When I was a 23 year old college student planning my first wedding, I knew exactly what my bridesmaids would wear, the color of the flowers, where we would spend our honeymoon, where we would live after the wedding, and what our dishes would look like. What I did not plan is that we would be divorced eight years later.
Several years were spent building a “we” life, enjoying time with our couple friends, merging bank accounts, buying a home, and eventually beginning a family. When it became apparent that we were not right for each other, there was nothing left to do but to deconstruct that life and go back to a “me” life. It’s a delicate surgical process that doesn’t come with anesthesia.
This deconstruction process was by far, the lowest point in my life. The “we” that we had carefully built was ripped into “yours” and “mine.” Friends who I thought would always be in my life, chose sides and many walked away from our friendship. Thankfully, I had maintained good relationships with my closest girlfriends and they became my rocks (Thanks Marcy, Carla, Alison, and Amy). Divorce is definitely a time when you find out who your true friends are. Bank accounts were separated. The home we had so carefully decorated and landscaped was sold. A joint custody arrangement was reached for our 2 year old. My ex took the stuff that he had entered the relationship with, I took mine, and we evenly divided the rest. I have never felt more lonely, sad, scared, confused, or hurt than I did as we dismantled the dreams we had started together.
But, don’t cry for me Oklahoma. Despite the trauma of the experience, my ex and I both came through our divorce quite well. We have each found amazing people to share our lives with. We seamlessly share custody of a bright, amazing, and hilarious 10 year old. We and our partners all get along so well that we draw raised eyebrows from those who know how we are all acquainted. Even though my divorce was truly a horrible time, it was pretty tame compared to many others I have seen play out like a bad movie of the week. We were fortunate that we agreed on the terms of the divorce and custody arrangement. We got along as well as could be expected, and just wanted to move on with our lives. He isn’t a bad person and neither am I. We just weren’t meant to be married to each other.
Having gone through a divorce, I can understand why most people are completely emotionally wrecked during that time. Most seem to even go a little crazy. I have witnessed people who previously loved each other morph into something that resembles a rabid dog – barking, insane with anger, and foaming at the mouth. Battle lines are drawn and some seem to channel all of their emotional energy into making the other person’s life a living hell by throwing emotional and legal bombs and wreaking havoc. After the smoke clears, there is no winner, especially if children are involved. Often, they have let hurt and anger transform them into someone they don’t even recognize.
A common weapon of choice during divorce is money. The reality is that when you are at the lowest point in your life and emotionally unstable (at best), this is when you will be making financial decisions that can affect you for many years to come. Many people don’t understand that divorce is a critical time in which you need to protect yourself financially. A lot of damage can be done by an angry ex who shares a joint credit card account with you.
The first important step is to make sure you are looking out for your financial interests. I counseled a man who was so depressed during his divorce that he said, “I don’t care what happens to me. I don’t want to fight with her. She can have everything. I’ll take all of the debt. I just want this to be over.” If you’re just too low to care, it is a great idea to hire your own attorney to look out for your future. At some point, this man snapped out of it and realized that saddling himself with all of the marital debt and giving her all of the assets was not the best idea.
If at all possible, treat the divorce as a business transaction and take all emotions out of it. This is VERY difficult to do but you will get a fairer settlement if you aren’t letting yourself be ruled by your feelings that probably include hopelessness and despair. The overall goal should be for the divorce settlement to be fair to everyone, including you.
It is very important to be mindful of the danger presented by having joint accounts. All too often, a divorce decree will say that one spouse should pay certain credit cards and the other spouse pays the others. The problem with joint accounts is that both spouses credit will be affected by how those are paid until they are paid off. If your ex doesn’t pay your joint credit card or pays it late, your credit will also be impacted. Essentially, the health of your credit is in the hands of someone who may be really mad at you. Credit card companies do NOT care what your divorce decree says. You are bound by the original contract you signed saying you are both responsible for paying back that debt no matter what the court says. If your ex is supposed to pay a joint account and doesn’t, you are still just as liable for that account in the eyes of the credit card company. If possible, close any joint accounts and get a new card or loan only in your name. Transfer your debt to the new card once the decree is final. If you ex is an authorized user on any of your credit cards, have them removed immediately by calling the credit card company.
Separate bank accounts, insurance, and utilities as soon as possible. Joint auto loans and mortgages are trickier because they require that you refinance that debt only in your name based on only your income. If that isn’t possible, closely monitor that joint accounts are being paid on-time. If your ex is paying an account that still has your name on it, review monthly statements or stay in close contact with the creditor to make sure it is being paid on-time.
When you are beginning your “me” life again, it’s a great idea to do a single income budget based only on your expenses. This will help you decide where you can afford to live and where lifestyle cuts must be made. There are so many unknowns when it comes to life after divorce, planning your budget is one variable that you can control.
Although I hope none of you reading this will ever need this information, chances are that about 50% of you will. Hopefully, with the work of my fellow RDC blogger Kendy Cox at the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, we will see those divorce rates start to decline. If you do find yourself headed for divorce court, don’t add finances to the list of things you have to worry about for years to come. Look out for your own financial interests because no one is going to care about your financial security more than you will. Just be warned that the unexpected can happen. You may have married Prince Charming but you may be divorcing Attila the Hun.