When the Holidays Don’t Mean Family Togetherness
Despite being considered as a period for family togetherness, joy and goodwill to all, the holidays can be a toxic time for relationships on the rocks. The result is that far more folks file for divorce in January than in any other month. The first Monday after New Year’s Day is hailed as divorce day by the press, when lawyers apparently get more divorce inquiries than at any other time in the year. It’s the beginning of the first full week of work after the Christmas and New Year break. Couples have had to spend much more time than usual not only with each other but with each other’s relatives. If the alcohol is flowing freely, dreadful Aunt Rita and grumpy father-in-law Fred may become even more obnoxious and embarrassing than usual. Husbands and wives may come to the conclusion that they just can’t stand each other or their partner’s family.
My Divorce Day
I preempted Divorce Day 2020—Monday January 6—by becoming officially divorced on January 2, 2020. It took me seven years after I found out about my husband’s infidelity to get to that stage rather than one horrible holiday season. Less than two years after discovering he had a European girlfriend half his age, I had to deal with breast cancer, as well as chemo and radiation. The last thing I wanted to do at that stage was to take on the stress of the work, expense, arguments and financial loss that I knew divorce would involve. After a while, I became quite happy pottering along living a separate life. In April 2019, my husband decided that he wanted a divorce—and fast—in order to be able to marry his foreign girlfriend and be able to live with her into the United States.
By that time, I was in another relationship and quite happy to be apart from my ex. This meant I could deal with divorce in a rational way that served my interests best, rather than riding an emotional roller coaster or looking for revenge. I was also fortunate that our children were grown and living on their own, avoiding any disputes over custody or child support.
Avoiding Divorce for Dunces
Splitting up with a spouse is notorious for bringing out foolish and irresponsible behavior. Some sad folks become divorce dunces locked in a selfish revenge cycle, where they are so focused on winning against their ex that they don’t even look after their own interests. As I explain at length in my book, Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether You Stay or Not, my philosophy is that the best revenge is to get past the need for it.
My friend Rachel’s husband ran off with another woman, leaving Rachel to care for their baby and toddler while trying to hold down a demanding full-time job. Her husband rejected the generous settlement she proposed to take on an additional mortgage to pay back his share of the house right away. Instead he’s fighting her tooth and nail with lawyers. She has retracted her original offer as she has had to spend so much on court and legal fees that she would no longer qualify for the mortgage.
Rachel’s situation gave me a lot more respect for my husband, despite his flaws. He agreed to go through mediation and avoid the horrendous expense of court, not to mention dueling attorneys and forensic accountants. We came up with an acceptable agreement within a few weeks. My ex and I are no longer close friends, but have remained on speaking terms.
Keeping Down Costs
Despite avoiding an acrimonious split, I still found divorce to be an intense and costly business. California divorce and mediation lawyers are exceedingly well paid. I’m obviously in the wrong business being a writer. However my research skills as a journalist did come in handy, enabling me to document all our assets and financial accounts in meticulous detail. My motto was “information is power.” I found the Nolo Press legal self-help books on various aspects of divorce to be a godsend, saving me from having to pay my attorney for answering general questions.
Going through divorce is like having ten tax audits at once. I went through more than 2000 sheets of copy paper to compile multiple drafts of disclosures, divorce forms and agreements. I was fortunate that I had been the one dealing with family finances and had been anal about keeping scans of important documents. Thus the material that many divorcing couples take many months to compile, I was able to put together in only a few weeks.
I was grateful to have the protection that California divorce law affords women leaving long-term marriages. I was entitled to half of all the assets accumulated during the marriage. In addition, an inheritance I got from my father remained my sole property. My ex was understandably resentful about this—it’s tough to have to give up what you once might have thought was yours—but he accepted that it was the law of the land. A friend from Guatemala told me sadly, “In my country, a man can throw his wife and children out of the house and bring in a new girlfriend, and the wife has no recourse at all.”