I recently interviewed a friend of mine - we’ll call him Michael - who has been divorced for two years. I’m really floored by how he kept the divorce civil and creative and created a better life for himself and his kids.
Michael recently got divorced after a long marriage - 24 years. He and his spouse had several children together, a house - and not much else. He did have a good job, but it wasn’t enough money to really continue their lifestyle in two separate homes. Here’s our conversation.
You had an amicable divorce, congratulations! How did you manage to achieve that?
Don’t get me wrong, there were the normal trials and tribulations. I was the one who wanted the divorce, and she was very angry in the beginning. There were a lot of long emails and texts in the middle of the night, accusing me of all sorts of things. The one thing I kept saying was that it was about the kids. I mean, the marriage had been about the kids and now I wanted the divorce to be about them, too.
We didn’t agree on much at first, but we did agree that we wanted what was best for the kids.
What would you say to someone who wants to make a life change but is worried about getting divorced after a long marriage?
Its daunting. You feel like you need to stay in the marriage because it’s easier than dealing with fallout from asking for a divorce. But my life is so much better now! I have a new relationship that is healthier and more fulfilling and a new home. I’ve started exercising seriously and lost about 80 pounds! Also, although she was very angry at first, my spouse has remarried and seems much happier because of it.
I’ll bet it wasn’t easy though.
At first it was hard, emotionally and financially. I moved into a $550 a month studio apartment, let her keep the car, and walked to work until I could afford a used vehicle. It took a little while to get the finances straighted out, but it was so worth it.
I’ll never forget the first night in my awful little apartment as a middle-aged man starting over. My life looked like it was falling apart, but I felt a great weight lifted off of my chest. It felt like I was doing something absolutely necessary for myself.
This morning I woke up, got my coffee, and reflected on how I have a terrific relationship and am so much happier now.
How are your kids doing?
Well that’s actually been another great benefit. I’m one text away and I've become a better father because we aren’t enmeshed in the marriage drama. That means my kids aren’t dealing with it anymore, either.
We had several children who were young adults (according to Vermont at least) who were still living at home and the youngest was still in highschool, so we needed to deal with child custody and child support issues at the time. I have a child who has aspergers and is on disability, which complicated things because we are helping him ease into adulthood when he faces some real challenges.
How did you deal with finances?
It was really basic during the separation. I was able to make a budget that covered my basic needs and then worked out how much she needed and just paid her that while we worked on the divorce. That worked for awhile, but then the bills started getting behind. So I took over the bills directly and just gave her money for groceries and that sort of thing during the seperation.
Did you hire lawyers?
No, we didn’t get lawyers. And I have a job that would have paid for it! But every time I’ve seen a divorce where there was legal representation, when they couldn’t communicate with each other except through lawyers - of course it gets impossible to work things out. It was too important to me to maintain communication because of our kids.
How did you reach on agreement?
We had a court order that we agreed on. I went to the courthouse and got all the paperwork and we sat down together and filled it all out together. We had adult children in the home, so part of the agreement is that when the kids move out I can put the house up for sale. We wrote our agreement on the court form, then met at my work where there was a notary and we signed it there. I took it to the courthouse the next day with $90 and filed it. We did have to have a brief hearing because some of the things we wanted to do were a little creative because of our adult children. The judge thought we should go to a mediator, but we both said we really want to get divorced today so the judge helped us rewrite that paragraph and then we were done.
What would you say to someone wanting the successful divorce that you’ve created?
Find something you agree on, and keep coming back to that. For us, it was keeping the house for the kids as long as they wanted to live there. Every time we hit a roadblock to agreement, we came back to that - our one big agreement. And it helped us get over the finish line.