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.
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