Self Care and Virginia Divorce

Posted on Aug 30, 2021 by Katie Carter

Self care is good. You should do it.

Okay, good, we got that out of the way. Look, I get it. Our physical and mental health depends on how well we take care of ourselves. It comes down to many different variables, from the food that we eat, how much we exercise, how well we sleep, and more.

It’s also a little bit like a band aid on a gunshot wound.

Divorce is complex. Not every divorce is the same, of course – some are long, drawn out affairs that end in partners screaming and crying at each other across a courtroom; still others resolve (relatively) amicably and (relatively) quickly. And, of course, all the different kinds of cases in between.

There’s lots of common ground, though. In every single case, a divorce is profound and traumatic. It is overwhelming and scary. It necessitates about a million little life changes and hundreds of much larger ones.

That’s not to say that divorce isn’t good, either. In a lot of cases, it is. It’s empowering to say no, courageous to want to try again, inspiring to start over. It may be a very hard decision to make, but I also truly believe that a lot of good can come out of it. After all, there’s no award at the end of the stay for staying in an unrewarding, unproductive, unsatisfying, unhappy – or, worse, abusive! – marriage.  I feel like I say that a lot, but I also feel like it bears repeating.

At the same time, though, marriage is a form a privilege. Not the actual act of getting married, of course; anyone can do it. The privilege comes from a lifetime of dual incomes, of mutual support, of shared chores, of tax exemptions – and so on. The fact remains that, statistically speaking, divorce is hard on women.

There are a million reasons. Most of them are systemic. Because of the glass ceiling and the career-related costs of becoming and then being a mother, women often earn less than their male counterparts. Because of the family unit, families often choose to have one partner (often, the lesser earning partner – also, often, the woman) either work less or not work at all because of the insanely high costs of childcare or to just generally provide support to the family.

Whether you were or are a stay at home mom, a work from home mom, a work part time mom, or a full time mom, you probably found – or are finding – that the demands of the family require that YOU consistently bend to meet them. Maybe you wouldn’t have it any other way. As a fellow mom and wife who feels like I am constantly making the same decisions myself, I feel this in my soul. I really wouldn’t have it any other way. But does it impact my career? Honestly, yes. And impacts my earning potential and so many other things.

But I’m married. And I have someone else to fall back on. That, dear reader, is a form of privilege.

It’s not the privilege that we’re talking about these days. In fact, I’m not sure that most people think of it as privilege, because it’s just not on people’s radar.

Societally, we’re hard on divorcees. I hear comments all the time that “people just don’t value marriage anymore”, which both marginalizes and gaslights divorcing women. It’s not as if you just tried harder and you could suddenly turn your marriage around! This is the kind of thing that people who’ve only known happy marriages love to say, and that the rest of us internalize – frankly, to our own detriment.

It’s also true, though, that women who divorce are more likely to find themselves close to or below the poverty line.

And I’m sorry to say, I really am, but that’s something that no amount of face masks or glasses of rose are going to fix for you.

Do I think you should go to therapy? Maybe. Divorce is traumatizing. I’ve heard, over and over again, that the trauma of divorce is second only to death. I’m not a therapist myself, of course. I’m just a regular lawyer who has handled a bunch of divorces and has written millions (literally, millions!) of words about divorce. I think that our clients who see a therapist do generally have better outcomes and perspectives. But, like divorce lawyers, you can only hire a therapist if you can pay for it. Sure, insurance can cover some of it (unlike with lawyers) but, for many, even the copayments are out of reach.

So, it’s also not enough to say that you should just see a therapist, because it’ll fix all your divorce-related woes.

I’m really cognizant of not saying something that will make me appear out of touch. I’m also really determined to share powerful, motivating, empowering content, so that you can see the way to a better future. In my experience, women really DO figure out a way forward that gives them a second chance at the life they wanted for themselves.

It’s not because they meditated, though. Or because they got a Peloton and started mindfully exercising. (Heck, who going through a divorce has Peloton money?)

I think we have to be honest with ourselves here. Self care is great, but self care itself isn’t going to get you where you need to be. Surviving – and thriving – through divorce is not a matter of how often you work out, how much you sleep, how well you eat, or how often you treat yourself. Those things can make you feel better, yes. But it’s deeper, and, sadly, more systemic than that.

So, what do you do?

Well, I can’t fix society – though I’m trying! But what I can do is give good legal advice that will, hopefully, help put you in a position to make the best choices possible throughout your divorce case.

Divorce self care starts with getting good, up to date, legal advice from a source you can trust.

I’m not saying to schedule a consultation, if you’re not ready yet. But it’s a good idea to consider downloading one of our books on divorce and/or custody (we’ve also got a military divorce book, if you or your husband are active duty or retired military) or attending one of our monthly divorce seminars. Our seminars are all taught by one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys, so you can ask questions live and get real time answers.

Divorce self care continues by being a good advocate for yourself, and understanding your rights and entitlements under Virginia law.

I’m not saying go to law school, or even to read the code. You requested the books and attended the seminars, so it’s probably a good idea to start to get an idea of what you might expect to receive – from retirement to spousal support and child support, knowing these numbers will help give you an idea of what you deserve.

The way the law looks at it, marriage is a partnership. It’s not what ‘he earned’ versus what you earned. It’s what you two, together, as partners, earned. That’s what’s divided.

So, it’s not, “Oh, I don’t want to take support from him,” or “He’ll flip his lid if he has to divide his retirement.” Accepting either of those things as true would only serve to separate you from your entitlements under the law.

And, let’s be frank. The law isn’t generous. In many cases, the support that a wife is earned goes nowhere near equalizing the parties’ incomes. It’s really not like you’re taking anything, except what you earned.

Some of that is mindset – understanding what the law says and why, and wrapping your brain around why that means you actually deserve the things that you receive as part and parcel of the divorce. (And potentially a whole lot more, but I can’t make the law be more generous than it is. I can only operate within the framework as it exists.)

Divorce self care means having support from others around you.

Hire an attorney. Enlist the support of a therapist. Include your family and friends, so that they can offer you support.

Talk to a financial professional. Revise your will and update your beneficiary designations. Change your name, if you like.

Come up with a game plan for the future that means you feel adequately supported, both by the professionals who are giving you advice and by the friends and family with whom you surround yourself.

Find a job, even. Increase your hours, if you like. Go back to school. Get a training certificate or certification or license.

Self care is important, but it’s not about face masks, wine, pedicures, movies on the couch, or whatever else we’ve trained our brains to think it is. It’s about taking care of the future, so that the future you will be okay.

For more information, to schedule a consultation, to attend a seminar, or to request a copy of one of our free books, give our office a call at 757-425-5200. We can help.