What should you know as a woman about divorcing?
What should you know as a woman about divorcing?
Consider the source of this answer, as it comes from a married (not divorced), male divorce lawyer. To many reading this, both men and women, it may come across at first blush as being insensitive toward, even biased against, women. I assure you it is not. I have no axe to grind with women. I love my late mother. I love my dear wife, I love my sweet daughters, and my great sisters. What I am about to share with you is the way I honestly see things, no sugar-coating.
This is what I have noticed that many women often are not aware of going into divorce:
- So much of what women think are important issues in divorce are, as a matter of law, not important. What do I mean?
- Women are generally more emotional than men. In divorce this translates into most divorcing women believing that emotional issues are far more relevant in divorce cases than they really are. I will give you an example from a meeting I had this very week with a wife contemplating divorce.
- She was upset about the fact that her husband was violating the parties’ religious teachings despite her displeasure and objections. The husband was not doing anything illegal, just not following his religions “rules and regulations.” Clearly, this was a source of worry for this wife because she was afraid of the bad influence he was having on their children. That is a fair concern. Here she was trying to teach their children to abide by their religious beliefs and precepts consistently, and there’s dad thumbing his nose at them.
- I get it. It would make me sad and angry too if I were in her shoes. But she thought this would make her a sympathetic figure in a divorce action. She thought it would mean the court would reward her more in terms of assets and support and child custody (and please don’t get me wrong here; she was clearly not being greedy, she just felt that she deserves to be compensated and rewarded for being a faithful spouse who upheld her end of the marriage bargain when the husband did not— I understand why she felt this way, but that’s not how divorce law works in this situation). I told her that was highly unlikely because what the father was doing would likely be seen as having little to no adverse effect on his overall parental fitness.
- Side note: parental fitness is not synonymous with parental perfection. In fact, as long as a parent is minimally fit, that parent has a good chance of being awarded joint custody of the kids, if that parent wants it. Although I will not say gone are the days when “the best parent” was awarded child custody, those days are going and will soon be gone. Thank God. For too long good (not perfect, but good) fathers were relegated to marginalized, second class parent status in the belief that they were not as important to a child’s emotional and physical well-being and development as is a mother. It breaks countless children’s hearts, it breaks countless fathers’ hearts, needlessly.
- This wife was also upset because the husband had essentially emotionally abandoned the marriage 10 years ago. She believed this would also be relevant in a divorce proceeding and would lead to favorable outcomes for her. It is not and will not. I completely understand how hurt she was, and how wrong it is of her husband to behave as he was, but as a matter of law, that would not entitle the wife to anything special. Extreme emotional cruelty can result in higher alimony awards, but just being an absentee spouse, whether physically or emotionally, does not. The primary purpose of a divorce is to divide the marital assets equitably (and that is presumed to mean equally unless it can be shown that extenuating circumstances warrant an even division of assets) and responsibility for marital debts
- The more women we get on the bench as judges, the less accurate my observations stated above become, but these observations will never become totally inaccurate unless divorce law radically changes, and I don’t anticipate that it will.
- Many women become financially dependent on their husbands. This is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about, especially when a married couple decides that the husband will be the primary breadwinner so that the wife can bear children and take care of them at home. Indeed, this is one of the noblest things a woman can do, I will not patronize or look down my nose at mothers and homemakers. Children who come from homes and families where they had a parent (mother or father) to take care of them full-time when they were minors have an almost incalculably tremendous advantage throughout the rest of their lives because of their mothers’ care and sacrifices in this regard.
- That stated, some women believe that because they have become financially dependent upon their husbands during the marriage, they believe that divorce will have no adverse effect on their standard of living.
- Many (not all, but many) women in this situation have a hard time seeing how divorce will—unless the couple is extremely affluent—likely leave them financially poorer and with a lower standard of living (it is a blind spot many wives have in the divorce process), but it will.
- Many women believe that if their husbands financially supported them totally or almost totally during the marriage that their ex-husbands will continue to support them at this same level after divorce, and for life. Not likely; this is rarely the case and is becoming rarer all the time as women continue to reach parity with men in the workforce. States with laws on the books that allow for the award of lifetime alimony are becoming fewer. Women who are financially dependent upon their husbands, even those who have been financially dependent upon their husbands for a very long time, need to be aware that it is highly likely that they may not be awarded alimony, that if they are awarded alimony and won’t be very much, and/or that it won’t last for very long. Today’s women need to be prepared to obtain employment to supply their full or partial financial support after divorce.
- Many women believe that they own their children. I am sorry to be so blunt, but I am amazed that in this day and age so many women still treat children in divorce as “my” children as opposed to “our” children.
- Consequently, women who hold these beliefs (and in my experience, most women—most, not all—do) are shocked and outraged when they are told by their attorneys and/or by the courts that it is not a foregone conclusion that mothers will be awarded the sole or primary physical custody of the couple’s children. some women simply cannot believe it and cannot accept it; they are convinced they are being lied to and that there is a conspiracy to deprive them of that to which they are “entitled”.
- the odds of the mothers receiving a solar primary physical custody are still better, far better, than those for fathers, BUT the odds of the court awarding child custody on a joint custody basis are far better forefathers than they have ever been, and they are only continuing to get better forefathers. Gone are the days when mothers can presume the child custody award to result in Dad spending a few hours each week with the kids and every other weekend from Friday to Sunday night. Accept it. There is no pushing that toothpaste back in the tube.
- Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean joint equal custody, but it can, and it increasingly is meaning that very thing.
- Some women (some, not most, but a surprisingly, disturbingly large number nonetheless) believe that falsely accusing their husbands of domestic violence is fair game in divorce. Such women believe that the ends justify the means, that if they fear they won’t get “what’s due me (i.e., the assets and money and child custody awards they ‘deserve’)” unless they falsely accuse their husbands of domestic violence, they are entitled to do so. It is only fair.
- With the trend away from sole custody awarded to mothers in favor of joint custody awarded to both parents, we are also seeing a trend toward treating women’s claims of domestic violence in divorce actions more skeptically. Frankly, it is well past time for this to happen. Ask any experienced divorce and family lawyer – man or woman – and he/she will tell you that false allegations of domestic violence against husbands have run rampant for decades. Do not misunderstand me; there are clearly abusive husbands out there, but not nearly as many as what so many lying divorcing wives claim. For whatever reason, the legal profession and the legal system is finally admitting it.
- This means that it is no longer a foregone conclusion that false allegations of domestic violence are a winning move in divorce actions when it comes to obtaining higher alimony awards or soul physical child custody awards (with the attendant child support awards).
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