While recently sifting through the boxes of papers in my storage unit, I stumbled across a few of the documents I saved from my divorce. I now see how proactive and prepared I was. It is pretty amazing to see how much research I did prior to my ex even pulling the trigger by filing for divorce. Looking back, I see that preparation was one of the biggest advantages I had over my adversary. All too often, people are totally blindsided when they step into a courtroom and want their lawyer to figure everything out. That is a really bad move.
Back before August of 2010, in the state of New York, a spouse had to have grounds for divorce. After that point, one spouse could end the contract by instead of saying, “I Do”,” you can simply say “I Don’t.” A spouse does not need a reason at all to end the marriage. It is that easy to unilaterally break a marriage contract. Apparently, it isn’t as easy to do the same anywhere else. It makes you wonder why there is such a thing as a marriage contract.
New York was the last state to adopt the no-fault divorce laws that the other 49 states already adopted. The no-fault divorce era began under the administration of Governor Ronald Reagan in 1969 and seems to have made marriage one of the most unstable institutions in our country.
My ex wanted out of our marriage. I didn’t. I knew in the back of my mind that we probably weren’t going to last, but I tried to hold on and make things work.
In one of the piles of documents I found, I saw a letter I wrote to my ex-wife. It stated that I needed to have certain problems resolved. I really tried to save our crumbling partnership. I was trying to work on our marital issues with someone who seemed to have no interest in doing the same.
I was determined to make it work. I was planning for the long haul and was trying to make attempts at reconciliation and progress. Little did I know that she had alternate plans for me. I was sadly mistaken thinking I could stop the inevitable. The problem for her is that she did not know the law at the time and how divorce worked.
One August afternoon, she sat me down at a bench and told me she wanted a divorce. I knew it was coming but didn’t want to face the reality of the end of my intact family. After our discussion later in the day, I asked her on the phone what the grounds for divorce were to be. She said she had no idea. I told her that she had to have grounds and that I wasn’t going to agree to any reason for divorce that was not true. I told her that the only grounds that she might even remotely have was constructive abandonment.
I later found out after reading the petition after being served that she chose “constructive abandonment.” This meant that in court, she would have to prove that I constructively abandoned our marriage by refusing to have sex with her. I literally laughed out loud when I saw the petition. It was a joke. You see, my ex was pretty damn good looking and I was a healthy 40 year old man. Under no circumstances was I going to turn down an offer to participate in a little bump and grind. I wouldn’t have cared less if things were horrible. Sex is sex. At least, that is what I thought at the time. I have grown wiser and much more in control of my sexuality since then.
I think my attempts to try to hold onto something that deep down I knew was never going to work out was due to the fact that I wanted for my children what I had growing up. I had a great childhood and I didn’t want to see my children growing up like so many other children do today. I had remotely heard about children in families without an intact mother and father and certainly didn’t want my kids to be yet another statistic. I have since learned that if things simply don’t work out with parents, that does not end the relationship with the children. The problem I see is that we live in a society where some think that if a couple with children gets divorced, the mother gets the kids, child support and alimony. Nothing could be further from the truth. Why should a mother get the children and not the father? I ask that question and hear people stumble over the answer. When I press them on the issue of being sexist if they state the kids should be with the mother, they have little to say afterward.
While I was writing the letters to my ex in the months prior to her filing, I read as much as I could get my hands on about the process of divorce. I learned very quickly how fathers are treated in our family court system. I discovered how much money is wasted on legal fees and how most cases are settled out of court. I also knew my ex had no case due to the fact I had never cheated on her, I never abused her, i never abandoned the family, I was a hands on father since I took care of our daughter during the daytime hours from the day she was born. There was little to say that would be harmful to my reputation other than the fact we yelled and screamed at each other from time to time. The arguments got worse because she refused to return to work and money was a growing issue that could have been easily resolved by both of us contributing financially.
I read Steven Baskerville’s book Taken Into Custody. It totally changed my thinking and my approach to how I was to handle each step of the process of divorce. I knew the history, the tactics and the potential pitfalls. The result? Years of quality time with my two beautiful kids and no transfer of money from me to my ex.
I have since spent the vast majority of my time studying human behavior, reading about the history of marriage, relationships and our family court system. I use my experience to help other fathers navigate the murky waters of the court system and have assisted mothers who need a male perspective when it comes to issues in their marriages. It has been rather rewarding to use a considerably dark period of my life to help others in need. Most of us have been affected by divorce in one way or another and see the harm that can come from “messy” divorces.
When I discuss divorce with people who are thinking of running to a law firm to file, I make sure I remind them they must understand what they are getting themselves into. Divorce is seen as an easy way out, but there are so many lingering issues that never get worked out in the long term. A judge in a courtroom does not care about what happens to you 10 years down the road. They want to get your case off the docket. Your lawyers don’t car about you either. They just want to make sure they bill you and you PAY THEM! It is always best for couples to work things out on their own. The second best way to resolve things is mediation. Keep the court system as far away from your issues as humanly possible.
It is important to remember that in life, if you are armed with knowledge, you are truly empowered. I had a significant advantage in my court battle because not only did I have a great case, but I knew what I was getting into and how to handle myself. I’m always willing to share what I’ve learned and pass on anything that can help others.