Getting Divorced In A Small Town...Without Losing Your Mind
I practice law in a small town in rural Vermont. This presents challenges for me as a divorce lawyer. But it presents even larger challenges to my clients who are going through family problems in Vermont Family Court.
It’s bad enough that your marriage problems and custody disagreements play out in a public courtroom. It’s even worse when you live in a place where gossip about you is happening in your own social group, your small town, and your children’s school.
In the little town where I live outside of Rutland, there’s one general store - Grant's. Not even a gas station. As you can imagine, everybody gets their news of local goings on when they head over to Grant's. You get your coffee, your newspaper and a dose of gossip when you go there.
There are very few secrets in this town. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because your neighbors will have your back if you need them. But other times, you wish you never had to go to that store again because it’s awkward knowing that people are going to ask pointed questions about what’s happening to your marriage or children. How can you deal with this when you’re headed to family court?
Should you stay in this small town?
One of the first questions to answer for yourself when you are going through a divorce and your family is reorganizing is: “Am I going to move away?” There is a lot to take into consideration, such as whether you want to keep the house or whether you have kids who should stay in a stable school environment.
Despite the many reasons to stay, most people feel a temptation to get out. As humans, we often fantasize that our lives would be simpler and more fulfilling if we moved to a better environment. You know, "the grass is always greener." We imagine that our problems with other people will disappear if we move to the other side of the country and start life over again.
The problem is, this is usually just a fantasy.
We don’t ever really get to start our lives over again. In reality, our baggage comes with us in one form or another. Even if we do start over in a new town, our new friends might remind us of the old friends we left behind. We could trade these problems for a different set of problems - say by moving to a big city - but even the new problems are going to quickly feel like the old ones.
So let's say you've decided to stay. How are you going to deal with the petty, gossipy, little town you live in?
4 Tips on Handling Divorce in a Small Town
After many years practicing as a divorce lawyer and even more years living in a small town, I've noticed some things that make it all a bit easier to manage. So here are a few of my tips for getting divorce in rural America.
1. First, you’re going to have to accept it.
Let’s face it: this problem isn’t going away. You’re going to do your grocery shopping at the same place where people know you and have known you for years. They know your ex. In fact, you might even run into him or her at that little store. And yes, everybody might quiet right down and watch how you interact.
But eventually, people are going to see that you’re okay, and that there isn’t going to be a screaming match or a meltdown right in the general store. Part of the divorce process - of separating your lives - is that people are going to be interested in how that’s going. But after a while, something more interesting is going to step into the limelight and you’ll be off the hook.
2. Second, don’t feed it.
This is the harder part. People are going to want to know how things are going for you, and they’re going to want to be on the “inside.” This is part of how people are made. Sharing confidences makes people feel closer together. It’s a reminder of who is in the club - whether that’s the 7:15 “coffee club” at the corner store or the church supper club or whatever. That’s not a bad thing. But you also need some privacy at this moment in your life, and you don’t want to be the topic of more gossip than necessary.
Don’t share stories of how awful your ex is. (I know this might be tempting!) But creating two battle lines in your community is going to make things much worse. It’s going to make it harder to compromise, and it’s going to cost you the respect of the neighbors who aren’t in the gossip-mill.
Try something like this when someone is fishing for dirt:
Thanks for asking - your concern means a lot to me.
Things are a little rough, but we’re working them out as peacefully as we can.
Can I ask for your help if I need it?
People are being so good about supporting both of us and I really appreciate that. I’m trying not to say too much about it, but can I let you know if I need someone to talk to?
3. Let people help you.
When you're going through a divorce, one thing that you might find is that some of your really close friends aren’t the best at listening to your problems right now. And they might be even worse at giving advice. Some of them know both of you, and don’t want to get caught in the middle of your split. Others are going to take your side no matter what, and would love to talk to you about how terrible your ex is and how mistreated you are. Neither is going to help you much.
But people who haven’t been in your inner circle could be your best confidants right now. It’s not really a matter of who your true friends are. A good confidant is someone who is available, willing to listen and able to reflect back to you so you can work through your emotions constructively - without inflaming them and making things worse.
I recommend trying to find a mentor of sorts - someone who’s been through a similar breakup and knows what it’s like. Maybe that someone is just a good listener. Try to be open and willing to find these people. (They might be where you least expect it.) Living in a small town where everyone knows your business can make it easier to find this mentor. And more often than not, the people around you really care about you.
4. Ask for what you need.
Once you've found those people you can confide in and lean on, it’s okay to ask them for what you need. It might be space. It might be a dinner casserole because you’ve got the kids on Tuesday night and you’re going to in court that day and you can’t face cooking when you get home. People in a small town will help you out when they can, but they might not know what to do.
If you’ve ever had a death in the family, you might be surprised by who comes out of the woodwork to support you. Sometimes, the people who are your day-to-day friends aren’t the best at this. They give you an awkward hug and don’t know what to say. They come to the funeral and leave immediately. But the neighbor you hardly ever speak with brings iced tea and sits on the porch for an hour, or mows your lawn, or drops by with dinner. They do just those things that you really need at the moment.
A divorce can be kind of similar. Some people seem to avoid you, but it’s only because they don’t know what to say. Other people ask if there’s anything they can do. Take them up on this! Ask if you can vent for a bit, or if they can pick up the kids for you, or if they can take the dog for a couple days. Whatever. The beauty of living in this small town is that people know your business, and there will be someone there for you when you need it.
Are you going through a divorce?
I'd love to help...if not with the dinner casserole, then at least with the paperwork!
Contact Me: (802) 797-4049