Red Flag: How to deal with divorcing a difficult husband
On our website, we talk about the five biggest red flags we see pre divorce. Hopefully, your divorce is off to a great start, you and your soon to be ex husband are communicating effectively, and you’ll never have to worry about what a red flag is and what will happen if you see one. If not, though, the best thing you can do is gather information, learn about the law in Virginia, and be prepared.
What’s a red flag in Virginia divorce, and how do you prepare to deal with them?
First, a few (hopefully) comforting words: Your husband, no matter how difficult, belligerent, or self-righteous he might be, can’t stop you from getting a divorce if you want one. He may not willingly negotiate an agreement with you, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get the things that you deserve. After all, there are certain things that the law guarantees you (like child support, if you have minor children, and half of the retirement earned during the marriage) and, like it or not, there’s not much he can do about it. His behavior might raise a red flag or two (more on these in a minute), but you’re not stuck unless you want to be. You have a choice here.
If he’s being difficult, it’s hard not to be angry, upset, and stressed out about it. You’re going through a very emotional, very complicated process. But, remember, you’re divorcing him for a reason, and part of that reason probably has a lot to do with these kinds of behaviors. To the best of your ability, try to concentrate on your new future, and don’t let him ruffle your feathers.
You don’t want to lose all perspective and let your divorce get out of control, though. For the sake of your own sanity, the mental health and well being of your children (if you have them), and the total overall cost of your divorce (which, let’s face it, is a major concern), try to take it with a grain of salt, and follow the following tips and tricks to handle a difficult husband during the divorce process.
Remember: you have a goal here. Your goal is to get divorced, while spending as little money as possible, and preserving your ability to be an effective co parent, if you have children, and pave the way for the kind of post divorce life you are imagining for yourself, whatever that might look like.
1. Stop listening to him and giving him power over you.
I’m always surprised at how many divorcing women listen to their husbands after separation. Sure, during the marriage, you had some faith in him. But then things changed, and obviously the situation has deteriorated to the point that you’re headed towards divorce. Your level of trust in him is probably pretty low; why would you give him the satisfaction of believing everything he says now, when he has the most incentive to try to upset and mislead you?
It’s a classic scare tactic. Husbands ferret out their wives worst fears, and then torment them by telling them by using it against them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a wife come in and tell me that her husband said, “Oh, well, my lawyer says you won’t get any spousal support,” or “Didn’t you know? In the military, if you haven’t been married 10 years, you aren’t entitled to any of my retirement.” Of course, there are variations on that basic theme, but the end result is that the wife ends up terrified and convinced that things will go down badly. Whatever it is, it’s usually a comment that speaks to the wife’s deepest rooted fears. It’s cruel, but it’s common. We see it all the time. In most cases, not only is it not true, it’s not even a little bit rooted in fact or law. It is carefully calculated to upset, harass, and embarrass. It’s definitely a red flag, but it’s one we’re used to seeing.
When you listen to him, you give him power over you. I know; it’s hard not to. He was/is your husband, and you trusted him during your marriage. That’s not a bond that is easily severed, even when he has shown that you and he are not fighting on the same side anymore. Still, for your own sanity, you have to at least make an effort to protect yourself from this unnecessary source of anxiety and (false) information.
2. Hire an attorney, and listen to his/her advice.
This one should probably go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. You’re paying your attorney good money so that she can help you make some difficult decisions. She is knowledgeable about Virginia law, and has seen hundreds (if not thousands) of divorces. She has a good idea of what a judge might award you, and can tell you if a settlement offer is a good one.
Not only that, but your attorney can help keep you out of hot water while your divorce is pending. If you’re wondering whether you should let your husband take your kids to visit his parents 15 hours away, ask. If you’re thinking about having a birthday party for one of your children and wondering whether you have to invite him, it’s a good time for a chat. If you’re thinking of buying a new car and wondering whether it’s okay at this point in your case, why not discuss it? If you’re wondering about the possible impact that social media can have on your case, by all means, have a conversation with your attorney BEFORE you post something that could possibly damage your case.
Women jeopardize their cases in all sorts of ways, oftentimes unintentionally. You pay your attorney good money, and you should be using her as a sounding board. Discuss and verify before you make any big decisions; your attorney will appreciate being consulted (because it helps her ensure that your case is resolved satisfactorily, and attorneys like happy clients), and you’ll be able to move forward with the knowledge that you’re making the right choice. Attorneys have seen most everything, so ask away—or risk damaging your case.
Another red flag? Listening to him–and not your attorney. It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? Still, you’d probably be surprised at how many wives are swayed by what their husband tells them, or who make big decisions without consulting their attorney at all.
3. Make a plan, and don’t deviate—regardless of his behavior.
While divorces can often be unpredictable in the beginning, they often settle down—especially if at least one of the parties keeps her cool. You probably already know: you really can’t control your husband. He’s going to do what he’s going to do, and, in the beginning especially, he may make some bad choices that make you angry, nervous, frustrated, depressed, or panicked. Not only that, but they may also make you want to do crazy things in return.
For the sake of your divorce, and, if applicable, for the sake of any children involved, don’t sink to his level. I know, I know; this can be a frustrating and unsatisfactory response when someone deliberately provokes you by pushing all your most sensitive buttons. (After all, who knows better what drives you crazy than your soon to be ex husband?) Still, it’s rarely productive and, in most cases, ends up costing more money.
If you don’t engage, things have a tendency to settle down faster—which will help you (1) negotiate your divorce, rather than litigate it, (2) save money, and (3) co-parent and cooperate AFTER the divorce, to the extent that it is necessary.
Sit down and talk with your attorney about your case strategy, and then move forward. Don’t change your plan for the worse just because of his behavior. Aiming to get back at him, teach him a lesson, or make decisions based on “the principle” won’t get you anywhere. That’s definitely not the way to make sure your divorce runs as smoothly as possible.
4. Be a good parent and a good person.
No matter how you’re feeling at any given moment, you won’t make it any easier on yourself by taking it out on the people around you.
I know, I know—you’d never MEAN to take your feelings out on your children. But, in my experience, it happens. And, a lot of times, when it happens, parents seem to have no idea that they’re doing it. Simple things, or seemingly innocent comments, can make kids wonder if something is wrong and, by extension, whether they’re responsible for it. Your kids probably already know that something is up (kids are usually pretty aware when their parents are unhappy), but you want to be careful to make sure you’re taking care of their well being in the meantime.
Even when your child’s father puts you in a difficult place, it’s important to keep your composure in front of the kids. Easier said than done, in most cases, but an off the cuff remark can cause more damage to a child’s fragile psyche than you might suspect at the time.
Let your anger take a backseat, and focus on your parenting. Not only will it help ease your children through the transition, but it will also protect you by not providing him with any ammunition to support a custody case. It’s also important to keep your temper (and avoid airing your dirty laundry) where other people are concerned.
5. Get help if you need it.
There’s no question that this is a lot to deal with, and you’d be inhuman if you didn’t have a lot of feelings about it. The end of a marriage is a lot like a death, and you’d be wise to treat it that way. If you’re having a hard time healing, you should talk to a professional about it.
There is absolutely no shame in asking for help that will allow you to heal and get back on your feet. For some people, all the therapy they need is a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every now and then; for other people, it’s a more complicated and involved process. Still, even for the Ben & Jerry’s people, I think there’s a lot of help out there. There’s no reason to deal with all your emotions on your own. Even with the support of friends and family, it’s difficult to make any real progress. A professional can help you cope with your pain in a productive way, and use it to help as you begin to rebuild.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It isn’t a sign of weakness, and it doesn’t mean you’re crazy. In fact, if it means anything other than the fact that you’re going through a complicated transition, it means that you’re smart and committed to your own health. (It actually might be a red flag to the judge if you DIDN’T seek help!)
Remember your goal! Your goal is to get divorced, while spending as little money as possible, and preserving your ability to be an effective co parent, if you have children, and pave the way for the kind of post divorce life you are imagining for yourself, whatever that might look like.
Difficult husbands are a pain, and they definitely make the process harder than it should be. Still, you don’t have to stoop to their level—not only is it personally disruptive and unhealthy for you, it makes life harder on your friends, family, and, most importantly, your children. It’s a difficult process, but you’ll make it easier by refusing to react. In most cases, if you stay calm, even if he starts out swinging fists, he’ll calm down and negotiate, too.
If you’re afraid your husband’s reactions will drive up costs, make your divorce take longer, and cause damage to your children, it’s a good idea to enlist the support of an experienced and trained Virginia divorce attorney to help. Give our office a call at (757) 425-5200 to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our attorneys, and put yourself in a better, stronger place.