Matt Sweetwood survived one of the most contentious divorce cases ever. He shares his wisdom now with men who find themselves in family court. Here are some highlights.
So you are thinking about getting divorced or maybe you are going through one right now? What you will likely discover is that divorce for a man, is as painful as childbirth is for a women – except the excruciating pain of divorce can last for years, decades or a lifetime.
I unfortunately have vast experience in this area having been divorced twice in one of the most man-hostile court systems in the nation. It’s so bad here in New Jersey that a bunch of dads, who have been badly beaten down, have filed a class action suit against several family court judges – one of whom was my judge. My first divorce and related litigation was one of the longest in NJ history, with 13 motions (I lost them all) 2 separate visits to the NJ Appellate Court (I lost both) and one visit to the NJ Supreme Court (I won).
The facts in my case didn’t seem to affect the outcome. I had 5 children with my first wife and she left all of us after an 8.5 year marriage. My 5 kids were between 18 months to 8 years old when she bolted. The final result was hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal bills for me to pay, my ex got a huge chunk of my business payable in cash to her and she got LIFETIME ALIMONY. Oh, one minor detail I forgot to mention: I got full custody of all 5 kids and they have lived 100% of the time with me for the last 20 years.
Are you scared yet? Well, you better be. Not knowing the right way to act or what to do while going through a divorce will cost you big – in terms of money, quality of life and maybe even your freedom.
So here are the 10 things you must do if you are going to come out on top in your divorce:
- Stay/Get in Shape: This is number one on my list and should be number one for you too. My physical strength was the foundation for my mental and emotional strength. Promise yourself (and keep it!) that you will work out, eat right and (try to) get enough sleep. If you allow yourself to decline physically, your self-esteem and stamina will falter and you will start to make poor decisions and not be able to fight to win.
- Your Lawyer is not God: Treat your lawyer like you would your auto mechanic. He or she does not have God-like powers nor do they know everything, If they are not making sense, the strategy seems wrong or they are way too friendly with the other side, immediately get a second opinion. Lawyers are expensive and it’s extra expensive to switch attorneys. However, that will be money well spent since having a bad attorney is a recipe for a huge financial disaster in the end. My attorney from my first divorce was terrible and I stuck with her out of some false sense of loyalty and fear. Do not make that mistake.
- Your Lawyer is Not Your Friend: There are many great divorce lawyers out there. I had the best of the best for my second divorce but he was not there for my emotional support, life advice or to comfort me. Do not seek or expect that from your lawyer. I know it is hard and men go at it alone in divorce, but that is not what you are paying them for. Seek comfort from friends, relatives or a counselor. This will allow you to make more rational and sensible decisions about your case and life.
Read my related article: What You Can Assume About That Divorced Dad You Know
- Be Prepared: Do everything in your power to help your attorney when he or she asks for it. Have your attorney explain the law to you and insist that he or she gives you the best, worst and most-likely scenarios for the outcome of your case. It’s a pain in the butt to get asked for an endless stream of documents, financial statements and fill out form after form. It’s galling to have to do all the work for the case, work to support the family, while your soon-to-be ex is at the hair salon. But that’s how you win, so do it.
- Courts Suck: Stay out of court if at all possible. Try to settle all issues even if the compromise is (much) less than you want. When you go into court you have essentially lost all ability to control the outcome. It’s in the hands of a judge who may be friendly to the other attorney, has their own prejudices, may be jealous of you or simply doesn’t like you. Family Court is 25% about the law and 75% at the judge’s whim. The only ones guaranteed a good outcome from going to court, are the attorneys, who get to charge extra for the hours spent there.
- Control Your Anger: The ex treats that you well in a divorce should be captured and studied like one would do when they see a unicorn. While there are exes who are reasonable through their divorce, Your ex may do bad things to you. Anything you do while you are angry will not accrue to your benefit. Lift weights, jog, take up kickboxing or scream at the top of the mountain but do not get angry back at your ex Bad behavior does not justify other bad behavior.
- No Physical Contact: This means no hitting, pushing, poking or touching – even if your ex does it to you. There is no wiggle room here. The two consequences of touching your former spouse will be jail for you and a massive loss of money (and maybe custody).
- Respect Your Ex: Respect them even if they doen’t respect you. Try at all costs not to fight with your ex even if they taunts you. You want to be a kind, respectful and caring . Say positive things . You can do this with authenticity since you did love your ex at one point. You should be conveying that the reason the marriage is ending is that you are just not right for each other – nothing more. Exercise self-control and your ex will be less likely to try and hurt you.
- No Sex: That means not having sex with your ex once you have decided to end the marriage. It will cause hurt afterwards which your ex may reflect back on you. And the idea of parading a new interest, half your ex’s age, arm-in-arm around town is a guaranteed way to get your ex so angry at you that they will do everything in their power to crush you. I have seen divorcees act emotionally, not logically and be willing to sacrifice money (theirs and yours) in order to inflict emotional pain. You have to want to win more than you want to get lucky or torment your ex.
- Spirituality Will Save You: This is going to be one of the roughest times you will go through in your life. You are going to feel pain. If you have children they are going to be hurt. You are going to struggle with self-confidence, loneliness, potential financial ruin, and massive change. I found spirituality through subscribing to a website, com, which sent me important and practical advice, based on the Torah. It was my guiding light, my inspiration and empowered me to take charge. I received wisdom, understanding and an appreciation for life that I still have with me today. So find a priest, rabbi, minister, a wise old friend or even a website that can inspire you. If you allow yourself to be open to spirituality, you will have a more tolerable ride through divorce and have something that will provide benefits to you for the rest of your life.
So there you have it men – the recipe for surviving the trauma and drama of a divorce and maybe even coming out with a win. Give it a try – after all, what do you have to lose?