What we wish we knew at the beginning of our divorces
When my divorce proceedings first began, the only thing I knew was that I no longer wanted to be married to my husband. My children were young, ages two and four, and everyone around me was married. In fact, I knew only one divorced person, an ex-boyfriend who lived halfway across the country.
“File first,” he told me. It was his only piece of advice, and it was a valuable one. Even though my lawyer claimed it didn’t matter, it did. Three trials later, I can tell you that filing first definitely made a difference. Now, after three years of litigation and a little over one year postdivorce, I’m the one giving advice. Friends and acquaintances often ask me for my thoughts. For better or worse, I’ve become “the divorced mom,” the one other moms are introduced to when their marriage first ends.
I’ve come to accept and even embrace that label, happily helping others who are traveling down Divorce Drive for the very first time. If you are newly single, let me start by saying I’m sorry your marriage ended, or congratulations on finally getting out! Next, I wish I could hold your hand or give you a hug when your ex does something upsetting—it’s hard to do this alone. But I do want to help you make the right choices, especially in the beginning. In fact, I decided not only to share my own advice but also speak with other Solo Moms who’ve been through divorce to make sure you receive the best tips.
I hope our collective advice will help you make better choices as you go through your divorce.
Many Solo Moms will tell you that unless you have a great relationship with your ex, all communication should be handled via email (preferably) or text so that you have a record in case you ever need one. Proof of your former spouse’s antics can help you win your case in court.
“Document, document, document,” explains Kara Childs. “Buy a calendar and record everything, such as late phone calls, late pickups/drop-offs, and arguments. Take snapshots of all important texts, and keep all emails.”
“Agreed,” exclaims Lisa Poma. “Force email communication through Talking Parents if there is contention.”
If your divorce is contentious, then think slowly and carefully about what you want to say. During my divorce, I learned the mantra “grace of space,” meaning that I could grant myself some space to contemplate how I wanted to respond to an email. With no requirement to respond immediately, I learned that when I allowed myself the time, my responses were more appropriate and thorough.
“Correspondence should only be 10 to 15 words and not contain any emotion,” KellyAnn Jarrett recommends. “Don’t respond to any texts or emails that are clearly written from an emotional standpoint.”
If you do want to try verbal communication, check your state’s laws for recording calls. Most states require one-party consent (you can be that party), but some do require that all parties consent.
“Buy a handheld recorder that you can use for phone calls,” Abbie Herbstritt suggests. “A simple conversation can turn into something else very quickly. I have more than 30 hours of recordings saved—just in case.”
Some conversations can get tricky, and when they do, follow Julia Marino’s advice: “Always go through your lawyer, and don’t let your guard down!”
Think carefully about alimony and child support
This is one of the big-ticket items for Solo Moms, and something you need to focus on carefully, whether or not you had the more lucrative career.
“I will receive alimony until retirement age, but I’m taxed on it,” explains Randi Kran. “My kids were older when we began our divorce, and the youngest only had a few months left of high school. So, my ex paid me child support for just a few months and then it ended. However, whenever my girls come home from college for an extended stay, I have no financial help.”
Pay close attention to your finances. What you decide now can and will affect the rest of your life. The smart choices may not always be obvious, especially if this is your first divorce.
“Go through your budget, and plan for the future before you commit to your agreement,” recommends Dr. Benna Strober, a Solo Mom and psychologist who often works with divorcing/divorced adults and children. “Often, women don’t know their financial situation, so it’s really important to go to a professional planner. Try to find one who works specifically with women going through divorce so they can help guide you toward making the right decisions.”
No one’s giving out kindness awards
No, I don’t want you to be hostile or mean; you should always carry yourself with dignity and treat others kindly. However, you don’t need to go out of your way to give in to your ex in order to show good faith and/or make peace.
“You don’t need to be nice,” says Marcy Tremblay. “Go for what you want, but keep the children in mind.”
Unless you are going to court, divorce is a negotiation. Once you’ve determined what you want, don’t back down. Your decisions now will affect you for years to come. Another Solo Mom I spoke with, who chose to remain anonymous, agreed.
“Never give in to something that will negatively impact you just to keep the peace,” she advises. “I waived child support in order to please my ex, and years later we still aren’t getting along.”
I definitely learned this one the hard way. Many people told me that once my divorce was finalized, things would change. I was told the fighting would end and we’d learn how to get along, so I chose to settle on custody. My decision hinged on this advice and the hope that he would see I value his input as a parent. I imagined we’d be able to coparent together, like others I know. Unfortunately, the opposite happened and things got worse, much worse. About six months later, I filed paperwork for sole custody.
Being nice didn’t pay off for me or others. In fact, it often makes things worse. Stick to your guns!
Image is everything
“Keep your side of the yard clean,” advises Lisa Lisherness. “Only do things you’d be proud of.”
Court is not necessarily about fact; it’s about image. You need to think carefully about the image you want to portray because that is how decisions are made. The same rules apply if you are trying to negotiate. A bad image will be used against you.
You don’t have to sit at home and knit, but do be responsible and make good choices. Going out with friends? Have a great time! But just be careful about how much you drink and if you choose to drive. Want to date? Go for it! However, make sure that any men you may want to date seriously are respectable members of society. Love social media? No problem! But be careful that your posts don’t include any pictures or text that put you in a bad light. In other words, think before you act. Always.
“You should have an idea in your mind about who you need to be,” advises Strober. “Remember that you need to take care of yourself and your kids. Yes, going out and being social is an important part of your life, but be mindful of your appearance toward your kids and ex.”
Go to therapy!
Really. Go to therapy. Divorces are tough—very tough. You need someone to talk to.
“There are so many things happening at once, and you’ll have so many different emotions,” Strober explains. “You’ll need to figure out finances. You may need to go back to work and hire child care. You might also have to move. It’s not just the divorce, it’s all of the other attachments that come with a divorce that are stressful. Having somewhere to go to get help is important. If you can find it, a support group is also really helpful.”
Almost every Solo Mom I know has been to therapy at some point during her divorce. Some have gone to domestic violence shelters, some have joined groups through their place of worship, and others have received one-on-one sessions. But regardless of what they did, it was helpful. It is important to find someone or a group that is focused on divorce because your problems are very different from others.
During my divorce, I had both individual and group therapy, and they were of equal importance for my mental health and ability to move forward. My therapist was able to help me understand the many nuances of my marriage and divorce. She helped me work through difficult situations, make decisions, and create my future. In group therapy, I connected with other women in my situation and made true life-long friends. That connection was critical for me—I had felt alone. Now we rely on one another for advice, support, and friendship.
Remember, getting help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength to recognize you need assistance.
It’s time to get new friends
Sadly, several of your married friends will ditch you. Even though it’s because of their own insecurities, it’s going to hurt. That’s just the way it goes. For those who choose to stick around, treasure them. In my opinion, they are your true friends.
It’s not easy to make new friends as an adult, but it can be done. I’ve found it easier to make friends with divorced women than it was to make friends with married women when I was married. You all share a common experience, one that’s life-changing. If you know one person who is divorced, reach out, even if you don’t know the person well. Often, he or she will know others and include you in their next get-together. If, like me, you don’t know anyone who is divorced, ask those friends who stuck around if they know anyone. Don’t be shy; it’s how you’ll get to know new people who understand and sympathize.
For me, I met people gradually. As other marriages sadly fell apart, people reached out. It took me about one and a half years, but today my closest friends are divorced, and they are truly amazing women. Our love and support for one another is unconditional. My network of Solo Moms in my area grows monthly, and I have a private Facebook group of 35 women (that’s a lot for where I live). We post events, plan dinners, and simply get together. We also throw an annual Chrismukkah party just for us—no boyfriends allowed! These women are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. My life is wonderful because they are in it, and I’m truly blessed to know them. Plus, they are kind, understanding, and fun!
And, above all, remember that this, too, shall pass.
“You will get to a place where you’ll be OK,” says Strober. “Right now, when you are in it, you’re not really you. You’re the person who is going to be you. You are in a transitioning time, and it’s important to be yourself and get know yourself. Figure out a way to be a singles person in a couple’s world. When you like who you see, then you are ready to be in a relationship.”
Do you have any more tips that you wish you’d known before divorcing?
ESME’s Gia Miller is a Solo Mom to a nine-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy. She writes about health and wellness, parenting, divorce, food, and general lifestyle. Her work has been featured in online publications including the Washington Post, Healthline, Paste, Headspace, and more.
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