8 Real-Life Divorce Moments: Coping Tips

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Ugly Moment #4: "She Just Wouldn't Sign."

Jeff, 36, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania The situation: "My wife and I had been estranged for a while -- it was obvious that the relationship wasn't working, and we lived apart. Then a new person came into my life, and [my wife] was so angry; I filed for divorce, but she wouldn't sign a single piece of paper or respond to any of my lawyer's motions."

How he handled it: "In the state where we were living, if you don't respond within 18 months, the other spouse is granted a divorce, so I just bided my time. It meant I couldn't get remarried when I wanted to, but I didn't know what else to do."

The experts say: "This was the right answer," says Hollander. "The law is set up, in most places, so that if you can't get in touch with the other party, you can still divorce him or her."

"If this new person is a good match for him," says Rubin, "she won't be in such a rush to run down the aisle anyway. Whether it happens now or in 18 months, it'll work out. He did the right thing. There's no rush."

Ugly Moment #5: "He Wanted a Huge House Payoff."

Denise, 37, Brooklyn, New York The situation: "It was clear that once my husband had a new girlfriend, things were over between us -- but when it came to dividing the assets, he wanted a piece of the house I had bought. He wouldn't let it go, and the debate over this dragged on longer than the three-year marriage."

How she handled it: "He wasn't owed the huge amount he was demanding, so I fought him on it. I knew I was right. But it took so much in legal fees to prove it, I would have come out ahead if I'd just written him a check the day he moved out."

The experts say: "I hear her saying that she regrets fighting him on this, but hindsight is always 20-20," says Hollander. "Yes, in the end, she took a financial hit, but if she had just rolled over on this, the minute it happened, she might have set a bad precedent. Maybe there was a place and time where she could have said 'this is going on too long,' but she did have to put up some kind of fight."

Margulies has a different take. "If the law was on her side, and the house was in her name, and he was out, she should have just sat there and let him wear himself out." Divorces, he says, are miserable, but "if one person keeps a cool head, in time, the other person will usually cooperate."

Ugly Moment #6: "We Had a Sudden Custody Clash."

Adam, 42, Baltimore, Maryland The situation: "We had a custody agreement, but for a year, because my son had a karate class on Monday nights, he slept over an extra night. Suddenly, my ex-wife wanted to put a stop to this. I thought we had a de facto agreement. She didn't. Suddenly lawyers were reinvolved. And lawyers are never good news."

How he handled it: "The truth is, I was hoping the extra night would reduce my child-support payments, which were astronomical. So I was the one who called the lawyers in first, and it was my lawyer who said to try to get around the system. The payments are directly tied to how much time each parent spends with the kid, and that night would have put me in the lower-payment bracket. In retrospect, I shouldn't have listened to a guy whose strategy was to cheat -- but even though I didn't end up reducing the child support, we did restructure the custody so that I get a lot more time with my son, and that makes it worth it."

The experts say: "The structure of child support guidelines were changed about 15 years ago," says Margulies. The idea, he says, was good: if a noncustodial parent spent more time with his kids, he could pay less in child support, because presumably he'd be spending money on the kids while they were in his care.

"But what happened, in fact, is that lawyers began advising the custodial parents, 'Don't let him spend more time with the kids, so you don't lose money,'" Margulies says, "and [advising] the noncustodial parents, 'See the kid more if you want to pay less.' It's parental time for sale, and it's a horrible idea." All experts agree: tying parental time to a dollar amount takes the child's needs out of the equation, and usually leads to a more bitter situation. "I would have advised him to get the extra visitation he wanted, through a mediator, and forgotten about the money -- and the lawyers," says Margulies.

"He's lucky he came out with a positive situation -- he took a huge chance," says Rubin. "Never, never use children as a weapon, and always be flexible with the custody. In the end, the more flexible parent is the one who wins in the kids' eyes."

Ugly Moment #7: "The Kids' Expenses Became a Battleground."

Emily, 46, New York, New York The situation: "When it came time for child support to be worked out, my ex saw it as a way to fatten my bank account -- he couldn't make the leap to see he was paying for the care of his kids. He nickel-and-dimed me on every little expense, questioning every decision, and continues to do so."

How she handled it: "With the help of a very able lawyer, I got the child support I was entitled to. For the expenses we're supposed to split, I do my best to state my case, but if he makes a big issue of it, I back down. It's not worth the headache; my happiness is more important than a few dollars."

The experts say: "She's right," says Rubin. "She's doing the right thing. This is just the ex's anger coming up again and again." And, she points out, it means he's not moving on emotionally. He's clinging to money because he can't cling to Emily. Meanwhile, Emily is able to move on and focus on other matters. "Besides," says Rubin, "You know who your spouse is. If he's cheap, he's cheap -- a divorce isn't going to change that."

Margulies looks back to the beginning to suggest another way this could have gone. "She forced the court to tell him how much to pay," he says. "This was a humiliation to him, so the relationship is poisoned. If she could have negotiated the child support in a way that allowed him to realize it was fair, she might have gotten more cooperation out of him.

Ugly Moment #8: "She Hit Me with an Alimony Request -- After She Cheated!"

Dean, 32, Atlanta, Georgia The situation: "My ex was a dancer, and depended on me to support her while she auditioned and studied. When she cheated on me, I felt so used and filed for divorce. Then she said I owed her maintenance, because I wasn't living up to the commitment I'd made to her. Then I really felt used!"

How he handled it: "We were only married two years and had no children -- she didn't have a well-muscled, toe-shoed leg to stand on. So I fought it, and fortunately, she backed down."

The experts say: "Actually, he was responsible for a little bit of maintenance," says Rubin. A marriage, she points out, does mean a commitment -- that's why you should really think twice about it in the first place. "The world does not want people on welfare; the moral high ground has nothing to do with it, and doesn't get you off the hook for your financial obligation, unfortunate as that may feel."

"He needs to pay out enough to help her make a transition to her unmarried life," says Margulies. "Instead, he said, 'Not a penny, because I was betrayed.' That's not the law -- that's soap opera."

Continued on page 3:  Tips for a Smoother Split


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