesome sleep in the time I had left. I plan to listen to it again while awake in the daytime to learn about relaxing while awake and to think about regular breaks from constant focus on how much I have to do in too little time. I would like to reduce the mental energy I spend on problems and share my time with increased experience of what’s good and right.”

Susan W., Bethesda, Maryland


Looking for more suggestions from smart, divorced women? Check out this post on how to cope with divorce like a modern woman.


5. Let your boundaries be known

“By you and others. If you expect to see family, your Ex, or friends (the ones you are still in contact with), share your preferences. Let them know if there are gatherings you will not be attending this year or topics you’d rather not get involved with. If you worry you’ll see your Ex at a gathering, find out for sure and ask for understanding if you are going to beg out of attending this year. This helps manage your friends’ and family’s expectations and may also help ensure their good time lest they be worried about you.”

Alice, San Diego, California

6. Practice your script

“The holidays are a time when you are bumping into well meaning and not so well meaning acquaintances, friends, and family. Practice your lines so you are not taken unawares when people ask you about your divorce—the elephant in the room. I used to get caught off guard and didn’t know when to shut up, always regretting that I said too much when people asked me how was I doing. Now I know it doesn’t help anyone to talk about my feelings indiscriminately. In fact, few people are deserving of knowing what I’m really feeling, especially this time of year. So I keep it neutral. Why ruin their rum punch?

‘Thank you for asking about me. I am doing okay and doing what I must to take care of myself and work on my healing. How’s your puppy?’”

Bernadette, Athens, Georgia

7. Be careful with the rum punch

“Holiday parties and alcohol could be the perfect opportunity to forget your misery. But not really. As tempting as it is to numb your feeling with the spiked eggnog or oddly available drug, remember your emotions are just under your skin and you are still healing, if not hurting. It won’t take much for your emotions to be triggered and for your wounds or anger or hollowness to come bubbling out. Spare yourself and others any unpleasant outbursts or regrettable performances, and save the over indulging for a getaway with your best friends. Ask a friend to accompany you to a party and to take you home if you start acting a little vulnerable. Protect yourself.”

Janet, Boca Raton, Florida

8. Volunteer

“If you don’t have children or you don’t have your children for the holiday, maybe you’re feeling lonely? A good way to get out there and enjoy the holidays is to volunteer. Do it early because places book up! You may also meet some really great people.”

Alina, New York City, New York

“Perhaps volunteer time at a food shelter or church to pass out holiday meals or anything else they need your services for. I have found it to be very humbling and rewarding, and it helps to put the holidays in true perspective. One time I did this with a girlfriend, and after the event, we came home for a glass of wine—okay, bottles, wink, wink. We had goodies prepared for ourselves and had a lovely time reflecting on how blessed we really are.”

Lori, California

9. Focus on your children

“If you have children, you can’t simply write off the holidays. That would be tough on them. But be mindful that you may not have the capacity or resources to do everything you’ve done in the past. Nor should you try to compensate for the divorce by spoiling them with presents. Instead, give your children genuine time with you! Pick the most important rituals you want to focus on—cookie making or holiday decorating or caroling or visiting family and friends. Don’t try to do everything. By striving to stay present with your children, you may find you’ll experience the magic through their eyes, and you will savor some of the joy that is there for you too.”

Pam, Galveston, Texas

10. Get rid of old traditions

“I always hated how we had to get dressed up in fancy party dress every year to attend my in-laws New Year’s dinner. My children were too young to really participate and behave well. And there was always so much pressure and so many eyes on me it seemed, as their mother, to make sure the kids kept it together. Well, guess what? That’s on my Ex now. This year, for Thanksgiving, I am inviting my family, friends, and children to join me in wearing their ugliest Thanksgiving Sweaters, and we’re going to watch football. I am going to show my kids there are many ways of being together. The important thing is being together.”

Kendall, Cleveland, Ohio

11. Create new rituals

“I make an event of watching films that I always liked for the holidays and any day for that matter. These films are ones I couldn’t indulge in before as my husband didn’t like them. In my case, these are French comedies or Woody Allen films. And these are just for me!”

Eva, Moscow, Russia

“The holidays can become redundant, boring, and stiff. I think they are supposed to serve as a comfort, a ritual for celebrating, but I know the holidays can draw attention to what is missing or who is missing. To me that’s one of the biggest reasons for trying to do things differently. To be really conscious of what we love most about the holidays. I try to involve those aspects into plans. For me, as a single person, it’s all about who I will be with. I call those people up a month before a certain holiday, and I say, ‘What are we going to do to remind ourselves we are alive?” I’d rather eat Stouffer’s frozen lasagna from a microwave then spend a holiday faking it anymore.”

Maria, Portland, Oregon

“… For me, as a single person, it’s all about who I will be with. I call those people up a month before a certain holiday, and I say, ‘What are we going to do to remind ourselves we are alive?” I’d rather eat Stouffer’s frozen lasagna from a microwave then spend a holiday faking it anymore.”

Maria, Portland, Oregon

“Organize a ‘SisStar-Giving’ amongst other ladies who may be recently divorced or may not have children, friends, or family locally. To remove the stress of over-planning and being overwhelmed with meal preparation, you can provide one main dish (you can’t go wrong with wings) and ask each guest to bring the dish that people always ask them to make. To guide the menu, you can suggest some categories like appetizers or desserts. There’s bound to be a ‘mixologist’ in the crew. That one may opt to bring wine or other beverages. You could theme it as Jeans & Tee regarding dress code to make it as casual as possible, and look up party games to play. Crank up a mobile device with some good tunes, and you have a night to remember. Keep it simple by not going over the top, but one must have a ‘Thankful Circle’ in which everyone shares at least one thing SHE IS absolutely thankful for.”

Queen V, South Carolina

12. Be present and open

“I always hear advice for divorced women with kids. Sometimes it’s a little lonely and scary for someone who is in their mid/late 30s with no children. We may have expected to have children by this point in our lives and we don’t. To women like me, I say, ‘Give yourself permission to smile and enjoy the people who love you in your life. You are worth it.’”

Alina, New York City, New York

“I was getting concerned about my birthday on Dec 30th. This will be my first birthday after being separated. I was wavering between ‘doing something unusual’ or ‘sulking and doing nothing.’ By accident or by will of the Universe, ladies from work suggested we all go to the ballet on Dec 30th and have a dinner afterwards. I feel so happy and am so much looking forward to my birthday now.”

Eva, Moscow, Russia

13. Have a Plan B and a Plan C

“One of my biggest coping mechanisms, now that I am my own team, is to always have a plan, but if that plan doesn’t work, to be able to resort to a Plan B or a Plan C. Life is always shifting. I know I can dream about my ideal scenario and do everything to make it happen, but if something goes wrong, it’s a great comfort to have a Plan B and C so I am not left out in the cold.

For example, a friend of mine who can be a little whifty said I could bring my kids over to her house on Christmas afternoon, that her brother was coming over to give the kids a pony ride. I thought this sounded amazing and so different from what my kids have done in the past, but I worry. I’m not in control of the event so it might fizzle out and not happen. I’m not going to mention it to my kids until the day of and make it a surprise if it comes about, and if not, I’ve already looked online and found that there will be caroling in the town square at 5pm. We’ll go there. And if not, then we’ll go ice skating (Plan C) at the civic center which I’ve already confirmed is open on Christmas Day.”

Mary Beth, Addison, Wisconsin

“Plan ahead for the time when your children will not be with you. Having a fun plan for myself, such as time with friends, helped me feel loved during the holidays in a new way and helped with the intense feelings of missing my children.”

Laura, Middlebury, Vermont

14. As with everything, we promise it will get easier

“Getting divorced has been MAJOR! It’s meant losing friends who I thought were my besties. Losing possessions. Losing a way of being—not just losing my Ex. There are so many new and good things that have happened as a result of this ‘loss vacuum,’ but I’ve also learned something about me. I’ve been adapting. I’ve been learning and adapting and that makes this major change easier bit by bit.”

Jenny, Kansas City, Missouri

“The first time you do something new, like experience a holiday as a single person, it can summon up all the grief you’ve ever felt about the changes you’ve lived through. It’s okay to feel sorry for yourself. Be kind to yourself, too, though and remember, it will get easier. Your past is there, yes, but so is your future, a future for you to shape. Consciously. And that includes holidays you can and will experience the way you choose. You are not on autopilot anymore. And there’s something about that that is THRILLING!”

Mel, Garden City, New York

Thank you to all the divorced women in our community who cared enough about other women to share their ideas and secrets for surviving and repurposing the holidays.

If you needed this, know that every single one of the women above have experienced the gamut of feelings you’re going through, even if the geographic location or specifics of each of their stories are uniquely her own. And know as well that these women offering counsel are still here, they are still surviving and, yes, sometimes, more than they ever thought possible, they are thriving. We hope you find comfort in this, too. For this holiday season, and all days in your new chapter, find your old and new people who understand you. But above all, follow your own path as you continue onward in your divorce recovery. And as always, always, be kind to yourself. With all you’ve been through, you deserve it.

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

“Divorce can be on your terms.” ~ SAS for Women.

Changing name after divorce

Changing Your Name After Divorce

Changing your name after divorce can feel freeing—or it can feel like pouring salt on an open wound. And it’s possible, certainly, that it might even feel like both. Where you stand depends on the circumstances of your divorce and your particular mindset.

In either case, it’s the attachment to our spouse and the way that a name change seems to cut right through it in a way that’s more tangible (and sometimes more visible to the outside world) than simply saying “I’m done” that makes it feel so weighted with importance.

But there’s the mental leaps and bounds we must go through while ending a marriage, and then there’s the legal realities, like figuring out custody or changing your name after divorce. We know that it’s all just paper and words and so much ado about nothing, maybe, but it’s still our lives. Paper and words can mean everything.

Even if you’re not a sentimental person—even if you and your spouse got creative and chose to combine and hyphenate your last names—you chose your married name in the same way that you chose your spouse. Going back to your birth name may feel, in a way, like breaking a promise to yourself. It could feel like failing, an emotion divorce brings out in us over and over again, even when we know we’re the only ones keeping score.

So why do some women choose to keep their Ex’s last name while others go back to their birth names? And how does one go about changing her name anyway? Read on below to learn more.

How to go about changing your name after divorce

Divorce laws vary depending on where you live, but most states allow a spouse to change their name during a divorce by requesting the judge enter a formal order to change your last name back to your birth name. If your divorce is already final, you may be able to request an amended divorce decree. The more common way is to wait until the legal process is over. Once you have your divorce decree, you can use a notarized copy of this document to change your name everywhere else. For legal changes, you’ll often need to submit a notarized version of the document to …the social security office, the DMV, your bank and credit card companies, and the entities holding your retirement accounts, etc.)

There are, however, some states that don’t require any paperwork at all, allowing you to go back to your birth name right away as long as you are using it consistently, and others that treat changing your name after divorce the same as any other name change petition, so be sure to speak to your lawyer about which option is best for and which laws apply to you.

Whatever you do, get educated and do your research. There are plenty of women who still use their Ex’s last name not by choice but because their lawyer simply never informed them of their options. Getting an amendment to your divorce decree or changing your name via petition in the future could come with additional financial costs.

How women feel

Women keep their Ex’s last name for many reasons, some that are emotional, others that are practical, and some that fall in-between. It’s easier, for one. (There’s far less paperwork to fill out if you just sit back and do nothing, especially if your divorce is already final.) If you use your name professionally, then it’s less confusing and more consistent. If you have children, it might make transitioning to life after divorce a little smoother for them. You may not be living with their father anymore, but you’re still a family with a shared name.

Let’s just add, that even if you change your last name, in regard to your children, you are still a family but your family has shifted in look — like so many modern families.

Some women genuinely like their married name better than their old one, so they keep it. Maybe it’s just easier to pronounce than their birth name or they didn’t have the best relationship with their father. And for other women, it comes down to a sense of who they want to be.  Going back to a maiden name may feel like returning home, to one’s most authentic self.

If you change your name, people who may have only guessed or heard rumors about your personal life before will now know without a doubt that you are divorced. For you, that might be a good thing. You might be ready for your newly-single life, for a sense of independence you’ve been craving. Or, it might feel like yet another chink in your armor.

How experts feel

But there’s something to be said for taking back what’s yours, no matter the circumstances. Some experts say that going back to your birth name can be a way of “restoring your prior identity.” The exception, of course, would be if you’re one of those women mentioned above who uses her name professionally. Otherwise, using your birth name could be one way to start feeling whole again as you continue on your divorce recovery journey.

So many of us lose ourselves to relationships, wrapping our identity up with another’s so closely that we can’t remember what we actually want or need or even like by the end of it all. Because changing your name after divorce is yet another thing that affects our identities, it can feel even more final than the actual end of our marriage.

And keeping your Ex’s name? Well, there’s nothing wrong with that either, but it can give the impression to both your children and potential romantic partners that there’s a deeper connection between you and your Ex than there actually is. For your children, this connection is likely comforting, but for a potential love interest, it may be threatening or, at the very least, uncomfortable.

What really matters

Marriage felt like the tying together of your identity to your husband’s, and now you’re slowly undoing all that work. It’s terrifying and exciting, but so are most of the best things in life.

At the end of the day, it’s really about how you feel. It is, after all, your name, and you have to live with it. Do you have children? Do they have strong feelings about you changing your name after divorce? For that matter, how does your Ex feel about it? How does your married name feel on your tongue? What’s your relationship with it? Was it a name you chose? Was it forced on you by your spouse or your family’s expectations?

There are so many factors to consider when changing your name after divorce, but don’t forget that what you want and need should be front and center in your mind.

Whether you are considering a divorce, navigating it, or recovering from the challenging experience, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce.

SAS offers women 6, FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you and your future. Join our tribe now.

Divorce help for women

Divorce Help for Thoughtful Women

There’s no one way to be married, and the same is true for divorce. Smart women find the best way through it is by viewing the divorce process as a whole, and then narrowing in and breaking down each piece into manageable sizes that can be more easily accomplished. Take things slowly, and make sure the direction you’re headed in is the one you really want to go in. Like any journey, you have to first take a look at the lay of the land and develop a holistic understanding of what this new place you’re venturing into looks like.

We are all about divorce help for women. Here are a few pointers to get you started, whether you’re thinking of divorce or just beginning the process.

Get educated

Being informed makes us feel more powerful. It’s also eye-opening because as much as humans love to play the “blame game,” we know too well that in a marriage fault is very rarely easy to assign. Do your research. Read books on divorce. Talk to professionals. Become an expert on your own options because that way, no matter how things turn out, you will feel confident that you’re making the right choices for yourself and your family.

Develop a safety net

You need to find new ways of creating stability in your life—there is so much that’s outside of our control, but saving money, connecting with new and old friends, and creating spaces for ourselves that feel safe and empowering are things that are very much within our control. You just have to be brave and disciplined enough to go out and do them. So start a “war chest,” where you save money for both yourself, your children, and your future. Nourish yourself. Find a women’s hiking group. Find a new job. Do things that make you feel whole again.

Be careful who you trust with the whole truth

People often enter into conversations with their own set of preconceived notions. If you have people in your life who you trust and know to be open-minded or objective, then by all means, allow them to be a shoulder to lean on. Otherwise, you may want to keep the details of your divorce to yourself. People judge. They give out opinions where they’re unwanted. Right now, you have to protect yourself as much as possible—even from people who mean well. Surround yourself with positive people.

Get organized

Get an email address you use specifically for divorce matters (you might even use a private or incognito window if you’re on a shared computer). Keep a notebook, and divide it into three sections: emotional, legal, and financial. You could also add other sections like family or other if you’d like. Write down your fears in the emotional section. Then take a look at the list and ask yourself which are actually legal or financial questions and move accordingly. Maybe they’re something else entirely. Now look back at all your legal and financial questions. Who can help you find your answers? A lawyer? An accountant? A certified divorce financial analyst? A divorce coach? There are countless professionals out there offering divorce help for women.

Keep a folder where you store important documents. What do you own? What do you owe? Keep a calendar of appointments and important deadlines. If your divorce isn’t amicable, you might even need to document your husband’s transgressions.

Get a legal consultation

Google can only take you so far, and the information you find generally only covers the basics of divorce laws in your state. We all think we can avoid going to see a lawyer, or that the cost isn’t worth it. But the fact is that you can’t afford to remain ignorant about your own circumstances—you’re only hurting yourself.

Find a new normal

You have to find a new normal. Even if you and your husband end up deciding there is still enough love left to work on reigniting the spark, you have to live your life like that saying “you can’t go home again.” You can’t go back because that life was no longer serving you. You need new routines and positive habits. At some point, you have to stop searching for divorce help for women. You have to feed your body and your soul. Exercise, and go to classes. Get a medical exam. Go do all the things you keep saying you want to do but have never quite gotten to. Step outside yourself and your comfort zone in order to find a new way forward.

Understand the journey you’re on

Manage your expectations. This divorce recovery will not only be about overcoming the legal and financial aspects of divorce but the emotional as well. What kind of support will you need to cope with the stresses of divorce? Be sure to look into therapy, reach out to a divorced friend, and look into the benefits of working with a divorce coach (even if you don’t end up getting divorced, they can be tremendously helpful). And if you’re not quite ready for divorce, then be sure not to threaten your husband with it until you know exactly what it means and what it looks like for you. Whatever you do, don’t rely on your attorney alone; they’re not there to cover the entire scope of divorce and the emotions that come with it.

There will be a tipping point

There’s rarely a moment in any of our lives where we can say with 100% certainty that we are making the right decision. We plan, we research, we talk things out. We trust in our intuition and our smarts. But at the end of the day, we don’t possess the crystal ball we so desperately want. The same is true for divorce. Even when you reach your own personal tipping point—that thing or the distance that pushes you over the edge from simply consider a divorce to actually getting one—you will still feel a little uncertain. But know that there is life after divorce, and what it looks like is different for everyone.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself and take things one day at a time. There is divorce help for women out there. But the past will only drag you down if you let it. Focus on what’s right in front of you, the aspects of your life that are within your control now, and create a plan. And if you can, be kind to your spouse too.

When we reach a point in our relationship where divorce is suddenly on the table, the decision feels as though it was already made for us. Asking for what we need to be happy isn’t always easy. Nor is it obvious what we are legally entitled to. Get educated on what your rights are and what is legally yours, and as well, learn about the healthiest ways for evaluating your choices and moving through the process. Around the corner, there is a beautiful life you cannot yet imagine and it’s waiting for you.

Whether you are considering a divorce or already navigating the confusing experience, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce.

SAS offers women 6, FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future.

“A successful divorce requires smart steps, taken one at a time.”

~ SAS for Women 

Dealing with joint custody

Joint Custody: What Is It, and How Does It Work?

I spoke with divorce attorney Kathy Wagner about joint custody recently. She shared some critical insights from her 30-plus years of experience practicing family law in Somerset County, New Jersey. While there will be similarities in family law state-to-state, there are also important differences, so be sure to Google custody law in your state before taking action on any of this.

The difference between physical and legal custody

In New Jersey, the person who has physical custody has actual possession of the child, meaning the child lives primarily with that person. Having legal custody means having the right to make decisions for the child in the areas of health, education, and general welfare.

When the parents are married, both of these powers are vested in both parents. This means the child lives with both parents, and both parents can and do make legal decisions for the child.

After the parents live separately, the physical and legal custody arrangements must be settled with a custody decision either amongst themselves, memorialized by the court in the final judgment of divorce, or by a family law judge if the parents cannot agree.


Remind yourself of what your children deserve. Read How to Help Your Child Cope with Divorce.


The best interests of the child dictate the custody arrangement

In New Jersey, family law judges determine what custody arrangement is in the “best interests of the child.” The judge begins by presuming that children benefit from maintaining “frequent and continuing contact with both parents” and from having both parents “share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing.” N.J.S.A. 9:2-4. Then the judge weighs the following factors, among others, in determining what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child:

  • The parents’ ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate regarding the child
  • The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unjustified withholding
  • The interaction and relationship of the child with the parents and other siblings
  • History of domestic violence
  • Safety of the child and/or either parent from physical abuse by other parent
  • Preference of the child of sufficient age and capacity
  • Needs of the child
  • Stability of home environment
  • Quality and continuity of child’s education
  • Fitness of parents
  • Geographical proximity of parents’ homes
  • Extent and quality of time spent with child both before and after separation
  • Parents’ employment responsibilities
  • Age and number of children

Contrary to popular belief, a judge will never exclusively use one factor—like a parent’s income level—as the sole deciding factor in who gets custody of a child.

There are three types of custody in New Jersey

In New Jersey, custody can be summarized by these three possible arrangements: Joint, Split, and Sole custody. Sole and Joint custody is defined specifically by New Jersey law.

Joint custody

This is what married parents have by default. Both people can make decisions about the child’s welfare, and the child lives in the same home as both parents. After a divorce, parents can often retain joint legal custody, even if the child lives mostly with one parent or the other.

According to state law, any joint custody arrangements must include specific instructions for consultation between parents on important decisions and residency of the minor child.

Split custody

If parents have more than one child, the court could split the children between the two parents. This is rarely done—in most cases the courts won’t split siblings apart so long as there is another option. In exceptional cases, such as there being a child from a previous marriage or a large age gap between siblings, the court might be more willing to split custody between parents.

Sole custody

Sadly, some people just aren’t fit to be parents. It could be due to alcoholism, criminal behavior, or abuse, but in any case, the case courts will not leave a child in the care of a parent who seems abusive or negligent. In these cases, one parent takes legal and physical custody of the child, while the other parent loses those rights.

Unless the other parent is found to be abusive or negligent, the parent with sole custody must still make arrangements for the child to have time with the other parent. The statues provide no guidance for what constitutes “appropriate parenting time,” and this is a frequent cause of custody battles.


Learn about the relevance of drug use in divorce in Coparenting Through Divorce: Drug Use, Drug Testing & Family Court.


How does joint custody work?

Again, parents can share joint physical custody, joint legal custody, or both. If parents share both, then it is common for their child to live with one parent during the school week and with the other the remainder of the time. The parents consult with one another regarding major decisions and collaborate to parent their child as best they can despite the divorce.

Joint custody obviously requires a great deal of civil and constructive communication between parents, and not every divorced couple is capable of this.

Can we make the joint custody arrangement without a lawyer?

It’s highly recommended that you speak to an attorney and file a motion with the court if you want to change the child custody arrangement set by the court. Of course, you have the right to represent yourself pro se if you wish, but be forewarned: the courts won’t make special accommodations for you as a layperson, and you will be expected to follow the same procedures as a lawyer.

If you and your Ex try to change the custody arrangement without going to court, this can be problematic in that if either of you decide not to follow your new arrangement, the new arrangement cannot be enforced by the court. In fact, it is the person insisting on the new arrangement that will be found in the wrong by the family law judge, who knows only about the original arrangement.

Find the best lawyer for your joint custody case

Family law is a highly specialized area of practice, and laws vary state-to-state. In New Jersey, custody disputes are settled in separate courts from other legal matters by dedicated family court judges. Even if you and your Ex seem to agree on most things and believe that you can make joint custody work, you need to find an experienced family law attorney in your area who can help you craft an arrangement that works for your family and get that arrangement approved by the court.

Veronica Baxter is a blogger and legal assistant to Katherine K. Wagner, Esq. Katherine practices divorce and family law in Somerset County, NJ.

Whether you are considering a divorce or already navigating the confusing experience, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce.

SAS offers women 6, FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future.

“A successful divorce requires smart steps, taken one at a time.”

~ SAS for Women 

Woman contemplating getting divorce

10 Critical Things I Wish I’d Known Before Getting Divorced

When you go through a catastrophe like a life-crisis alone, the ground shakes. You lose your bearings as the tectonic plates of your routine and What’s Always Been crack and shift. As you struggle to gain footing, you realize you don’t know what else is coming, what else you’ll be faced with.

You simply don’t know what else you don’t know.

Getting divorced is like that, one full-blown life crisis where your “normal” breaks and collides with splintering parts—not only with what’s happening outside you with your partner, family, friends and work—but inside too, with your mind, body, and heart in spiraling conflict. Sometimes it seems like stress alone is the only rope keeping these disparate pieces together—stress is the one constant as you try with all your might to get through and beyond.

But once things begin to settle and you start to emerge from the heat and protracted legal process, and you arrive on the other side, starting to live on your own, you often find yourself looking back, instead of forward. For time gives you a chance to search for reasons now, lessons that explain how you got here, and what’s more, what’s good about this new place, if anything.

Sometimes you’ll wish, “Ah, if only I’d known this before while going through my divorce.”

Hard-won lessons, below are a few that resonate with me, a divorced woman and divorce coach. Between my personal story and professional experiences hearing from other women, I’ve learned of many such epiphanies, Eureka moments that only reveal themselves farther down the divorce road. So, for those of you struggling — thinking about or navigating divorce — I share a few as a way of giving you perspective on what else you don’t know and can’t know based on your today.

Here are 10 essential lessons WE divorced women want you to know … not after the fact … but right now!

1. Eventually “New Rules” will rule

When you live one way for a long period of time—as in a marriage—you forget there are other ways of living. It’s a feeling not unlike traveling to a new country or immersing yourself in a foreign culture—you don’t realize how trapped you’ve become by familiar patterns and behaviors, things you can do and things you cannot, until you’ve stepped off the plane. As I stepped out of a former life, I discovered I’d be letting go of an entire worldview that, consciously or not, had been dictated by my Ex. That worldview (even my rebellion to or acceptance of it) had dominated my life. Until it didn’t.

After getting divorced, I could begin again. I could create and make something else, a world ruled by my values. A place of peace, laughter, and the occasional shrimp cocktail (my Ex was allergic to shell fish). A place where I wanted to live. A place that genuinely existed. A place where there were New Rules.

2 . Don’t strictly rely on a lawyer

Diversify your insights. Get feedback from various strategic people as you go through your divorce. It’s too easy to get caught up in your own emotions and to keep telling your story the way you always have. The story can become like cinder blocks tied to your feet, dragging you down and preventing you from moving forward. Make sure you speak to multiple someones—who can help you understand the process (the legal, the financial, AND the emotional journey)—so you protect and take care of yourself. People who understand divorce can make the burden you’re carrying feel lighter and make you feel less alone. They can help you see what you are unable to see, or even know what to look for.

Even more importantly, take steps to do this in the healthiest possible way so you and your family will heal. This means knowing whom it’s okay to unload on and how much they can realistically handle before you overstep. Your friends, family members, and colleagues might be great shoulders to lean on, yes, but they are not therapists or divorce coaches. As well-intentioned as they may be, they often give you advice based on their own or someone else’s story. Not yours.

3. You will lose

I thought I’d be losing a mate as a result of getting divorced. I had no idea I’d be losing so much more—friends, people who I thought were friends, extended family members, and acquaintances who stopped “seeing” me. Beyond people, I’d also lose a way of living. A lifestyle. I’d lose a way of being.

I also discovered the flip side. This long list of loss would usher in a cleansing. And in the wake of loss, there opened up a new space for all the incoming positive people and things my soul genuinely desired and especially needed.

4. It’s how you leave your marriage that will hurt your kids the most

Even if you have a history of high emotions and conflict in the house, understand it’s all about how you and your husband* behave now that will impact your kids the most. This is the reason to try to keep it civil, or restore civility and respect, as you struggle through divorce and do everything possible to recover from it.

You’ll want to learn about “good coparenting,” best suggestions and tools for boundaries, all directed to keep you and your children (and your soon-to-be Ex) sane and healthy. The fact is that if you are a mother, the father of your children will never entirely disappear. (So, you’ll edit that “loss” from your list above.) Chances are, your Ex will always be in your life to some extent. How you reframe this relationship is key for your children and their divorce recovery.

5. Now’s the time to learn about your financials

In particular, you want to find out what you own and what you owe—but don’t let NOT knowing these answers keep you from getting divorced. You can still find out or identify the people who can help you read statements and documents so you understand what you have and what your choices in life really are. Get fully informed before you start making decisions. And commit to the idea that once you are independent you will begin learning more about protecting and growing your money.

6. Figure out ways to generate income for yourself

Some women leave their marriages with full-time careers while others find themselves reentering the workforce or fearing that they will have to. If you find yourself lumped into the latter groups, step one is to stop telling yourself you are unemployable because it’s simply not true.

There are too many jobs out there to count, and every one of them requires something different of each of us. Take baby steps, if need be, but volunteer, hire a job coach, learn about iRelaunch, go back to school, start your own freelance business with a partner. Make a plan to support yourself and, in turn, seek the support you need to make it happen.

7. You can’t figure everything out in advance of getting divorced

Nor do you need to have everything figured out to move forward. It is a blessing to have search engines like Google in our lives, but it’s also a curse. Google makes us believe we can solve everything if only we research it well enough, if only we type in the magic keywords!

Phooey—at some point you have to get specific feedback about your personal circumstances from experts who deal with divorce and not just whatever articles, Facebook groups, and mind-numbing blog posts and forums you stumble across.

I get it—you’re scrappy. You can teach yourself nearly anything. But you are not a divorce attorney and you can’t become one fast enough.

8. What’s waiting for you is probably bigger and better than anything you can imagine right now

I can’t tell you what’s in store for you after getting divorced, and even if I could, women like me living on the other side of divorce know our words could never do it justice. What we can say is that when women like you face your fears and move through them, you are capable of nearly anything! We know women who after getting divorced recreated careers based on buried dreams, and women who have found happiness in their new freedom and sense of peace. We’ve met women who were scared to death about being alone only to find their figurative dance cards full and that their friends, some of them long lost, were waiting with open arms.

Remember why ending your marriage happened. And know that your future is better than you can even think possible. Trust us.

9. You must learn what being “healed” from divorce will look like

There will come a time when you must evaluate the role you played in getting divorced so you can truly heal yourself and stop blaming your Ex for everything that went wrong and for the hellish journey you’ve been through. The earlier on in your divorce that you confront this the better—it’s a necessary step for moving forward, for growing. It’s what true healing looks like.

10. You can let it go now

That Little Voice in your head? The one keeping you in a dark corner, feeling especially stupid and unloved? You can let it go. Because you’ll discover that divorce has a way of breaking you open, and as you watch all your messy insides spill out, you’ll eventually get to choose which parts of yourself you’ll keep and which you’ll toss into the heap. Your shame? Your guilt? Your regrets? Let it all go. None of it has ever served you anyway, except for now, as a marker symbolizing your critical turning point.

Going forward, take heart and practice intention. We know you don’t want to just divorce your husband—you want to end your marriage in the healthiest way. But that takes more than simply wanting something. It takes preparation and action. This is your life. This is your children’s future. Get a map, yes, but then take the wheel and steer.

 

Change the course of your life — AFTER DIVORCE!

Paloma’s Group™: Learning the Art of Reinvention.

For newly independent women, post-divorce. Over the course of (only) 3 months, each group-class ​builds on a core theme required to ​design a life you deserve. Schedule a free 45-minute coaching session to explore (and experience) how this remarkable group of post-divorce women will plan and act on creating a life they love.  

We promise — whether you join us for Paloma or not  — you’ll walk away from your complimentary coaching-session discovering a next step in your unique After Divorce journey. 

“We choose not to do it alone.” ~ SAS for Women

 

*At SAS for Women, we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.