Best Selling Books
The Guys-Only Guide to Getting Over Divorce
and on with Life, Sex, and RelationshipsBy : Sam J. Buser , Glenn F. Sternes
This book is a man's guide to recovering from divorce and starting a new life. Written from the viewpoint of psychologists, the book uses a question and answer format to give men straight advice on how to minimize conflict, reduce harm to children, and start new relationships. The format enables the reader to choose just those sections that are applicable or of most interest. The emphasis of this book is not on legal pitfalls, but on how men can manage the psychological issues inherent in a divorce. The authors give extensive coaching to men in how to begin dating again, the nature of sexuality post-divorce, and making choices that can lead to a successful future marriage.
What about Me?
Practical advice for every man dealing with divorce.
Face it. When it comes to getting your life back together after divorce, most of the great advice out there is geared toward women. Sure, there’s no end of advice for men about financial and legal concerns. But, what about YOU personally—your adjustment to a new kind of life, your uncertainty about how to start over. Your time has come! Whether you are newly separated or finalized your divorce last year, The Guys-Only-Guide to divorce answers questions from hundreds of men just like you about how to get on with a better life!
From Ex to Sex
(And everything in between—questions guys ask, or should ask!)
This Q&A Coaching Covers it All:
• The nuts and bolts of starting over
• Why time is absolutely on your side
• “Is it normal to feel this way about my ex-wife, my kids, other women?‿
• Dating again—what kind of woman you should be looking for?
• Having sex again—when, how much, working out the kinks, and more
• Getting serious—how to avoid the same mistakes this time around
• How to go for a good thing when you see it—you deserve it!
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About the Author.(Coauthor with Glenn F. Sternes, Ph.D.)Dr. Sam J. Buser is past-president of the Texas Psychological Association, a board member of the American Psychological Association's Division 51 (Men's Issues), and is a national presenter on issues relating to men.
About the Author.(Coauthor with Sam J. Buser, Ph.D.)Dr. Glenn F. Sternes is an expert in the field of interpersonal relationships, men's issues and human sexuality. He teaches graduate courses on the subjects and maintains a clinical practice.
|Serious help for a serious issue|
“From ‘Is it really over?’ to ‘Getting serious again,’ this book will help every divorced man through the pain of losing a marriage."
|Professor University of Redlands|
|15-07-2009||Fredric Rabinowitz, Ph.D|
“A wonderful resource for men in emotional transition. A life saver for those going through divorce.”
|Professor, Texas A&M University|
|10-01-2010||Michael Duffy, Ph.D|
“This book on divorce is a gem—for women also! Sam and Glenn show evidence of long experience and the wisdom and confidence to give direct advice.”
|Family Law & Collaborative Attorney, Dougherty & Dougherty|
|16-02-2010||Judy K. Dougherty|
“Mandatory reading for every divorcing man. It’s an easy, refreshing style that men will read. That provides some real tools to encourage growth.”
|ABPP Dean and Professor The University of Akron|
|29-08-2009||Ronald F. Levant, EdD|
“Drs. Buser and Sternes have provided a great public service by writing a step-by-step manual for men on how to deal with divorce. Their book, A Guys –Only Guide to Getting Over Divorce, is solidly based on research and superbly tailored to men’s coping styles, using a Q & A format. The volume is an outstanding resource and a “must read” for any man going through divorce.”
|Professor, Baylor University|
|31-07-2009||Gary R. Brooks, Ph.D|
“An indispensable resource for men confronting an immense life challenge.”
|Law Office of Steve A. Bavousett|
|04-04-2010||Steve A. Bavousett|
“This fills a void no one had even published on before. A practical guide I will recommend to my male clients.”
|Board Certified Psychologist|
|21-03-2010||Kenneth Kopel, Ph.D.|
“Written in easy to understand language; this book answers two important questions: Am I normal? Am I going to be OK when this is over?”
|Board Certified Psychiatrist|
|07-10-2009||George S. Glass, M.D.|
“I heartily recommend this very readable, useful, and enjoyable new book by Dr. Buser and Dr. Sternes. They approach the issues of divorce and starting over in a thoughtful, understanding and reasonable manner which almost everyone who is going through this transition can benefit from. I certainly will recommend it to many of my patients.”
|Past President of APA Div 51 (Society of the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity)|
|16-05-2010||Mark Stevens, Ph.D|
“Every imaginable question a divorced guy would want to know is asked and answered in this book. Drs. Buser and Sternes write in a manner that is easy to understand and respectful. Feels like you are having a conversation with them while you are reading the book.”
|The University of Texas at Austin|
|12-11-2009||Aaron Rochlen, Ph.D|
“This book doesn’t mess around. It is packed with concrete and realistic suggestions for how men can overcome this common and incredibly challenging period in their lives.”
|President, Texas Psychological Association|
|01-10-2010||Ollie J. Seay, Ph.D|
“Buser and Sternes have just the right measure of facts, inspiration, and humor to keep a man (or a woman) turning the pages. A most practical reference!”
|Review by MenStuff.org|
"There's no end of advice for men about the financial and legal aspects of divorce. But, what about YOU personally - your adjustment to a new kind of life, your uncertainly about how to start over. Your time has come! Whether you are newly separated or finalized your divorce last year. This book answers questions from hundreds of men just like you about how to get on with a better life!"
|Author of Anger Busting 101 and Director for Anger Resolutions, Inc.|
|22-07-2011||Newton Hightower, LCSW|
"Even when divorce is not what the man wants, this book shows how he can get through the process with integrity."
|UTMB (University of Texas Medical Branch), Director Family Therapy Clinic|
|03-04-2009||Regina Lederman, PhD|
"Wonderful Q&A format; easy to read but right to the point."
|Review by ksblinks.com|
"There's no end of advice for men about the financial and legal aspects of divorce. But, what about YOU personally - your adjustment to a new kind of life, your uncertainty about how to start over. Your time has come! Whether you are newly separated or finalized your divorce last year. This book answers questions from hundreds of men just like you about how to get on with a better life!"
|Review by Independent Publisher|
"Indispensable information for getting one's life back together after divorce. Great advice."
|Review by Midwest Book Review|
|12-06-2009||Midwest Book Review|
"There are hundreds of guides to help women get over marriages gone wrong, but what of the not- so-fair sex? "The Guys-Only Guide to Getting Over Divorce: And On With Life, Sex, and Relationships" is a guide aimed at men who, despite the stereotypical image, may have issues at dropping years-long or even decades-long relationships. With advice on starting over, seeking a possible soulmate, and how to avoid making the same mistakes twice, "The Guys-Only Guide to Getting Over Divorce" is something to be strongly considered by any man in need of a little extra push to move on."
|Review by Library Journal|
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Introduction: Is this book for me?
Section I: Going Through Divorce
Chapter 1: Do I Really Want Her Back?
Chapter 2: Can I Get Her Back?
Chapter 3: What about the Kids?
Chapter 4: The Legal Angle
Section II :The First Phase after Divorce--Getting your Head Back Together
Chapter 5: Games and Serious Stuff
Chapter 6: Parenting After Divorce
Chapter 7: Living Alone
Chapter 8: Groups for Men
Section III: The Second Phase After Divorce: Dating (Again)
Chapter 9: Thinking about Dating
Chapter 10: Prioritizing and Dating Issues
Chapter 11: Beginning to Date
Section IV: Becoming Sexual (Again)
Chapter 12: Thinking about Sex
Chapter 13: Penis-Vagina Stuff
Section V: The New Relationship
Chapter 14: Becoming Closer
Chapter 15: Getting Serious Again
Chapter 16: Re-Marriage
About the Authors
Guide to Questions
Chapter 1 Is It Really Over? 21
How was I to know she was ready to leave? 22 • Why wasn’t she honest with me about leaving? 23 • If she was so unhappy, why did she wait so long to leave? 23 • Is the woman always right? 24 • I’ve been thinking about leaving her. How honest should I be? 24 • I left her, but what if I’m having second thoughts? 25 • I had an affair, and I’m hot for my new love. Should I leave the marriage and not look back? 26 • Should I offer to go to marriage counseling? 26 • What should I be feeling? 28 • How can I stop the pain? 28 • Can friends help? 29 • What about help from the family? 30 • Is there anything that can help? 30 • Should I want her back? Should I just let her go? 30 • What about her annoying habits? 31 • Can we get over “big‿ problems? 31 • If we do get back together, can these problems happen again? 32 • If we were to get back together, could we trust each other again? 32 • What about dating? 34 Questions
Chapter 2 Can I Get Her Back? 35
What can I do to get her back? 36 • What if there is another man? 36 • What if she hires a private investigator? 39 • What about wearing my ring? 40 • How long should I wait before giving up on the marriage? 40 • Does separation mean divorce is inevitable? 41 • How do I tell others about the separation? 42 • What are the chances we might remarry someday? 42 • What if I decide I don’t want her back? 43
Chapter 3 What about the Kids? 53
How do I tell the kids about the separation? 53 • What are the signs that my kids are having trouble? 56 • Does every child have problems with divorce? 57 • How about if we didn’t fight much? How will our kids respond? 59 • What if we fought a lot? 60 • Do children take sides in divorce? 62 • If I had an affair, will it hurt my chances of being with the kids? 63 • What might make the court decide to limit my time with the children? 63 • My wife and I do not agree about custody of the children. I heard that sometimes a psychologist decides where the children will live. How does that work? 64 • How does a psychologist determine if I am a good parent? 66
Chapter 4 The Legal Angle 67
I think divorce is probably the best idea, but how can I afford it? 69 • Do I have to use an attorney to get a divorce? 71 • Can my wife and I use just one attorney? 73 • How do I pick a good attorney? 73 • What should I discuss with my wife before hiring an attorney? 76 • I’ve heard about mediation. How does this differ from divorce court? 83 • What is a collaborative divorce? 87 • Should I go to counseling during a divorce? 88 • What exactly is community property? 91 • How should I negotiate during divorce? 92 • Can filing for divorce bring us back together? 96 • I’m in my dream house. Do I have to give it up? 97 • What about my other prized possessions? 98
Chapter 5 Games and Serious Stuff 103
My friends tell me I’m obsessed with getting even with my ex-wife. Is this normal? 103 • What can I do about my sense of failure? 104 • How can I get over my guilt about the marriage ending? 105 • Am I a sinner because I went through a divorce? 106 • Should I throw a party for my divorce? 106 • If you’re not advocating “divorce parties,‿ is there such a thing as a “divorce ceremony‿? 108 • What other things could I do to symbolize the end of my marriage? 108 • How should I express my anger? 109 • Should I get back at her for what she has done? 110 • But what if she’s playing games with the kids? What do I do? 111 • What about “Parent Alienation Syndrome‿? 112 • What if I am convinced about “Parental Alienation Syndrome‿? 114 • What about allegations of sexual abuse? 116 • Can I withhold child support if she makes it difficult for me to be with the kids? 118 • When should I go back to court? 118 • What if nobody believes me in court? 119
Chapter 6 Parenting after Divorce 121
What are my rights as a parent after divorce? 121 • How can I effectively parent (or co-parent) after divorce? Is it really possible? 124 • How should I handle my time with the kids? 125 • But what do I do if the kids are interfering with my work? 126 • How do I handle it if my kids don’t want to spend time with me? 127 • I don’t think the visitation schedule is fair. What can I do? 129 • What do I say if the kids blame me for the divorce? 129 • How can I avoid problems with my ex-wife about the kids? 130 • How should I handle phone calls to the kids? 132 • To tell you the truth, I don’t like being with the kids. Will it hurt to skip seeing them sometimes? 133 • Why do my kids always need something that is at their mother’s house? 134 • Every time the kids are with me they seem to need something that their mother is supposed to be buying. I already pay child support! How much more do I have to do? 135 • I feel taken advantage of by my kids. How do I stop being just a banker or an entertainment center? 135 • Child support: I hate it! Can I skip a few payments? 136 • What about alimony? 137 • There’s a new man in her life, and he’s around my kids! What can I do? 139 • What if one of the parents moves? 139 • The big switcheroo—what if my kids want to live with the other parent? 142
Chapter 7 Living Alone 145
How can there be anything good about living alone? It sounds awful! 145 • I’m not ready for dating, but I’m lonely. What should I do? 146 • So, I guess you’re talking about just being with people for now? 148 • So I should just start “doing stuff‿ again? 149 • Connecting with men is difficult because I get too competitive. How can I change that? 150 • Should I develop a new pastime? Are you telling me hobbies will help me through the divorce? 152 • How do I locate hobby clubs? 154 • What about other ways of meeting people? 155 • But I’m not ready to do this kind of thing yet. Can’t I wait until I feel better? 156 • How do I know if I am depressed? 157
Chapter 8 Groups for Men 159
I’ve heard something about “Men’s Groups.‿ What are they? 159 • What can I expect to get out of a men’s group? 160 • I don’t like to talk about myself in public, especially with other men. How could I even fit in a group? 163 • I’ve heard of men’s groups in which they do drumming? What is that? 164 • Aren’t those group rituals kid stuff? 165 • What kinds of men would I meet in a group? 166 • What’s the difference between individual and group therapy? 167 • Aren’t men’s groups just another “gripe session‿? 168 • What would I have to contribute to a men’s group? 169 • How do I know what to talk about in group? 170 • How long do groups meet? 171 • What if I don’t like what the other group members are saying to me? 171 • When am I finished in group? 172
Chapter 9 Thinking about Dating 177
Can I realistically look forward to a new relationship? 178 • How will I know when I’m ready to date? 178 • What if I get nervous around people, especially women? 178 • So it’s back to dating? 179 • Why do we have to go through this dating stuff, anyway? 181 • Is dating the same as when I was a teenager? 182 • So, what do I know about dating? 183 • What if I want to be more spontaneous in dating? 183 • I remember being very kind to my ex when we were dating, but what if I don’t want to do that now in my dating? 183 • Do men and women relate differently as they get older? 184 • Who is in control of sex in dating? 185 • How do I tell people (especially women) that I am divorced? 188 • What are some warning signs to look out for when dating? 189 • What do I have to look forward to in life? 191
Chapter 10 Prioritizing and Dating Issues 193
What priorities should I be setting in dating? 193 • Why should I care about such trivial matters as her occupational status? 197 • Does this mean I should seek a woman who has no needs? 198 • Should I try to find virgins to date? 201 • I definitely want an “experienced‿ woman. Is that a problem? 202 • I can’t stop comparing women I might date to my ex-wife. Why do I keep doing this? 203 • I’m finding myself attracted to women who resemble my ex-wife. What does that mean? 205 • What other things should I watch for when I’m beginning to date again? 206 • Why is focusing on health important in dating? 208 • So, you’re saying that I should be selective in dating? 210 • How can I get more contact with eligible women? 211 • I was shy before my marriage—I feel even more so now. How can I change? 212 • How will I get to know multiple people if I’m just going to meet one? 216 • I think I’m ready for dating—how do I know? 216 • What about dating the woman who is still married? 217
Chapter 11 Beginning to Date 219
What do I talk about on a date? 219 • Don’t others resent or look down at someone doing “small talk‿ with them? 220 • I don’t have trouble with small talk, but after I reveal myself, the relationship stops! I get hurt and am puzzled. What am I to do? 221 • What if she is critical of me? 223 • Who should do most of the talking on a date? 225 • My shyness is a little different—it’s like dating is so important! How should I handle my anxiety about it? 226 • So how do I get started dating? 227 • Where are some good places to meet new women? 228 • Should I consider a personal ad? 229 • What about dating services? 230 • Do you have suggestions for those of us using dating services? 231 • Are personal internet websites a good idea? 232 • What about internet chatrooms? 234 • Some guys now get “mail-order‿ or internet brides. What are the risks of getting a woman from overseas? 234 • What about “blind dates‿? I’ve had offers to be set up by friends, parents or relatives. 236 • I’ve heard something about “brief dating.‿ How does it work? 237 • Does it make a difference where you meet a woman for the first time? 237 • What about the first date? 238 • What if she asks me out? 238 • But what if she is beautiful? 239 • I’m not ready for sex. What do I say? 240 • When should a dating relationship become sexual? 240 • My ex (or the kids) seem to call whenever I am on a date. How do I handle that? 242 • How do I break up with someone if I see she’s “not the one‿? 243
Chapter 12 Thinking about Sex 247
You talked about love; what about sex? 247 • Costs? Are you talking about paid sex? 248 • What do I need to know about STDs? 250 • You haven’t scared me. What if I’m planning to only have oral sex? 252 • How do I ask my new woman about STDs? What do I need to know? 252 • What do I do if the woman I’m with mentions that she has an STD? 253 • I have an STD. When should I tell my date? 254 • Can I make any assumptions about her sex life? 255 • Sometimes, I find myself wondering, “Can I love just one woman the rest of my life?‿ 255 • Okay, now I’m stymied! What do I do about sex? 256 • Okay, you convinced me. Now tell me why I should date after hearing all this? 257
Chapter 13 Penis-Vagina Stuff 259
I’ve met a woman I’m really excited about—maybe too excited. Whenever we try to be intimate, I climax before I’m ready. Is there any way to prevent this? 261 • My woman wants us to have a simultaneous climax. What can I do about that? 263 • I’m at the other end of the spectrum. Whenever I get excited, I lose my erection, whether I’m next to her or inside. This is upsetting! What’s going on? 264 • I have erectile difficulties, and so I’ve started having a drink or two to calm down and lower my anxiety. Makes things more exciting! Nothing wrong with that is there? 264 • I’m not like either of those other two guys. Even well after my divorce, I just don’t care about sex. I can’t get turned on. Will that change? 266 • My problem isn’t like any of the above. I can get an erection and “go all night.‿ I can really please the women, but I just don’t “come.‿ How can this be? 269 • I’m not young, and when I “come,‿ it takes a great deal of time for me to feel sexy again. Same thing when masturbating. What’s going on? 270 • Can we talk about differences between women? My wife was not the greatest sexually, and I’m worried that the new woman I’ve started to see may be more demanding. 272 • My new sexual relationship is great! Will it continue? 273 • My new woman friend has asked me about my sexual fantasies, and in turn, expressed hers, which sound like rape to me. Is this what she really wants? 274 • My ex turned goofy when I did not have sexual interest in her. I’m starting to notice this in the new woman I’m dating. Sometimes I’m interested, and other times I just don’t care. What’s going on with me? 274 • My new woman likes to make love in total darkness, while I’m more the type to see what’s going on. What do we do? 276
Chapter 14 Becoming Closer 279
Although we just met, I think I’ve found “the one.‿ Am I rushing things? 279 • What do I do if she has kids? 280 • When should I meet her kids? 280 • When should she meet my kids? 282 • I want kids. Will it scare her away if I tell her this? 284 • What about the holidays? 284 • What about taking a trip with her? 285
Chapter 15 Getting Serious Again 287
What baggage am I bringing into the relationship? 288 • When am I ready for a committed relationship? 289 • How do I know if I am over my divorce? 291 • How can I avoid making a mistake? 292 • What about the former men in her life? 293 • When is she ready for a committed relationship? 294 • When is age difference a problem? 294 • Should we just live together? 296 • What about her pet? I love my new girlfriend, but her pet drives me up the wall. 298 • What about my religious beliefs? I thought marriage was sacred. 298 • How do I deal with my family about my new relationship? 299 • What about her family’s feelings about the relationship? 300 • Now that we’re serious, how do we get her kids and my kids together? 300 • How do I tell the ex about my new love? Or do I? 302 • My girlfriend’s ex wants to meet with me. What do I do? 303
Chapter 16 Re-Marriage 305
What are the chances that I will remarry? 305 • Marriage is supposed to be joyful, right? 306 • My ex-wife and I are getting back together. We’re talking about getting married again. What would you advise? 307 • Speaking of weddings, I’m not sure what to do. I had a huge wedding my first go-around. What do I do now? 308 • What are typical wedding issues I should be aware of for my second marriage? 310 • Maybe we should just elope? 312 • Should we include the children in our wedding ceremony? 313 • What kind of rings should we get? 313 • What if my grown kids don’t like her? 314 • What about the honeymoon? 316 • I don’t think her family (parents, siblings, children) cares much for me. What can I do about that? 316 • My ex-wife and I often struggled around money issues. How can I keep this from happening in my new marriage? 317 • She wants kids. What if I’m not so sure? 318 • She wants kids, but I had a vasectomy. Now what? 319 • What about step-parenting? 320 • Where should we live—her house, my house, or our house? 322 • What about our “stuff‿? 323 • She’s a career woman. Will she get over that? 324
Chapter 4 (Part 1)
"It was all love on my side, and all good comradeship on hers. When we parted she was a free woman, but I could never again be a free man."
---Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from The Adventure of Abbey Grange
The Legal Angle
Lawyers tell us that even good businessmen frequently make bad business decisions when it comes to divorce. Marriage is always one part romance (about the “heart”) and one part business (about the “head”). Divorce is not a good time to forget this duality.
When it becomes clear that a divorce is going to occur, many men (women, too) just want to get it over with as soon as possible. Sometimes, a man takes that position out of guilt. Maybe he had an affair, feels guilty, and therefore wants to end the marriage as quickly as possible with little fuss. Or maybe the guy chose to end the marriage, knows it will hurt others, and feels badly about the decision. These kinds of feelings may make you want to proceed rapidly so as not to prolong the agony. This rush to end things can lead to bad decision-making. As it is said, “Act in haste, regret in leisure.”
Although it may be slower to let the process unfold through many steps, you will be less likely to feel poorly about your decisions in the future. We recommend that you heed the advice of your attorney as you go through the divorce in order to obtain a fair and equitable settlement.
An Example Of The Traditional Divorce Process (at least in Texas):
Petition the court for a decree of divorce. Hire a family attorney to represent you.
This lawyer then files a motion for the dissolution of marriage with the intake section of the county clerk’s office. The clerk’s office then determines which court will hear the case, calls the court clerk and sets the preliminary hearing date.
The spouse is then notified and “served” with divorce papers with notification of date and place of the preliminary hearing. She then hires her own family attorney. The two attorneys determine the issues of the divorce, asking for “discovery” (information).
At this time, motions may be filed for temporary restraining orders to prevent the other side from making major changes with regard to child custody, visitation, occupation of the home, and sale or transfer of community property. If so merited, the judge may choose to appoint a third attorney (known as an ad litem or amicus attorney) to represent the legal interests of minor children (paid for by both parties).
In a preliminary hearing, temporary orders are issued regarding child custody and support, temporary spousal support, and other issues needing attention.
Shortly after this hearing, either attorney or party requests a trial date from the court
coordinator. If no mediation has been successful, an “impasse” is declared, and a trial takes places as scheduled, with the adversarial system in full swing. The judge will make sure that the rules are followed in cross examination, but this will not prevent emotional damage as every aspect of your married life is open to discussion and aggressive questioning. The judge will then either render a verdict and give final orders to the dissolution of the marriage, or adjourn the proceedings and set a later date to reconvene and issue final orders.
In Harris County (Houston), Texas, this process (before mediation was allowed) took an average of 59 months before getting ready for trial. Also, temporary orders often tended to be the final and permanent orders. Also note that if, during any phase of this process, the petitioner failed to appear or did not respond or comply, then a motion can be submitted by the respondent to the court for a dismissal. And, if either side failed to comply with any of the court’s preliminary or final orders, the other side can file a contempt motion, which the judge can decide without a jury trial. The offending party can then be sentenced to the county jail for a period of up to 179 days.
(modified from Sperling, Peter. Selecting Your Divorce Lawyer. Legal Guide Publishers, 2003. Pp. 22-27.)
Q: I think divorce is probably the best idea, but how can I afford it?
A: We frequently encounter men who express this sentiment. Sometimes they are referring to the high cost of divorce itself, while at other times they are talking about how much it will cost them in terms of their retirement plan, equity in the house, investments or child support.
First of all, even poor folks divorce. It may be expensive at some level, but there are ways to make it more affordable. In many locales, there are free or low cost legal services available through either the local bar (attorneys not pubs) or some sort of other professional group. In our area (Harris County, Texas), the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program will provide free legal representation in divorces as long as the total annual household income does not exceed a certain amount (Lipman, 2007). Another way to reduce the cost of the divorce is to represent yourself in the proceedings. Although this will undoubtedly reduce your expenses, you should pay attention to our caveats about this idea described in the next section. If you have no children and little property, representing yourself is less risky.
In some cases, you may be able to get an attorney to review your documents and give you advice without charge. For example, you may have a friend or relative who is an attorney who can do that for you, or that might be a service of your local lawyer’s associations.
Another possibility to make divorce affordable would be to see if there are any attorneys in your area who are willing to work for a reduced fee. If you cannot get a reduced fee, you may still be able to structure your payments to the attorney so as to reduce the impact of the costs.
Now let’s talk about the cost of divorce in terms of the long-term consequences to your bank accounts resulting from the division of property. (We discuss child support and alimony later in the book). While it is true that you and wife will have to split your joint assets, you also stand to benefit if she, too, has been contributing to a retirement account or similar investment. Whichever person has earned less is likely to benefit more, but, on the other hand, that person is also likely to be earning less in the future as well. So the burden is likely to even out over time. The guys that seem to have the most trouble with this are the ones whose wives were either not working outside the home or earning very little. No one likes to give up part of their hard-earned wealth, but that’s the law. Most of us don’t like to give so much to the government for taxes, either, but it is what we have to do. Likewise, you don’t necessarily have to agree with the family law code, but we all have to abide by it. The best thing for you to do is to focus on your future earnings, not your past.
Q: Do I have to use an attorney to get a divorce?
A: The short answer to this question is “no.” You don’t have to use an attorney. Some people do what is referred to as a “kitchen table settlement” (more formally known as an uncontested divorce). Essentially, the two parties come to an agreement about settlement of assets, liabilities, and the children. They then draw up a document outlining their agreements. There are numerous on-line services (e.g. (LegalZoom.com; Divorcewriter.com; CompleteCase.com) available to help you do this. The couple then seeks to have this agreement sanctioned by a family court. The specifics of this vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The cost of the on-line divorce assistance programs can be quite low ($150—$250 as of this writing). The ones we have listed are generally affiliated with the Better Business Bureau, and some have been featured on news stories on CNN, MS-NBC, and the like. They also offer guarantees that their divorce agreement will meet the test of the courts in your state. However, to use these services you and your wife have to agree on a lot of issues beforehand. That is often a problem since if you and she were in such ready agreement you probably wouldn’t be divorcing.
The long answer to this question introduces another question: “Why in the world would you do this?” Most people indicate that want to avoid using an attorney because of one of more of the following reasons:
• To save money.
• Because they don’t trust lawyers.
• They believe they are smart enough to do legal papers themselves.
Let’s look at these reasons a little more deeply.
Of course, it is cheaper not to hire an attorney. That would be true in any legal situation. An attorney is expensive, but it can be a lot more expensive to undo what you have agreed to in court or other proceeding without legal advice. Most of us use an attorney when a lot of money is involved (e.g. to buy a house or business) or when the implications for us because of the proceedings are grave (e.g. when we are accused of a crime). In a divorce, probably half or more of your estate is at risk. In addition, the consequences of this legal agreement to you and your children will probably affect the rest of your life. In our opinion, it is penny wise and dollar foolish to do a divorce without an attorney.
A lot of people don’t trust attorneys. They see them as “bottom feeders” that make their money off other people’s pain and misery and don’t contribute to society themselves. Others rant about “sue happy” lawyers who look for any provocation to seek damages. Of course, these negative opinions tend to vanish when we ourselves feel the need for legal protection or when we feel we have been wronged.
Some see family lawyers, in particular, as encouraging divorce in order to make a buck or as villains who are willing to do or say anything to win for their client. As in any profession, there are bad lawyers, but it would be unwise to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”
The key is for you to find an attorney whom you trust. Select your legal counsel carefully. Make sure that the attorney works for you and not the other way around. Your attorney should be advising you as to how best to accomplish your objectives, but you should remain the decision-maker. If your attorney recommends options that are unacceptable to you, make your position known. If necessary, change lawyers! One of the most common complaints we hear about lawyers is that they are not responsive to phone calls from their clients. We recommend that you get a clear understanding from your attorney about how to communicate with him/her.
• What is their policy about returning phone calls or e-mails?
• Should you pre-arrange phone conference times?
• What should you expect in the way of communication with them?
Keep in mind that you will probably be charged for all of these communications, including those “brief” phone calls.
For those of you smart enough to do legal papers without an attorney—Bravo! But remember this is not an IQ test. This is your life and your money. This is probably your first or second divorce, but a family attorney has done hundreds of divorces. They know the questions to ask and the details to consider. They know the judges, too. Of course, if your divorce is relatively simple, you may be more able to manage the matter without outside counsel. However, many people start the divorce process thinking that it will be simple only to have it become much more complex as it unfolds.
You might have heard the adage “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Consider its meaning before deciding that you don’t need a lawyer.
Q: Can my wife and I use just one attorney?
A: You’re not the only man with this question. In fact, we run into this recommendation quite often. Of course, it will be cheaper if you use one attorney. However, ethically an attorney can only represent one side of a case. That means that one attorney either represents you or your wife—not both. If the attorney represents you, that may be in your favor initially, but it may set in motion a future conflict if she later grows dissatisfied with the settlement. If, on the other hand, the attorney represents your wife, how comfortable will you be that you were fairly treated?
Q: How do I pick a good attorney?
A: Picking a good attorney is a very important step in ending a marriage. People typically get recommendations for an attorney from friends and family. The trick, though, is not just finding an attorney who can get you a divorce, but finding one who will represent your interests and concerns well. If you are concerned about being fair to your soon-to-be ex-wife, you probably don’t want the attorney who advises you how to take most advantage of the situation. If you fear your ex will seek to limit your contact with the children, you want an attorney who values your role as a father.
There are probably times to hire the “bulldog” lawyer who will seek to get the most for you regardless of what it does to the other side. For the most part, though, this is a mistake, especially if you have children. Usually what happens then is that you set up future conflicts with your ex. We recommend that you select an attorney who prefers negotiation to litigation. If negotiation is not possible, though, you want to have confidence that your attorney can represent you well. You do not want to fear that you will be at a disadvantage because of the lawyer you hired. You need someone who can protect your rights without going so far as to impede your relationships with her and the children after the divorce.
In metropolitan areas, there are specialists who practice “family law.” In rural settings, lawyers may be more generalists. It is helpful, though, if your attorney is familiar with the local family courts and the judge that will decide your case. For that reason, you are usually better off hiring a local attorney rather than bringing in a high-powered expert from out-of-town.
In any case, interview your attorney as if he or she is applying for a job to work for you. In fact, that is exactly what the lawyer is doing. Make sure your prospective lawyer understands your goals in the divorce (e.g., joint custody, fair settlement of the debts, possible reconciliation). A good attorney tries to understand where you are in the process, rather than advising you where you ought to be. Maybe you are only contemplating divorce. Maybe you have filed twice before and withdrawn the petition. You might have had an affair and are afraid about how that will affect the divorce. Perhaps you hope that if you file for divorce, she will realize you are serious about your dissatisfaction and will change her behavior. Ask how your attorney would proceed in accomplishing your goals. If your goals are unrealistic, your attorney should tell you so.
During your initial meeting notice how your prospective attorney listens to you. If the attorney is not listening well during this interview, he or she probably won’t start listening better later. Look for an attorney that takes a “team approach.” Explain what you want. See if the attorney can articulate a plan to accomplish your goals. On the other hand, is your attorney willing to respectfully disagree with you when necessary? You don’t need a “yes man” (or “yes woman”). You need an expert who can work with you to accomplish your goals.
The cheapest attorney is not always the best deal. Nor is it better necessarily to have a high-priced attorney. If your wife has hired the most feared family lawyer in town, though, you probably don’t want to select someone in their first year out of law school.
HOW TO SELECT AN ATTORNEY
Many men do not have a relative who is an attorney, so they wonder whom to use in conducting their divorce proceedings. Even if you do have such a relative, this may not be the best idea. Word of mouth, whether from friends or family, may not fit three major considerations in selecting a divorce attorney: compatibility, experience, and income. Compatibility means that he or she has the right “chemistry” for you—not for your family, or your friend. Experience refers to getting someone who is a full-time family lawyer, not a jack-of-all trades. Income means getting an attorney that serves your income sector of the community. Just like you wouldn’t buy a Cadillac if you only needed a Chevy to get around, you wouldn’t get a “high-priced attorney” if you only needed an attorney who specialized in middle-income bracket clients.
Some people look in the Yellow Pages or local phone book to find an attorney, but this is not a good method as you are selecting based on chance, not information. Even if you contact a lawyer-referral service, you are choosing from among those attorneys who have signed up to be referred. Sperlin recommends that a family attorney be selected based upon: the number of cases disposed of annually, the number of new cases opened annually, and an Efficiency Factor (EF), which he calculates as the least amount of activity to close cases. A higher EF means that the attorney requires less activity to close cases, thus saving money for their clients and the courts. The attorneys should be interviewed personally, and they should give you a ballpark figure on costs to complete the divorce process, both for traditional and the mediation methods. The lawyer should give you a free 20-minute session in which to do this. If not, look for another attorney.
Q: What should I discuss with my wife before hiring an attorney?
A: Although we recommend that you hire an attorney, we also think it is a good idea for you and your wife to try to work out the framework of an agreement on your own. Most couples try to do this, but if the level of animosity and anger is too high, it simply can’t be done. If you believe that a productive discussion is possible, we recommend that you begin by assuring her that you want to create a settlement that you both will feel is fair. Rather than posturing as a negotiating ploy (i.e., asking for more than you want), indicate what you want plainly. Think also about what her biggest concerns are likely to be:
• Where will the kids live?
• How much alimony/spousal support will you provide?
• Will she have to go back to work?
Your goal should be to reduce rather than to increase her anxieties, which will benefit all parties. She will be more likely to see you as trustworthy and reasonable, making negotiations easier.
There are usually four areas that need to be discussed:
• Children (Where will the chidren live and what are the visitation arrangements?)
• Financial Support (Who pays child and/or spousal support, and how much?)
• Assets (Who gets what?)
• Liabilities (Who owes what?)
Here are our suggestions in dealing with these areas.
Children. If you believe that the kids will be better off living primarily with your ex-spouse, don’t try to make “points” by threatening to “take” the kids. Instead, acknowledge that you believe that the kids should live with her and that you want to have ample time to be with them as well.
If, on the other hand, you believe that the children should live primarily with you, understand that this may be very threatening to her. In today’s world fathers generally have equal rights to the children. In many states, joint custody is the rule rather than the exception. Even so, children more commonly reside with their mothers post-divorce. If your soon-to-be-ex-partner agrees that it would be better for “Junior” to live with you, then there is no problem, but if she wants to have the child with her, then this can lead to a bitter conflict. Encourage her to consider that it is better for the two of you to make this important decision together rather than to turn it over to the court or to outside experts.
We do not suggest that you consult with the children to ask with whom they want to live. Doing so puts extraordinary pressure on them. However, if the two of you cannot resolve the issue, the children may be asked exactly that by the court or appointed experts. You know them best, and you should be the ones to make that decision.
Both of you should consider what the child has typically experienced. Which of the parents, for example, does most of the childcare? Who takes the child to the doctor? Who attends the school conferences? If you have not customarily done these things, you could possibly begin now, but it will be another transition and adaptation the child will have to make.
The work and travel schedules of the two parents are other ares of consideration. If one of you travels a great deal, it may be less realistic for the children to reside with that parent. If your soon-to-be ex-wife is returning to work, she may be less sure of her schedule, while you may be able to make reasonable guesses.
If you are accustomed to putting the kids down at night or waking up with them in the morning, you may find it very difficult to accept that you will no longer be able to do this every day. It may be part of the costs that you have to pay when the marriage ends. It may be lousy, but you will have to make the best of it. Instead of lamenting that loss, plan on how to be a more involved father post-divorce.
We will talk more about visitation arrangements in Chapter 6, but for now, suffice it to say that we recommend that both of you be intensively and extensively involved in the children’s lives. The children will do best when they feel loved and cared about by both of you, and they will not feel loved by you unless you are a frequent part of their lives.
Financial Support. The issue of financial support include both child support and alimony (or spousal support as it is sometimes called). After all, they both come out of the same wallet.
Typically, since most children reside primarily with the mother, the father is the one who will pay child support. If the children reside with you, though, your ex might be required to pay child support. Most fathers say they are willing to pay child support, but they may balk at the amount. State laws publish guidelines that stipulate the minimal amounts of child support a parent has to pay. Frequently, dads look to these guidelines and with the support of their attorneys seek to pay minimal child support. They don’t want to provide a “lavish post-divorce lifestyle” to their ex. Remember, though, that if the children are living with their mother, the amount of child support you provide will directly affect the children’s standard of living as well. This is especially true if your ex has limited ability to earn an income.
Our advice is for you and your wife to be realistic about both the income you can expect to generate and the expenses you both will encounter. We have included a budget table from Margulies (2004) that we think can be most useful in this process. We recommend that you and your partner (soon-to-be ex) make copies of this form and complete the following exercise.
1. Create a joint budget, filling in the blanks of the form based on the actual expenses you have encountered as a family over the last three months. You will note that the form includes the major expenses that most families have as well as some blanks for additional items unique to your situation. If you use a financial management program such as Quicken (Intuit) or Microsoft Money (Microsoft), this is an easy task because it categorizes the various expenses. If you don’t use such a program, go through your checkbook, debit card receipts, and financial papers to get a realistic picture on how much you are spending. We admit that creating a budget can be rather time-consuming, but the goal is to get realistic about money. Always a good idea!!
2. You (and your partner) should then each repeat the process on your own, creating separate budgets based on the amounts of money you expect to spend now that you will be living apart. Include in your estimated expenses the child and spousal support that you expect to be paid. Note that some expenses will go up, some will go down, and some will be unchanged. For example, if the kids are with you about 40% of time, you will have to pay for the groceries you need for yourself as well as the groceries you will need to feed them when they are with you. Similarly, both you and she will have housing expenses, but they may be determined, in part, on the need for both of you to provide bedrooms for the children. Some expenses might change for one of you but remain unchanged for the other. For example, your partner’s gasoline expenses might not change, but yours might go up because you have to drive across town to pick them up multiple times a month.
In doing this process, it is important to be realistic. Don’t “pad” your anticipated expenses. Try to get a real feel of the costs both of you will encounter. Of course, these are only estimates, but they should be based on your experience from Step 1 (i.e., from the expenses that the family has actually encountered recently). We think that this step is especially important for men because they often underestimate the expenses associated with running a household and raising kids. This step will help you become more prepared for the expenses you will encounter and more able to realistically negotiate the child support.
3. Both of you should then complete the sections of the separate budgets concerning anticipated income. Base these estimates on past history as well as on realistic projections. Include in your estimates of income the child support that will be paid. Don’t overestimate what one of you can earn. If your wife has been out of the work force for a while, consider how this will affect her earning potential as well as her ability to even find a job. Maybe she can earn a good salary, but it might take her a while to “ramp up.” She may need to return to school or to retrain in order to attain an adequate income level. Rather than seeing this as a “scam” to get you to support her, we recommend you see this as a “win-win” proposition. If she is more able to support herself financially, she will have less dependence on you in the future, and the children will get a better lifestyle.
If there are questions about your ex-spouse’s ability to work or the career field she should pursue, we recommend that the two of you agree to contract with a skilled career counselor with the goal of getting recommendations for her career direction. This type of counseling is generally short in duration and is solution-focused. Rather than agreeing to an open-ended counseling experience, we recommend that you contract for a limited number of sessions, say three or four. The cost would be split between the two of you. The contract should specify that if she chose to continue the counseling, she would bear the full expense of additional sessions.
It is in your best interest for her to be successfully employed. Of course, if you are the one who is returning to work or needs further career direction, these same rules should apply for you.
4. Now compare the income side with the expense side for both of you and answer these questions:
• Will the child and spousal support be adequate for the lifestyles you both want for your children? If not, can they be adjusted?
• Will the amounts of planned child and spousal support be too burdensome for the parent paying the support, given the anticipated income and expenses?
• What are the difficult choices the two of you will have to make in order to meet your budget goals (e.g., selling the house, getting a higher paying job)?
We stress the importance of making these financial decisions during the ending of the marriage in a business-like way. Put your businessman’s hat on, not your emotional one.
Assets. Generally speaking, what was yours before the marriage will be yours after the marriage. Likewise, what was hers before will be hers afterwards. There are some exceptions such as when something you owned before (e.g., a house) was improved (e.g., remodeled) with money earned during the marriage. These are technical issues that vary with the law from state to state. The point we want to make is that you and your soon-to-be ex should discuss what would be the preferred way of dealing with these assets. Don’t try to lay claims to her family heirlooms as a way of getting back at her or simply because you always liked that antique bureau. That can make the negotiating process much more difficult and nasty. Of course, the same rules should apply to her.
Liabilities. We recommend that you handle liabilities in more or less the same way as assets. Discuss the indebtedness you share and what parts, if any, are individual debts. If you just had to buy that new Corvette, maybe that should be your liability. If the credit card bills are largely hers, maybe she should shoulder the majority of that debt. The main thing is to try to create an atmosphere of fairness so that the divorce process can be as smooth as possible, especially if children are involved, since you will need to maintain an even more functional relationship post-divorce for their sake.
Chapter 4 (Part 2)
Q: I’ve heard about mediation. How does this differ from divorce court?
A: When many of us think of “divorce court” we picture a scene out of Law and Order or Perry Mason. Actually, most divorces nowadays are settled out of court in some kind of “alternative dispute resolution.”
Simple Mediation. No attorneys are used except to review the agreements before they are formally submitted to the judge in the family court. Simple mediation is more appropriate when there are no children and few assets or liabilities. It can be done in one to two sessions with a mediator.
Formal Mediation. An agreement is eventually reached between the two parties with the help of their respective attorneys. The judge eventually reviews the agreement to ensure that it meets the standards of the law, and then signs off. Actual court proceedings, especially those involving juries, only occur in very contentious cases. This is not the scenario that you want. It is the most expensive way to go and generally results in more legal wrangling in the future. Furthermore, if you have children, the kids are more apt to become involved in the divorce suit, much to their detriment.
Formal mediation is often used to resolve the differences outside of court. The intent of mediation is to avoid the trauma and the expense of the couple going to court to settle their differences. Furthermore, it is generally believed that mediation empowers couples to make the important decisions regarding the ending of their marriage rather than leaving those decisions to a judge or jury. In mediation, a neutral third party is either appointed or agreed to by the two sides to strike an agreement between the parties. Many mediators—though not all—are themselves attorneys. Others are psychotherapists or other kinds of professionals. Mediators typically go through a training program to equip them with the necessary skills. They may also employ other kinds of professionals (e.g., accountants) to provide them with additional expertise or information pertinent to the divorce (e.g., tax liability, assets).
At a formal mediation, you will be represented and accompanied by your attorney. Your spouse will be similarly represented. Just like in a business deal, each side will present their wants and “demands.” The mediator will attempt to bring the two sides to an agreement. Sometimes the mediation is done “face to face” with all the parties in a single room. In other situations, the setup is more like “shuttle diplomacy.” In this arrangement, the mediator shuttles between two rooms bringing proposals from the other side seeking to negotiate a deal.
Mediation often appears to proceed very slowly, especially at the start. It takes time for the mediator to help the parties come to basic terms with each other, to ascertain how they view the circumstances surrounding the ending of the marriage, and to determine how well they will work together through the divorce process. It is also slow because there is an emphasis (necessarily) on the feelings that need to be expressed and processed prior to working on agreements dealing with the sensitive issues of children and property. Experience has shown that once these feelings are out in the open, the parties can come to a quicker (and better) accord. If the couple has children, a good mediator may ask that the parties open their wallets and put pictures of their children on the table before them, to remind the often-warring parties that the negotiation should not be adversarial between the two (soon-to-be) ex-spouses. Rather, it should be focused on establishing a partnership in rearing the children post-divorce. The marriage will soon be over, but cooperation will be needed with the two parties working together to make the best plans for the children’s education, living arrangements, and quality of life post-divorce.
The actual mediation can sometimes be a difficult experience. Quite often, the negotiations go on for hours, sometimes into the wee hours of the night, especially when the two sides are far apart or are struggling around a key issue. Sometimes when tired from a long struggle, couples agree to something that they later regret. If the two parties don’t ultimately sign the agreement, the whole process may be rendered null and void when your spouse changes her mind about what she verbally agreed to do. Remember, too, that the mediator’s job is to obtain an agreement, not to make sure that you are fairly treated. Your attorney has the role of watching out for your interests. Mediation is not cheap, either. After all, there will be two attorneys as well as the mediator present—all of whom usually charge by the hour. Even so, the cost of mediation is much less than the cost of a trial in family court.
If it appears we are being negative about mediation, our apologies. We actually think that there is merit to mediation, particularly in contrast to settling a divorce in court. However, many of our clients have expressed dissatisfaction—even dismay—about the mediation process, expecting it to feel more balanced and less stressful. Our commentary is intended to help you be more realistic in your expectations.
In an effort to save money, Bruce repeatedly tried to personally negotiate a divorce settlement with his wife, which constantly fell flat. Recognizing that he was making little progress, he suggested mediation. Bruce, his wife Robin, their mutual attorneys, and a third attorney who served as the mediator met in an effort to end the impasse and to avoid an even more costly court battle. The mediation was set for 9 AM, and Bruce expected that after a few hours the mediator would be able to hammer out an agreement between the two sides. However, at 2 AM, the two sides were still struggling over every provision. Eventually, after many, many hours of “negotiation”, a deal was struck. However, his wife refused to sign the document that evening, saying she needed to sleep on it. As you might guess, by the next day she decided not to sign at all, rendering all of their discussions pointless. Eventually, another mediation day was scheduled. After lengthy deliverations, a document was finally agreed upn. It was virtually identical to the first. Mediation is not always a civil affair; keep your expectations humble.
Q: What is a collaborative divorce?
A: Let’s face it. No matter how you do it, divorce is a corrosive process. It is no fun hearing your wife’s attorney accusing you of deception while they also ask for more child support. Whether it is in court or in a mediator’s office, hearing such accusations is guaranteed to be stressful. Your self-esteem can surely take a tumble during divorce proceedings, just at the time when you may already be feeling like a failure because your marriage is ending.
Collaborative divorce is a new legal trend intended to make divorce less negative. It is based on different assumptions than the adversarial forms of divorce we have been discussing. In this type of divorce, each side is represented by an attorney who agrees to practice a collaborative model. Essentially, it is a non-adversarial procedure. Rather than trying to win for his or her client, the collaborative attorney is committed to seeking a fair settlement for all parties. In collaborative divorce the two attorneys share more openly with each other about their client’s position in an effort to be above board and equitable. Outside experts, such as psychotherapists for the children or tax accountants, may be employed to render expert opinions to the deliberations. Rather than using a third-party neutral mediator, there is more direct negotiation between the two parties with attorneys guiding and advising the process.
There is usually a series of joint meetings with both parties and their attorneys discussing their concerns openly. Sometimes, the outside experts attend these meetings. For example, your child’s therapist might attend a meeting to give an opinion as to where your child should live.
Sometimes, though, it is impossible for the two parties to come to an agreement. If it is necessary for the parties to go to court, the collaborative lawyers typically withdraw from the case. This is to ensure that the lawyer is motivated to settle the case through the collaborative process rather than to seek resolution in court.
The real bonus in the collaborative process is that it is the least toxic to the couple. It typically feels more humane and less “legalistic.” It also gives maximum emphasis to the wishes of the couple, which is especially helpful for couples who have children as it tends to cause less animosity post-divorce.
Collaborative divorce is more expensive than the use of a single attorney; however, it is less expensive than a courtroom battle and less traumatic for most people than mediation. It is best suited for couples who are willing to negotiate, those who are not seeking to damage their former partner, and for those committed to work out the best arrangement for the children, even if it is not necessarily what they want. Collaboration will not work if you and your spouse are in such dispute that you cannot stand the sight of each other. We recommend the collaborative process when possible because it is less damaging to all parties.
Q: Should I go to counseling during a divorce?
A: A lot of people feel reluctant to go to counseling while going through divorce. Although this is unarguably one of the most stressful times in a person’s life, these people reason that it is somehow a bad time to seek outside counsel or support, or that it may be used against them.
If this is not the right time to talk to a counselor, when would be the right time? It does not make you a “wuss” to ask for help and support. We’re not saying that everyone will have a mental breakdown when going through a divorce, but virtually everyone will have difficult moments. A counselor can provide both emotional support and an outside perspective that can be both reassuring and insightful.
You’re right. We’re counselors ourselves. You would expect us to say something like that—tooting our own horns, so to speak. However, we’ve seen lots of people going through the divorce process, and we know from their feedback that it helped to have a concerned listener who had experience in such situations “on their team” as they went through the divorce.
You may feel that you have friends in whom you prefer to confide. “Why do I need a counselor if I have friends? I can tell them anything. I don’t want to get advice from a stranger that doesn’t even know me!” The advantage of seeing a counselor is that counselors have been through a lot of divorces with others. We know how people generally react, what will usually work, and what doesn’t work. We also know the cour system, which can be an intimidating system to negotiate. Furthermore, we can be more objective than your friends. We’re not going to just take your side or fuel you with comments like “You shouldn’t have to take that stuff from her. “
Another fear men sometimes offer for not going to see a counselor is that it might be used against them in court. The reasoning here is that going to see a counselor implies that you might be mentally ill or somehow inadequate as a parent. That stereotype is antiquated. If anything, courts usually view going to counseling as a positive step towards self-responsibilty, not a negative admission or an indictment of inadequacy. If you truly have a “mental illness,” the court would look favorably upon your seeking help. On the other hand, very few people who go to counseling have what would be accurately diagnosed as a mental illness. Rather, they are part of the “worried well” who make up the vast majority of clients who seek counseling or psychotherapy. Sure, they might feel some depression or anxiety at times, but this should be distinguished from those few people who have severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar (manic/depressive) illness, or severe major depression. Most judges look favorably upon those who seek help. After all, the judges have their hands full with petitioners who are locked into combat over such matters as child custody, precisely because they have ignored the advice or counsel of mental health professionals.
Frequently, people going through a divorce will say that they don’t have enough time to address their emotional needs. They argue that they are so busy taking care of the legal, financial, and child problems, they can’t afford the luxury of taking care of their “mere” emotional concerns. Essentially, they are saying that emotional health is not all that important, especially in comparison to these other themes. If you don’t take your emotional health seriously during a divorce, however, you are much more likely to make bad decisions during the process. Those bad decisions can cost you a lot of money as you may fight over inconsequential matters. They also make you less able to help your children as they deal with the divorce. The amount of time and money you spend in counseling is usually relatively small compared to the overall time and money needed to bring about a divorce. In addition, you are less likely to make costly mistakes in going through the process.
We men are well-known for our reluctance to go to counseling. In part, this is because as men we have been socialized to:
• Avoid being dependent on others. (“I can handle this myself.”)
• Not acknowledge our losses and pain. (“I hate her for what she did to me.”)
• Hide vulnerability and apparent weakness. (“I have it all under control.”)
• Emphasize doing something over experiencing our feelings. (“What’s the point if you can’t do anything about it?“)
Psychologists Fred Rabinowitz and Sam Cochran note that we men are most likely to externalize our psychological distress through action, distraction, and/or compulsive acting out. Consequently, men are more likely than women to get in trouble because of substance abuse, anger, violence, antisocial behavior, or difficulties in social relationships. If you are having trouble in any of these areas, we suggest that you give counseling a shot. If you are not experiencing any of those problems, you might still want to consider counseling because going through a divorce, even when it is necessary, always brings up issues of loss. Probably all men (and women) have some feelings of rejection, defeat, and discouragement as a result of the divorce. Those feelings, whether openly admitted or not, are often the source of problems post-divorce if they are not adequately addressed as you go through the process.
However, it has been noted that psychotherapy or counseling, at least as it is often practiced, doesn’t necessarily fit well with the sensibilities and needs of men (Brooks & Good, 2001; Englar-Carlson & Stevens, 2006). It probably would not surprise you that perhaps three-fourths of all counseling clients are women (Vessey & Howard, 1993). This has been true throughout the history of counseling as a profession. One of the negative consequences of this is that most counselors are far more familiar and comfortable in working with women than with men. Furthermore, the models and techniques that they employ were largely developed to help women. For these reasons, if you are thinking about going to counseling, we think that it is important to find a professional who is skilled in working with men. (Note: This does not necessarily mean that you should see a male counselor since female counselors may be very skilled in helping men, too.)
Most men prefer counselors who:
• Are active more than passive
• Give direct feedback
• Offer practical advice or direction
• Collaborate rather than act as the expert
• Offer tools for overcoming problems
• Don’t have an anti-male attitude
If the above criteria make sense to you, ask the potential counselor about his/her style of work and see if it is congruent with this list. In addition, find out about the counselor’s previous experience in seeing men. A telling question is to ask about his/her view of the differences in working with men and women in counseling. If the answer is “not much,” you may want to keep looking. Finally, in some larger communities you may be able to find a psychologist or other mental health professional who specializes in seeing men.
Q: What exactly is community property?
A: Some states are described as “community property” states. Although the legal definitions of community property vary somewhat from state to state, in general, “community property is all property acquired afer the marriage, except property that one spouse is given, inherits, or recovers from personal injuries” (Green, 2005).
A few examples:
• The money Aunt Minnie left you is not community property.
• The income you earned from your job is community property.
• The golf clubs given to you by your brother is not community property.
• The interest you earned on your savings account is community property.
• The judgment you received for the injuries you sustained in an accident at work is not community property.
• The recovery for loss of earnings due to the injuries is community property.
• The money you made while gambling is community property.
“Separate property“ is the term used to describe the property owned by a married person that is not community property. Your attorney will clarify any questions that you may have regarding what is separate property and what is community property.
Community property is considered to be owned by both parties, so at the time of divorce it is divided between them. Although the community property may be divided evenly, the court is not required to do so. In contrast, separate property is retained fully by one party (i.e. it is not divided). Indeed, the court must award separate property to the spouse who owns it.
Q: How should I negotiate during divorce?
A: In a good business negotiation, both parties feel positive about the ultimate deal. Neither side feels disadvantaged. Both sides feel they got what they most needed. Perhaps it is rather optimistic, but we feel that the same kinds of goals should be established for negotiations during divorce.
Speaking of goals, get as clear as you can about your goals during the divorce. Clarifying your own goals is important regardless of who filed for the divorce. Perhaps you don’t want the divorce at all. If so, then your goal might be reconciliation, but remember the divorce might just happen anyway.
Bernard stated firmly in a joint counseling session with his wife, Theresa, “Divorce isn’t an option.” He should have added the caveat “...for me.” Despite this sincere declaration, his wife divorced him anyway.
Remember your partner doesn’t have to agree with you about the divorce. It takes two people to stay married, but only one to divorce.
If she wants the divorce, and you don’t, you better come up with some other goals in case she prevails and you get divorced in spite of your desires. You need a backup position. What will your goals be if you do divorce? For some people, the goal might be to recover from the divorce as quickly as possible. For others, it might be to have equal say in raising the kids. Yet others are more focused on the financial impact of the divorce (e.g., on their retirement funds).
Today, a common goal for men going through divorce is to have more time with their children and more opportunities for maintaining a relationship with them post-divorce. Some men give up on their goals regarding the children too quickly, believing that they can’t prevail with the courts. In many jurisdictions, though, fathers are perceived to have every bit as much right to the children as do mothers. In fact, the presumption that mothers have more rights to children than do fathers is a relatively recent phenomenon largely observed in the 20th century. In centuries past, the children were considered the natural “property” and responsibility of the father, not the mother. Now in the 21st century, fathers and mothers are generally seen to have equal rights to the children.
The courts don’t like to make the decision as to where the children will live. They prefer the parents to make the decision themselves. The courts feel (and we agree) that the parents are in the best position to decide what is best for their kids. It is commonplace for the courts to award “joint custody” to the parents, meaning they both have equal rights in decision-making. However, the real sticking point is often where the child will actually live. As we previously suggested, it is in the best interests of all parties for you and your wife to come to an agreed decision about where the children will live. This is often the most painful and difficult issue in divorce. Sometimes, a mediator or a counselor can help you resolve this dilemma. At other times, when the couple is too contentious, a psychologist or other professional is appointed to recommend to the court where the child should live, whether joint custody is feasible, how visitation should be handled, and/or similar concerns regarding the children.
Most of us don’t make good business decisions when we get too emotionally involved in the process. Remember how hard it is to get a good price from a car salesman after you have “fallen in love” with that red convertible? Your attorney can really be helpful here. When you are emotionally over-involved in the divorce, your attorney can remind you of your goals as you begin “foaming at the mouth” because of what your wife said, wrote, or hinted.
It will be useful for you to keep in mind your wife’s major goals in the process. If, for example, she is worried about having to go back to work, she will perhaps fight more around issues that impact her ability to make a good living. If you can support her in the goals that are most critical for her, she may be more willing to make concessions in other areas. For the most part, we think it is best to appeal to the “kinder side” of your spouse. When you do, she is more apt to be generous in return.
Of course, you may feel that no matter what you do, she (and/or her attorney) will try to “screw you.” Sometimes that’s true. No matter how nice you are the other side will be out to get whatever they can. You may wonder why you should make any concessions feeling that they’ll just come back to bite you later. We recommend that you at least start with the hope that the process will be civil and fair. If that hope proves ill founded, then, sure, don’t stick your head in the sand when you are getting pounded. Keep in mind, though, that if you expect the worst from people, that’s what you will usually get. Get counsel from your attorney about whether or not what she is wanting is really unusual or unreasonable. Most importantly, think of this in the long term, especially if you have kids. This is not the last negotiation with her. It’s one of the first. Separate the emotional elements as best you can from your business judgment.
Then there are those men who attempt to appease their partners by giving up too much too readily. Sometimes this is out of guilt, but often it is in the hopes that the other side will then be “nice.” Remember the historical example of the English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempting to appease the Nazis in Czechoslovakia. If your wife acts like a “stormtrooper” this strategy will not only fail, it will be a disaster, but most wives are not quite so draconian. Here again, heed the advice of your attorney if you are told you are being too gracious or generous. Seek to be fair, not self-sacrificing or selfless.
As people go through a divorce, they vacillate in their emotional reactions. Sometimes they will feel angry and want to punish their spouses. At other times, they will seem almost indifferent to the process, putting the whole matter seemingly “on the back burner.” At other moments, they may become focused on how wonderful “single life” will be: wine, women/men, and song. At yet other times, they will be focused on the burdens inherent in divorce: raising kids alone, going back to work, moving out of the family home. Don’t be surprised when your spouse (or you) seems to be in a very different mood than when you last talked about a matter. Of course, your respective moods will have a lot to do with how successfully you have been able to talk about things. Don’t expect to make progress if one or both of you is too angry to talk without yelling. That’s a lot like the story of teaching pigs to sing…it’s frustrating to you and annoying to the pigs.
Q: Can filing for divorce bring us back together?
A: As couples come close to the precipice of divorce, they often get frightened. Do I really want to go through with this? The consequences frequently become more real to the couple as they negotiate the terms of the divorce. Sometimes, they plunge back into the relationship in order to avoid dealing with those consequences. Quite often, they become sexual again hoping to rekindle the old fires or to forget the pain of what was wrong. This is not necessarily bad, but it is not necessarily good either. After you get your clothes back on, the problems that led you to contemplate divorce will still be there. If the two of you are really considering getting back together, this is a great time to seek joint counseling. You both may now be more motivated to fix the problems in the relationship as you have realistically considered the alternative (i.e. divorce).
Family lawyers tell us that women, more often than men, go to an attorney with the hope that this will prompt their partner to change. They don’t necessarily want the divorce, but they do want him to be different. For these women, going to an attorney or filing for divorce is a “shot across the bow.” It may be a final effort to get their husbands to heed their concerns. If you think that this is the situation with your wife, and you want to save the marriage, this is your chance to tell her that things will be different. Of course, if you don’t follow up those words with real actions, then you may only postpone your divorce. Our advice is not to make vague promises or to make commitments that you know you cannot keep. If you want to reconcile, the two of you need to become as clear as possible about what has to change and how will she (and you) know if it happens. Again, this effort is much more likely to pay off if you engage the services of a good marital counselor. One of our favorite techniques to make this change commitment more successful is to postpone the divorce action for a specific period of time, say six months, and then decide if enough progress has been made to justify staying in the marriage.
Annie filed for divorce after her husband blew up one too many times. Fortunately for him, what she really wanted was for him to do something about his anger. When he began to go to anger management classes, she became more hopeful that he was sincere about making a change. Later, the couple started marital counseling, and he was relieved to see that there were some things his wife needed to learn, too. She subsequently withdrew the divorce action.
Q: I’m in my dream house. Do I have to give it up?
A: The question of who gets the house is often a tricky one in divorce, especially if the house has a lot of history for the family or if it is your “dream house”.
If kids are involved, an important question to address is where they will be living. Ideally, you want them to continue living in the same home. Staying in the same house allows the kids to continue in the same schools and to have their same friends. It provides an element of continuity for them. Their lives will be disrupted enough by not living with both parents.
Sometimes, however, it will not be possible for the children to remain in the home. When the parents have to sell the home because one or both cannot afford the payments on their own, financial reality takes precedence over continuity. If finances are the primary motive for selling, there may be creative alternatives (e.g., refinancing can prevent loss of the house).
If you are trying to stay in the home yourself, be realistic about the decision. Can you really afford the payments without the financial contributions from your spouse? Would you really want to stay in a place that big? Do you need all that space? Will you be haunted by memories when you walk in the bedroom? The living room?
For couples with more than one house, similar issues arise. For example, which house do you get: the one in the city or the one at the lake? The lake house might be great for the weekends, but it might make for a long commute during the week. Again, be realistic about your lifestyle and about what is most important to you.
As to the dream house you may lose, build or buy another. You don’t want your original dream home to become your nightmare house. Create a new dream home.
Q: What about my other prized possessions?
A: When it becomes evident to men that divorce is likely, they often begin to think of the loss of prized possessions. For some of us it is the shiny red sports car (“She never liked to drive it anyway”). For others, the boat (“My boat…I need my boat!”). We have also seen both men and women who in their anger took perverse pleasure out of depriving the former partner of some personal treasure (e.g., half of her collection of rare dolls or his baseball cards).
We would discourage you from using the divorce to take petty revenge on your spouse. She might take another tack, but we recommend that you take the moral high ground so at the end of the day you will still have your self-respect. If she is asking for your prized possessions, try to negotiate the matter with her. Usually, there is something else that she wants, and she is using your possession as a bargaining chip. Of course, what she wants you to concede may make the price too high. In that case, remind yourself that it is only “stuff,” and as comedian George Carlin tells us, you probably already have more “stuff” than you need. Besides, you can still get more “stuff.”
If you have children, think about the impact on them. It might be nice to have the sports car, but you might really need the mini-van, especially if you have the children a lot of the time. And that leather furniture or the formal dining table may be less useful post divorce.
Terms of Conditions
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