Divorce Survivor: Charles

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"I would definitely recommend getting some kind of support group to help you through it, because it is a very painful, lonely process."

Charles recently made it through a grueling 21 months of litigation in the family courts of Nebraska to settle his divorce after 13 years of marriage. After almost two years and roughly $40,000 later, Charles received sole custody of his oldest daughter and joint custody of his youngest, the marital home and all of the marital debt.

While the outcome may seem in his favor, he is now able to point out several missteps and oversights that likely increased the time and money it took to finalize his divorce. Charles has decided to share his experience in the hopes that other men may be able to avoid some the mistakes he made while going through the difficult process of divorce.

Why did you decide to get divorced?

“There are several reasons, but the primary reason is my children were incredibly unhappy in the marriage. The other reason was, [my ex-wife] and I had gotten into quite a heated argument, and both of us wound up being charged with assault. After continuously attempting to go to therapy, to encourage her to go, she finally said no to the therapy I more or less felt I had run out of options at that point. If she wasn’t going to try and work to reconcile the marriage, then there really is no point to being married.”

Looking back, what were some of the signs that you were headed in that direction?

“On a calendar, I used to mark with red X’s the days we had arguments. Then it got to the point where over 50 percent of the days in the month would have red X’s.”

Could you tell it was coming or was it a surprise?

“My only regret is that I only stayed married for six years longer than I should have, because somehow, you think things will get better. There is this delusion that divorce is the last thing you want to do, but it does get to the point where you simply have to accept that things are not working. The two of you don’t work. It takes a great deal of courage to accept that it doesn’t work and to start planning on a change.

Most people think that’s the easy way out, but it was not, for me it was not the easy way out; it was an incredibly hard decision, and it was and incredibly hard ordeal to go through. It was also a decision that I made not just for myself, but for my kids and for her.

We did not like being married to one another. We were unhappy, and it was just the right decision to do for everyone who was involved in the house. My daughters are much happier, they are much calmer and doing much better now than they ever did while we were married. It was a very, very bad marriage, almost from the beginning.”

Did you try anything like marriage counseling?

“Yes. It helped me to address some of my issues about what direction I wanted to go in, what I needed out of the marriage and what I needed for myself. To get her to participate though, she only participated in three sessions and then she was done. She was like ‘this is useless and I’m not doing it.’

It helped me a lot to understand and start assessing when you’re in an argument, what exactly we are arguing about. And to try and delve into the underlying of what’s really going on here as opposed to why are we arguing about the dishes. We aren’t really arguing about the dishes, we are really arguing about something else, it’s just the dishes were the thing to tip the scale.”

Was the divorce mutual?

“I did not want the divorce, but I was the one that filed for divorce. I think what it is, more or less, is I saw the writing on the wall and knew it had to be done. She did want the divorce, but I don’t think she would have ever filed for divorce. And I think that’s primarily because if she had done so, it would have looked like she was leaving me and I would have looked like the victim, as opposed to the reverse where I was leaving her and she looked like the victim. Yet that was a tough thing to sell when she accuses me of abusing her, and I was the one who left.

Would you consider the divorce more amicable or bitter?

“Very bitter. Where I didn’t hate her before the divorce, I hate her now. Before divorce, I just felt sorry for her and I felt miserable and unhappy.”

What were the biggest contentious issues you were unable to resolve?

“Mostly it was custody. When I first filed for divorce, my oldest daughter was 12 and my youngest was six. Probably where I went wrong was I should have filed for joint custody in the beginning and just waited for things to work their way out.”

Did you try anything like mediation to sort out differences?

“It was required that we go to mediation, so we went to mediation for a while. It wound up not being too helpful because we pretty much couldn’t come to an agreement on anything. For example, we argued about the house. In the beginning, when we first got the house, she didn’t even like the house. It wasn’t until I filed for divorce and wanted to keep it that suddenly the house became a big deal to her. I think the only reason she wanted the house was because she believed that was her way of keeping the children. But in the end, I think it just came down to “I don’t want to give him anything that will make him happy.” Really though, I just wanted to keep the home because that’s what my kids wanted — it was never about the house; it was always about the kids.”

Did you hire an attorney right away?

“Yes, and it wouldn’t have been possible to get through my divorce without one. The reason mine was so expensive is all communication went through the attorney. But also, there were other things like legal paperwork and stuff like that I wouldn’t have known of if it hadn’t been for the attorney.”

What was the most surprising part of the divorce?

“It cost far more than expected, and was far more combative than I expected. I did not expect that the fighting would last so long. It was, unfortunately, my preconceived notion that at some point she would come to realize that this was for the best.

I would simply say that divorce is very strange — here was a person you married; you loved them, you married them, you built a life with them and you were planning on spending the rest of your life with them, and now this person who once was your partner is an adversary. Now they will do anything they can to discredit you and ruin you. That’s a hard thing to accept in the beginning.

I did my best to keep things on a rational and reasonable level and try to take the higher ground as much as possible. But in some ways, I would say that is a mistake because there were opportunities where I could have hit her hard that I didn’t take advantage of. I thought it would be seen as wrong or too adversarial, and now I look back on it and I kind of feel maybe I should have done it.”

What was the outcome of your divorce?

“I got to keep the house, but wound up with all the debt while she wound up with all the savings.

As far as custody, I have sole custody of my oldest daughter because she won’t have anything to do with the mother, so I get $520 per month child support for her. My youngest daughter and her mother get along fairly well, and so I agreed to joint custody for her sake because she wanted to spend time with her mother and wanted to keep that relationship. I figure there may be problems when she gets older, but she needs to come to that conclusion on her own and for me not to be the reason she did not get to see her mother. I don’t want to be the rift between them. She knows she always has her father if that were to happen.”

Is there anything you wish you knew going into the divorce that would have made it easier?

“I wish I had gone in looking for joint custody initially instead of sole custody. That would have made the fight a little easier. As far as property, maybe I should have demanded everything divided in half and not fought to keep the house. I think that would have reduced the length of fight if I had taken those two steps initially, but I took the stance of “this is what’s right for my kids,” so that’s what I pursued.”

Any other advice you would like to give other men out there going through, or considering divorce?

“Try to fake your death first… But seriously, try to keep things amicable and work things out between the two of you as much as possible. If you can do that, it will save a great deal of time and money. The more you talk to an attorney, the more it costs you. If the two of you can somehow agree it just didn’t work out and stop punishing each other for a marriage that didn’t work, it will be a lot better for both of you.

But again, every divorce is going to be different, just as every marriage is different. You never know what the other person is going to bring to the table. They could wind up being reasonable and say “yeah, it didn’t work, let’s move on.” But then, you’re also going to have people who are angry and bitter and resentful and they’re going to do everything they can to hurt the other person.”

Any final thoughts?

“Men go through a divorce differently than women. I don’t think men do the best thing for themselves that women do. I don’t think men set up a support group for themselves — they don’t look to others to help them through this terrible chapter in their marriage. Men typically go through it more alone than women do, and they typically become more isolated than women do during the divorce. No matter who filed for divorce, women are easily able to present themselves as victims and are a lot more easily able to find people to give them emotional support and I don’t think men do that.

What I would suggest, is that men should find themselves a support group of some kind. I’m not talking about getting your buddies together and going out drinking or playing poker, but having someone you can talk to about what’s going on — someone you can vent your frustrations to. Even if you need to hire a therapist to listen to you rant, it’s worth it to have that as opposed to the only thing you having to turn to is Jack Daniels and Coke as your only buddies. It’s very hard to get through this by yourself, and I recommend nobody go through this by themselves. Just find somebody that you can at least talk to and voice your frustrations, because it is a very lonely time.

You’re going to have friends disappear, and not only will they not want to take sides; they don’t want anything to do with you. You’re not married anymore, and so you no longer fit into their married friends category. This creates another issue, because now your married friends don’t know what to do with you, and if you’re a single father, you’re not really “single” anymore either when you can’t go out with your single friends and have a good time — you’re kind of in this limbo. It winds up being a very lonely place, and I would recommend that people do their best to not isolate themselves. I did have a therapist that helped me through part of it, but I don’t think the therapist helped nearly as much as being able to go out to lunch with some of my friends and tell them “this is what I’m going through.”

Divorce takes over your life where it becomes a daily thing for a good long time. I’m still not the same person I was, and I’m not sure I ever will be. This has changed me, and now I have to live as a different person going forward. I would definitely recommend getting some kind of support group to help you through it, because it is a very painful, lonely process.”

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