A Guy’s Divorce Survival Guide

Guys may think leaving is the right thing to do for the sake of the family, but according to family lawyer David Pisarra, there are a few things they should know before—and after—they walk out that door.

When couples first marry it’s all bliss and bjs. But they’re also making legal commitments to each other. Too often guys choose to ignore the legal and financial implications of getting married.

In a “community property” state (California, Texas, and eight others), your spouse is entitled to half of every dollar you earn, including every dollar you put into your retirement plan and 401(k). But every dollar her parents gives her is hers—because gifts to one person are separate property. Gifts to both of you are community property.

By the time a marriage is over—and there is a 50-50 chance it will be over at some point—most men are at the “just get me out” stage. They often don’t care about most of the property—800-thread count sheets, tea sets, and fancy kitchen gizmos—that was purchased over the course of the marriage.

But men do care about their kids. This is where they make their biggest mistake. Most of the men I represent will walk away from the house and the furnishings, pack their three bags of clothes and leave. The man assumes, incorrectly, that he’s doing the right thing for his soon-to-be ex-wife and kids. He thinks that if he gives her all the stuff, she’ll treat him fairly when it comes to the children. He thinks he’ll get 50 percent custody—and because he’s being a “good guy” she will treat him as one.

In my experience, that’s rarely how it happens.

The minute the man leaves the house he is giving his partner control of the kids. The status quo has been established. She has all the stuff and the kids. He’ll be paying child support and seeing his children every other weekend (plus maybe a mid-week dinner).


With this in mind, how should a guy prepare for divorce?

First, he needs to know what the community property is and that he is entitled to half of it. I’m not saying he needs to take half the silver tea sets—but he should be sure to get half the value of the tea sets. I recommended that he build a room-by-room inventory of things that were purchased during the marriage.

Many men will see taking inventory as petty, or a waste of time, but most courts require that each side disclose to the other all the items of the marriage. There may be some things that he genuinely wants to keep that he would not have thought of otherwise, and there will likely be a considerable number of items that he doesn’t want but should be compensated for.

Second, he needs a plan for how to deal with the children and visitation. He should never leave the house (unless he is in physical danger) without having a plan in place for how the the couple is going to co-parent.

This is a crucial area for men to review—and not just their day-to-day lives. They should consider the holidays and special events throughout the year they want to have with their children. Generally parents alternate holidays—odd numbered years go to one parent and even numbered years to the other—but if there is a particular holiday that’s desired every year, then be prepared to give up some other holiday.


Then there is the problem of post breakup life. Here’s the good news for men: in my experience, guys generally have a new woman in their life within a year. But be careful—even if your wife is the one who initiated the divorce, she might be sensitive about you dating someone new. Go ahead and date, just don’t introduce your new girlfriend to your kids.

If the divorce gets ugly and your ex is angry, don’t engage her anger with anger. If she gets mad, let her be mad, pick up the kids, and go on about your life. Remember that you will survive this—even if you don’t jump into another relationship right away.

Take some time to be alone. Some men need to hit the gym to work out their anger. Every guy should do some reflection on the relationship—not only on what went wrong, but what was right about your marriage. Go to a 12-step group, see a therapist, or even go to the bookstore.

Just because a relationship changes form doesn’t mean it was all bad. A short period of self-centered emotional healing is a good thing—it will make your next relationship that much better. My ex and I broke up, and once I realized that we were just going in different directions, all the anger dissipated, and today we’re great friends.


More From Our Special Marriage Section:

Even stellar relationships lose their spark over time; here are the ingredients of a lasting, fruitful partnership, and techniques for weathering the the stormy times: What Your Marriage Needs to Survive

When Tom Forrister transitioned from female to male, his same-sex marriage became a federally-recognized, “traditional” marriage. The one constant was the bond he shared with his wife: My Exemplary, Everyday Marriage

The night­mare of fam­ily court is enough to deter a guy from even think­ing about tying the knot. Marriage: Just Don’t

Encouraging princess culture—however innocently—contributes to the sexualization of girls. Men can be part of the solution to the “princess problem”: Men and the Sexualization of Young Girls

For all the stories written by and for women on this issue—and there are few—men are more likely to be absent from the public dialogue about intentional childlessness. Why aren’t men’s stories also being heard? Two Is Enough

If you’re married and using Internet porn regularly, your sex life—the one with your wife—is probably a lot less satisfying than it could be: How Porn Can Ruin Your Sex Life—and Your Marriage

Men are more promiscuous than women, but that doesn’t mean we should buy the cultural fallacy that men are programmed to cheat; the vast majority of men are happily, naturally monogamous: Are Men Natural-Born Cheaters?

Tom Matlack talks to married men to find out when they knew their wife was “the one”: She’s the One

As Gabi Coatsworth’s son’s bipolar disorder gave way to full-blown manic episodes, she watched her husband slip deeper into drink and detachment: Reading Between the Silences

Monogamy sounds like “monotony,” but it doesn’t have to be monotonous. Hugo Schwyzer explores how we can have the security—and the novelty—we desire in our relationships: Red-Hot Monogamy

About David Pisarra

David Pisarra is a Father's Rights Attorney in California. He is the host of the Men's Family Law Podcast available on iTunes and his website is www.MensFamilyLaw.com.


  1. If you leave the marriage.. you need to accept the facts as they are :

    1. All of your ‘stuff’ is forfeit
    2. You have no rights to your children any longer.
    3. You are solely financially responsible for your children
    4. You are financially responsible for your ex wife – for life.
    5. It doesn’t matter who initiated the separation.

    This is a direct result of the male-centric patriarchal world we live in. The only way to balance the past evils of patriarchy, is to be completely responsible and accountable to every evil done.

  2. Your assuming the guy wants his kids. Mine left took all the valuables and sees my son 7 times a month

  3. Anonymous for my Protection says:

    Naively, I didn’t believe in the stereotype of the vindictive ex. Lots of divorce in my family, but no psychotic revenge types. I didn’t think they actually existed, only created as fodder for Hollywood and cocktail party chatter. Then I met my husband…and his ex-wife. I really wish he had known then what he knows now. She took everything, kept everything, and has been a bully and a tyrant for 10 years straight, all of it increasing to mentally ill levels once I entered the picture. He was naive enough, as he is a kind and trusting man, to “take her at her word” which proved meaningless. I wholeheartedly defend the right to get a divorce, and exes are exes for a reason. Historically (and legitimately) divorce settlements have protected women…but things really do need to evolve.

  4. Great advice, especially about not engaging an angry spouse. When children are involved, it’s always best to take the highroad if at all possible. Eventually, it will make custody exchanges easier (in most cases) and having an open line of communication is huge.

  5. Don’t get married int he first place. The law makes a mockery of justice for men. If you do not pay your (outrageous) child support, you go to jail. If she decides never to let you see your kids, nobody cares.

    Just purchase a shirt with “ATM” written on the back, and accept your new role.

    • This is the real problem with men and divorce. They stay in a bad marriage and expect reward ain’t coming. First are tactic to win the divorce. To have the children that takes cunning and to win mean early preparedness. Doing an inventory for insurance purposes is wise anyway. The best idea is to document,document,document. Don’t forget to call the cops on her if she becomes violent a record is a good defense. Men need to band together to win this war and to stop the ego that makes it so difficult to band together for victory.
      The first is to get the child support to a national pool. That will mean that it may become possible to lower the payments and to get a tax deduction. The idea is we males have to work together.

      • While police intervention often works for abused women, abused men understandably fear that once the police are involved, their wives will accuse them of being the abuser and it is they who will be believed. Draconian arrest policies often direct police to make an arrest, and police are often pressured to arrest the man.

        The anti-male bias of police policies was evident in the Woods case. During the 1995 shotgun incident, Ruth called the police after David wrestled the shotgun away from her. Maegan yelled to her mom, “Tell the truth!” and Ruth told the police she wanted them to come because she wanted to kill her husband.

        Nevertheless, when the police arrived and David opened the door to let them in, the officers immediately grabbed him by the wrist, wrestled him to the ground, and handcuffed him. They only uncuffed him after Maegan told them that it was her mother who had the gun.


    • Brilliant Antz. So brutally true.

  6. Thank you David for another great article!

    I have learned a great deal from your writings and books.


  7. David, this is great advice. I am a little surprised about the way you phrased ‘community property’, though; you phrase it as sex-specific instead of pointing out that it cuts both ways. You are also entitled to every dollar she makes or puts into her 401(k); if your parents leave you a windfall that is yours (separate property). This is particularly important if a man has been unemployed for a while or if his soon-to-be-ex is the higher earner.

  8. The conversation is important. There is a lack of information and that is a valid criticism.
    I’ve provided the crucial information for men going through a divorce and I understand that pisses off the male feminists.

    “Don’t Leave the House”

    The real danger of this lack of information is if she provokes violence. That is crucial and left out.
    Don’t respond is alluded to, but the reality is that in a divorce situation a man has no choice but to get the hell out of there and get a witness. I would be interested in a more indepth and intellectual discussion with David Pissarra, rather than false accolades and wilfull ignorance.

    The conversation is important..

    • If she “provokes violence”? That’s an interesting phrasing. I would think that the concern would be if she is violent.

      • Men can only control themselves, they can not control the actions of others.

        Harvard Medical School and American Psychiatric Association are
        recognizing the frequency of female domestic violence

        The article below printed in the 9/07 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter (V. 24, N. 3) and is on the Harvard Medical School’s website. It is by the researcher from the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Whitaker, whose recent reseach found 24% OF HETEROSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS HAD VIOLENCE, HALF OF IT RECIPROCAL,AND THAT WOMEN COMMITTED OVER 70% OF THE NON-RECIPROCAL VIOLENCE AND INITIATED THE RECIPROCAL VIOLENCE MORE OFTEN THAN MEN, and women suffered more injury but men suffered significant injury as well. The abstract of the study is at


        The Psychiatry Online article on the study is at


        • Again, “provokes violence”?

          • Yes, by starting a fight.. WITH VIOLENCE.

            SHE can unilaterally start the fight 100% of the time by throwing the first punch, kick or slap and HE will be the one arrested and charged with the crime 100% of the time.

            • Says the probable wife beater…

              • Right, because theres no such thing as aggressive women? All people, whom women are a 50% subcategory, are capable of violence.

            • That’s a good point that needs far more discussion. It addresses a couple of issues.

              1. There is a current societal notion that because women are the “weaker sex,” when they physically strike out at a partner, it won’t hurt, and therefor doesn’t count (refer to the men don’t hit women default in society, but there is no reciprocal for women). For people with abusive tendencies, this can start out as an expression of mild frustration early on in the relationship, and grow increasingly more toxic and carry more force.

              2. Depending on the jurisdiction the “domestic” occurs in, police officers have to look for who is the Predominant Physical Threat. Things that are factored into this are: body size/weight and the very last act of violence that occurred. So yes, because the size of the body is taken into account, it is a little stacked against men. But, men are not arrested 100% of the time for this, as I have actually worked with women who finally had enough of their husband’s abuse, struck back, and because the force of their blow was greater, they were deemed the predominant physical threat and thusly arrested. Additionally, some jurisdictions cannot arrest both parties during a domestic, and if no predominant physical threat is found, both individuals avoid arrest. Depending on the nature of the abuse in the relationship and jurisdiction laws, you may end up with victims who never wish to call the police again and suffer silently.

              3. As far as David’s point about whether or not to leave the house is concerned, he does address the issue of violence, even if only briefly. But here’s the thing: not every abusive relationship is the same, so what should he say exactly? No one knows the nature of the relationship better than the people in it, so why should an outsider from the internet be giving step by step advice?
              Additionally, there are parents out there who put up with the violence in an attempt to protect their kids, and being the first one to leave the house does have huge legal implications in terms of custody. But that also depends on your jurisdiction. Have their been previous complaints of abuse? If not, it may be hard to argue that you are the abused spouse, and therefor hard to keep the children. When I was in high school, I was a nanny for a family in which the husband was an abusive alcoholic, and when the wife filed for divorce, he tried to keep the kids from her because she is the one who had left. My just-turned-18-years-old self got dragged into that and I had to write a character affidavit in order for her to keep the kids. So, again, hard to be specific. It depends on your jurisdiction and your resources.

              So the only addendum I would have encouraged David to include in all of this is to get in touch with your state’s Coalition Against Sexual or Domestic Violence prior to the divorce if sexual or domestic violence is an issue. Every state in America has one, and I am sure there is a Canadian corollary. If you are unsure of what the number is, @ThePixelProject tweets the abuse hotline numbers for various countries and states every single night. These organizations can inform you of either what the laws are in your jurisdiction, or they can set you up with the necessary resources for you to find out before you start divorce proceedings so that you can do what is best for both yourself and your children.

  9. Cloudy McNoggin says:

    Great article. Kudos to the author.

    I’m pretty new to this site and in browsing down to the comments I seemed to have been clued in to the ways of this guy ‘Denis” by Henry Belanger.

    I’ve always been curious as to why some people feel it necessary to bash others in an attempt to make themselves look good. Seems like our friendly Canuck is pushing his own opinions on divorce and domestic violence on his website. Great marketing Denis. Really…you’re a pro. What a great commercial.

    I thought that Canadians had a little more class than that. Seems like having access to health care makes most a little more cordial. Maybe Denis is a transplant.

    Well, I guess supporting and looking towards a woman to offer up divorce and relationship advice to men is about all I need to know.

    Again, kudos to Mr. Pissarra for this well done piece. (And thanks to you to Henry!) 🙂

  10. @David Pisarra, after reviewing your website the only thing I can say is that it’s really useless.


    Dr. Tara rocks!

    • Henry P. Belanger says:

      Come on, Denis. Do you have to be so miserably dismissive of everything? I appreciate the fact that you read the magazine and comment on everything, but as a fellow reader your dismissal of articles for not being books, lawyers for not being psychiatrists, apples for not being kumquats is getting a little old. It’s an 800 word story, man, it’s going to gloss over some things.

      And as a guy who claims to passionately believe in mens’ causes, I’d think you’d appreciate the fact that David has dedicated his practice to helping guys get a fair shake. Your insistence on commenting a second time just to call his website “useless,” ugh. If you can’t say something constructive, keep it to yourself.

      • Did you see the website? There is no information and every single link is broken.
        He has a much better website here, but still rather lacking in information.


        Kudos to David Pis­arra for promoting DAHMW.org, because that’s what Good Men do.

        It’s an 800 word article, but there are far better resources on the Internet than at TGMP. Offering advice to stay in the home is useless without further discussion of the serious risks at this stage of a toxic relationship.

        What you call miserably dismissive, I consider to be high standards. Considering the junk science being peddled at TGMP, I’ve coined the term Good DataTM. Hope I can be of help for continuous improvement.

  11. “Sec¬ond, he needs a plan for how to deal with the chil¬dren and vis¬i¬ta¬tion. He should never leave the house (unless he is in phys¬i¬cal dan¬ger) with¬out hav¬ing a plan in place for how the cou¬ple is going to co-parent.”

    That sounds good, but if she refuses to co-operate and just wants to create conflict, what are you going to do about it?

    Going to court only creates more conflict and won’t change anything.

    There’s some good advice in here but it only superficially glosses over some of the issues. I doubt that many men leave their homes because they want to. They leave because their wife is pushing them out and will purposely create conflict to make that happen.

    For men dealing with abusive women, I suggest Dr. Tara Palmateer.


    Divorce and High-Conflict People: Borderlines, Narcissists, Histrionics, Sociopaths and Other Persuasive Blamers



  1. Sources…

    […]here are some links to sites that we link to because we think they are worth visiting[…]…

  2. […] Article I wrote for GoodMenProject.com In Strategy Issues on February 10, 2011 at 11:16 pm Here’s an article I wrote : http://www.goodmenproject.com/featured-content/a-guys-divorce-survival-guide/ […]

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