We’re the only firm in Virginia representing women only in divorce or custody cases, and we have been for awhile. In our area, there are two firms representing men – though, if I’m not mistaken, they don’t represent men exclusively.
I had a settlement conference recently with one of the attorneys from one of the men only divorce firms and it was interesting. Well, it’s almost always interesting, of course, but I felt like I learned a lot, and definitely some things that Virginia women facing divorce should keep in mind.
I knew almost the moment that I saw husband that he had a pretty bad attitude. He had his arms crossed stiffly across his chest, and a scowl on his face. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, even though I was friendly. (Hey, I was trying to settle my case—and my mom always said, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.) We negotiated back and forth for awhile, his main issue being that he didn’t want his wife to get a share of his military retirement.
For us, it really wasn’t a negotiating point; I knew that if we went to court over it, the judge would give my client her marital share. Ultimately, we ended up in a stalemate. Even though we wanted to reach an agreement, he just wasn’t ready to admit defeat. I think there are definitely some key differences between men and women when it comes to divorce.
Regardless of your gender, there’s no question that divorce is incredibly emotionally difficult. It’s a major upheaval in your life, and it’s also expensive. Not just as it relates to legal fees, either; it’s expensive to sell a home, expensive to maintain two separate households, and expensive to divide up your retirement accounts (in a sense that you have a lower account balance, and less for the interest to build on as it compounds over time).
When it comes to women in divorce, I think, in many ways, they handle it much better than men. Though it’s emotional for them, they’re also more generous and more realistic about the process. Of course, I’m speaking in generalizations, but it’s what I see. I do have clients that come in asking me about marriage counseling and couples therapy and what they can do to save their marriages rather than end them, but probably even more come to me solemnly and tell me that they knew, that they have known, for years that their marriages were over.
For men, I think, it often comes as a bigger shock. Because, psychologically at least, women base their feelings of success in life on the success of their relationships, they’re more likely to leave an unhappy, abusive, or otherwise unfulfilling relationship – whereas a man, who generally gets his sense of worth and success from his career and his financial holdings, is more likely to trudge along unhappily in marriage. Women do tend to call it quits sooner. And, in my experience, at least, they treat things in a pretty pragmatic way, in a lot of cases.
If I tell a client, hey, you know—it’s really not worth fighting over the military retirement—they may protest, they may ask questions, but generally they’re willing to reach an agreement and move on. Not always, but generally. A husband, on the other hand, doesn’t feel that way. He’s often surprised by the divorce, and angry at how “his” things will be divided in divorce. Sometimes, it takes a husband a little extra time to come to terms with the divorce, with the disruption to the comfortable life they’ve been living (which, to their wives, often seems anything but comfortable).
The attorney representing my client’s husband the other day said to me that her client had just shut down. (She also told me that it was “his” retirement – bless her mistaken little heart – but, don’t worry, I corrected her.) One of the keys to navigating through divorce successfully is to enlist the support of a licensed mental health provider. It’s not that you’re crazy, no matter what your soon to be ex might be saying, it’s that this is a profound and difficult change to experience.
No matter how ready you are for things to be over (or not, whatever the case may be), there are going to be some aspects of the situation that are harder to swallow. Whether it’s you who wants the divorce, or whether he’s the driving force behind it, you want to make sure you’re in as good of a place, emotionally and intellectually, to handle whatever comes your way. It’s definitely a good idea to talk to a therapist about it, and figure out how to cope with all the transitions coming your way. It’s a good idea to educate yourself, too. After all, like the old saying goes, knowledge really is power – the more you know, the better position you’ll be in to insist on your rights. No matter what your husband believes you’re entitled to, there are certain things (like your marital share of the military pension) that will be yours, and that you don’t have to negotiate on if you don’t want to.
With a separation agreement and a creative divorce attorney, you can craft a solution that works for you and will help you create the fresh start you’ve been imagining for yourself. That’s not to say it’s easy (it’s not), but you do have some power over the outcome, and a good way to assert that is by beginning now to educate yourself. We have a free divorce book and one for military spouses, too; we also run a divorce seminar three times a month that you can attend if you want to ask questions to a live attorney before you come in for a consultation. If you’re ready to schedule a consultation, too, we can also help you with that – but, first thing’s first – feed your brain. For more information, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200. We’re here to help.