Divorce, like a marriage, takes mapping and maneuvering. There’s a lot of good common sense advice out there about what to do and what not to do during divorce. But as a writer who is forever curious, I sometimes find the don’ts a more appealing research subject.
Divorce is a regular occurrence in the US, but of course, it wasn’t always this way. Divorce as a research subject can be a slippery thing because it can still feel taboo to some people, but luckily, that attitude feels as if it’s more the exception rather than the rule these days.
It has taken five generations for the conversation of what not to do during a divorce to become common.
So, I asked a variety of divorced individuals what their advice is about “don’t dos” in divorce. The following is my recap of their suggestions and lessons learned.
1. The unanimous consensus was “don’t be unnecessarily nasty about it”
In other words, don’t set out to ruin your Ex’s life or punish them.
“In my divorce things have gone fairly smoothly, but that’s mainly due to the number one rule I feel all divorcees should abide by, which is, no matter what happened in your marriage, a divorce should be amicable,” said Millie*, a Washington state resident.
Washington is one of 18 states that is considered truly no-fault, which means no legal grounds have to be established for a divorce to be granted. You don’t have to have a reason, or blame the other—you can simply divorce. The benefit of this is that your divorce is over faster and with less expense. All 50 states have a no-fault option, but in others, there are established grounds for finding fault. These include: addiction, adultery, bigamy, desertion or abandonment, impotence, imprisonment, marriage between close relatives, marriage obtained by fraud or force, mental or physical abuse and/or cruelty, and mental illness or mental incapacity at the time of the marriage.
2. Don’t rush into a decision without examining your options
Jenny, another person I spoke with, noted that there aren’t just divorce law differences state to state, but county to county, which underscores another “don’t do” in divorce: don’t rush forward with divorce without examining your options, such as where to file. One county might review each case for fairness, but another may just push claims through. If you are guarding against being taken advantage of and don’t trust your Ex to be civil, then don’t accept the filing without looking first at what some other options might be.
Accepting that “you don’t know what you don’t know” leads you to wonder how will you find out fully and clearly what you are entitled to and what your rights are? And how will you handle this emotionally, or as a mother, or the primary breadwinner, or the stay-at-home-mom? Not knowing what you don’t now know is a good reason to consider working with a divorce coach or attorney.
3. Don’t be a pushover
The above suggestions counsel you not to be unnecessarily cruel or naïve, but another thing not to do? Be careful about being too nice. You don’t want guilt, confusion, or a lack of desire to lead your decision making. Women must understand that for them rebuilding their lives after divorce is harder than it is for men.
“I wish I would have consulted a lawyer, so I got what I deserved instead of what he made me feel like I deserved,” said Leticia, a woman in Manhattan.
“I wish,” said Patty, in Texas, “That I had put some money aside, opened my own bank account, and planned ahead instead of making a quick decision.”
Once you do begin looking at your options, don’t leave anything to memory. Document everything—every phone call, every bank deposit. Even simple divorces (usually from shorter marriages involving no joint bank accounts and no children) are complicated, and in the midst of it, you are probably going to be searching for a new place to live, possibly a new school for your children. You might be moving, changing jobs, and experiencing a wide variety of emotions—yours and your loved ones. Documentation may end up saving you from making an expensive or time-consuming mistake.
4. Don’t “use” your children
With regard to children, another “don’t” of divorce is to not use your children as leverage or have conversations with your Ex about the process (or vent to a friend about it) in front of them. You and your Ex made your children together; the marriage may be ending but the effort to raise them to be as healthy and happy as possible should not be.
5. Don’t go it alone
Finding your allies is another common theme among the people I spoke with. Whether you consult a court liaison to help you file, use an online divorce site, hire a divorce attorney or a divorce coach (or both), there are too many life-impacting aspects of divorce to try to just wing it. Assuming you’ll think of everything is setting yourself up for missing something. Conversely, don’t go “War of the Roses” on the thing and bring your lawyer in to haggle over a serving dish. Focus on the essentials.
6. Don’t do nothing now
And speaking of essentials, the chances are good that part of your income will be missing after a divorce, at least for a period of time, so don’t go into the process without first setting up a separate bank account for expenses, whether those funds go toward lawyers’ fees, a deposit on an apartment, paying off a credit card, college courses to advance your own income or a counselor for your children. Along these same lines, don’t forget to check your spouse’s credit score and your own and close joint bank accounts.
7. Don’t jump into your next serious relationship
In the interest of guarding your emotional assets as well as the financial ones, it’s probably best not to jump into a new relationship right after divorce or before it’s finished—especially if you live in a state where there is grounds for establishing fault. The ethical question of cheating is a whole other article, but it needs to be said, as it’s one of the leading causes of divorce in the first place. Pretend that everything you are doing, saying, posting, or tweeting is under a microscope, and once the divorce is finished, recognize that while it’s natural to seek validation and an endorphin boost from a new relationship, your emotional stability is going to take some time to come back to its grounded center.
Although it’s taken many generations for divorce to become an accepted, less isolating option for one’s life, there are now plenty of conversations, resources, and information about the process just about anywhere you care to look. The “divorce don’ts” above are a great launching point, but your divorce recovery is a journey, one that doesn’t end here.
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.
SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives after divorce—on their own terms. If you are discerning, newly divorced and independent, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your free, 15-minute, private consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand what your next, black and white steps are for walking into your BRAVE unknown.
*For the sake of confidentiality, we have not used people’s real names in this article.