A year ago in the midst of one of his angry tirades, my husband sarcastically turned to our daughter and asked, “Do you know how to spell divorce?”
My sweet baby girl, just a toddler at the time, said “no” and then turned to me with innocent eyes, “Mommy, how do you spell divorce?” It would still take another year for my heart to accept what my brain already knew: my marriage was over and with it, the dream of a family life that had always been a mirage.
Divorce is considered one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, alongside the death of a loved one. It can be financially draining, emotionally exhausting, and sometimes heated and emotional — especially when children are involved.
Divorce is a loss. It’s the loss of a family structure, of stability, and of a certain identity. It may mean the loss of certain friends who feel that they need to pick sides or no longer feel comfortable inviting you to couples’ events. You may lose your surname (that you’ve spent years learning to automatically sign), your family home, and a lot of money.
Divorce, even in amicable cases, can be extremely expensive. There are lawyers, of course, but also the need for two separate residences, tax implications when you no longer file jointly, and other incidental expenses that add up to a significant change in your financial standing.
And that’s if your divorce is amicable.
If acrimonious, which many can be, divorce is brutal on your finances. I’ve spoken to several people who maxed out their credit cards, took out loans from friends or family, or sold valuable assets to afford the legal fees and all other related expenses, such as a mediator; therapists; or (in the cases of certain custody situations) a designated, court-appointed “protector” to safeguard the children during supervised visits with a high-conflict parent.
For the many women who leave the workforce entirely when they have kids, or who become under-employed in part-time work, there is a real fear about how to provide for themselves and their children.
That fear, along with the fear of divorce’s effect on children, has prolonged many bad marriages. But as any child psychologist or child of divorce will tell you, staying in a volatile, high-conflict marriage is infinitely more damaging than parents who divorce, especially if they can successfully co-parent.
I held both of those fears — financial and the effect on my children — and allowed those fears to keep me in a toxic situation for years past its expiration date.
But then one day, one of my children handed me a drawing and said, “I drew a house for us to live where we’ll be safe and Daddy won’t be mean to you.”
We separated the next day.
There is a long, ugly divorce road ahead for me and I have no doubt that there will be some thorny twists and turns — including a conversation with the kids about what this all means. But for now, I feel mostly relief, freedom, and possibility.
For anyone reading this going through the process, or thinking about it, please know that you may be surprised at the support and love you’ll find from loved ones. Talk to a lawyer and take your time.
I always wondered if I would ever leave or if I would allow myself to forever drag my battered heart into the future. But when I knew, I knew. In my heart, I felt the door shut — my decision made — no turning back now.
It’s time to heal, mama.