Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in 2018 on Karencovey.com, and was written by Karen Covey.
Is divorce advice for women different than divorce advice for men?
While you might think that the best divorce advice would be the same for everyone, no matter their gender or circumstances, that’s not entirely true.
Sure, a lot of divorce advice applies to everyone across the board: gather your documents, get some legal advice, put your kids first, etc. Yet some advice is either more applicable to women, or it is advice women need to be reminded about more.
Either way, here are 32 divorce tips that women facing divorce need to keep in mind.
- Take care of yourself.
Divorce is a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to come out the other end of your divorce as a whole human instead of one of the walking wounded, you need to pace yourself. I know it sounds cliché, but you need to eat right, exercise, and get as much sleep as you can. Medicating away your pain with food, alcohol, chocolate, or any other substance, may make you feel better in the short term, but it will kick your butt in the long term. (Of course, letting yourself indulge once in a while can be cathartic. You just don’t want to do it every day.)
- Get a therapist.
Divorce takes everyone on an emotional rollercoaster ride. No matter how amicable or easy you think your divorce is going to be, I promise you that you’re going to experience more ups and downs than you would on a 100 mile an hour cab ride through the hills of San Francisco. Having someone steady and solid by your side as you go through your divorce will be invaluable. A good therapist can help you keep your emotions in check and keep your head on straight.
- LEARN how divorce works ASAP.
Look, no one wants to have to learn about divorce. But fear of the unknown is one of the most paralyzing and disempowering feelings you can have. The more you learn about divorce, the less terrifying it becomes. The more you understand what your options are, the more empowered you will be to choose the options that will serve you best. The saying that “knowledge is power” may be a cliché. But the reason people say that so often is because it’s true.
- Figure out what matters to you from the start.
As women, we tend to be people pleasers. We don’t ask for the things we want. Yet, secretly, we hope that someone will notice how selfless we’re being and magnanimously give us exactly what we want anyway. The problem is: Divorce doesn’t work that way! If you want to put yourself in the best position to get what you want in your divorce, you have to decide what that thing is and actually go for it!
- Don’t do stupid things.
That seems obvious, right? But just spend one morning in divorce court. You will be amazed at the crazy things that divorcing people do. Most of the time it’s your emotions that make you do the dumb stuff. (That’s another reason to get a good therapist!) While the list of things you shouldn’t do in your divorce is far too long to include in a single blog post, let’s just say that if you’re thinking of doing something that you would be too embarrassed to tell your grandmother or your church group, don’t do it!
- Get support.
Noone should go through a divorce alone. While having a therapist is a good start, the more support you can get, the better off you will be. (TIP: If you are trying to only tell your divorce woes to one or two friends, you’re going to burn them out pretty quickly!) Gather a solid group of friends and family to help you through this time. If you’d rather not have all of your relatives know your personal business, find a divorce support group in your area, or online.
- Make copies of all of your financial documents as soon as you possibly can.
Yes, this falls into the category of “divorce advice that’s good for everyone.” Yet, stereotypically, women often have less access to the family financial information than their husbands. Because of that, it pays to start early. Make copies of all of whatever financial documents you can find. If you don’t understand them, or you don’t know what they are, copy them anyway. It’s better to have too much information than too little.
- Figure out your finances.
It doesn’t matter if numbers aren’t your thing, or if you’ve never paid a bill in your life. If you want to make sure you’re not getting the short end of the stick in your divorce, you have to understand the basics of personal finance. That doesn’t mean you need to become a CPA. But you DO need to know how to make a budget and a balance sheet. You also need to know how taxes will affect your divorce settlement. If all of that sounds too intimidating, then hire a divorce financial planner to help you.
- Become self-supporting.
This one is really tough. You may have made a deal with your husband years ago that you would stay home and raise the kids and he would work to support you all. You may not have had a job outside the home for years. Your skills may be rusty and you may doubt your value in the workforce. None of that matters. Alimony is becoming harder and harder to get across the country. When you do get support, you rarely get it for your lifetime. Unless you are independently wealthy, you’re going to have to go back to work. The sooner you start re-tooling yourself, the better off you’re going to be.
- Only keep the house if you can really afford it.
A house represents stability. When your world (and your kids’ world) is falling apart, it’s normal to want to cling to the stability that your house provides. But keeping the house in your divorce will do you no good if you can’t afford the payments and the upkeep. If two years after your divorce you lose your house to foreclosure, or you have to sell it for cheap money just to get out from under the payments, you will have lost the stability you were seeking AND a whole lot of money to boot.
- Be a good role model for your kids.
Kids learn more by watching what you do than they do by listening to what you say. Because you’re a mother, the way you go through your divorce matter enormously. If you routinely get into shouting matches with your husband, and you treat him like dirt, your kids will see that. If you lie to him or try to cheat him, your kids will see that. Everything you do during your divorce will affect your kids, and will impact their future. If you keep in mind who you want to BE as you go through your divorce, instead of focusing on what you want to GET, your divorce will likely be a very different experience for you and for your kids.
- Don’t bad mouth your husband to your kids.
There’s nothing harder than keeping your mouth shut when you know you’re right. When you see the damage your divorce is doing to your kids, it’s tempting to want to show them that their pain is not your fault. (That’s especially true if getting divorced wasn’t your idea!) But tearing down your spouse, or hurting your kids’ relationship with him, ultimately hurts your kids. They hear criticisms of the parent they love as criticisms of themselves. So even if you have to bite your tongue until it bleeds, don’t talk smack about your husband to your kids.
- Stop expecting your husband to change.
We all get into patterns in our intimate relationships. If you’ve lived with your husband for any length of time, you know how he will react to certain things. You often know what he will do or say before he says or does anything. And, there are things your husband does that make you bat shit crazy! As much as you want to be done with that craziness, until you are divorced, you still have to deal with the man who you married. You can’t force your husband to be different than he is. You can’t force him to change. Instead of fighting that reality, do your best to “go with the flow.” Doing that may not be easy. But neither is beating your head against the wall trying to make your husband change.
- Run your credit report.
Whether you are familiar with your finances or not, pulling a credit report when you are starting your divorce is essential. If there are credit cards bills you forgot about, your credit report will refresh your memory about them. If there are debts you didn’t know existed, or that you didn’t know were in your name, you’ll find that out now. While getting that kind of information is never fun, it’s a whole lot worse if you discover unknown debts years after your divorce is already over. At that point, there’s often nothing you can do but pay those debts whether they were really yours or not.
- Make sure your kids get plenty of time with both you AND your husband.
This one is hard. This one hurts. Because of your divorce you are already going to lose time with your kids. The thought of losing 50% of the time you used to have with your kids is excruciating. The thought of losing more than 50% of is unthinkable. Chances are your husband feels the same way. While it’s normal to want to maximize the time you have with your kids, it’s important for them to have plenty of time with their dad, too.
- Learn to receive.
Most women are givers. We take care of everyone else, but we rarely let anyone take care of us. If you have the luxury of having a friend or family member who wants to help you through this hard time in your life – let them! If a neighbor offers to bring dinner over, say yes! Learning to accept help isn’t easy. But it can be one of the greatest gifts of your divorce.
- Don’t let yourself be intimidated by your lawyer.
When you’re going through a divorce and you’re already an emotional wreck, it’s easy to let yourself be intimidated by your lawyer. The truth is that it’s a lawyer’s JOB to be intimidating! But you need to remember that YOU are the client. It is not okay for your lawyer to yell at you or make you cry. It’s not okay for your lawyer to ignore your questions or your phone calls. If you can’t get your lawyer to treat you properly and handle your case the way you want, then you may need to get a different lawyer.
- Make your own decisions.
You are going to have to make more important life decisions when you are going through your divorce than you will at almost any other time in your life. What’s worse – when you make those decisions you are going to have to do it on your own. You can’t rely on your husband, your lawyer, or anyone else to know what will be best for you and your future. As scary as it might be to make so many huge decisions yourself, once you do, you will start to grow. The more decisions you make, the more decisions you will be able to make.
- Make a budget for your future BEFORE you settle your divorce.
One of the biggest mistakes people make during divorce is settling their case without really knowing what their budget will be after their divorce. If you do that, and you later find that you don’t have enough income coming in each month to pay your bills, oh well! You’re going to have to find another way to get them paid. But, if you know your numbers before you settle, you will be equipped to make financial decisions during your divorce that will hopefully make your life after your divorce a little bit easier.
- Establish a way to talk to your husband about the kids – even when it’s hard.
If you have kids, you and your husband have to find a way to communicate about the kids after your divorce. That communication can be via email, text, phone, or in person. You can even sign up for a co-parenting app that will allow you to have email conversations with your husband that can’t be changed after they’ve been sent. Those apps give contentious couples a way to communicate with each other that can later be verified in court if need be. It’s not important which method of communication you choose. What’s important is that you choose one, and use it. (By the way, this isn’t just good divorce advice for women. It’s good advice for men, too!)
- Give yourself the option of taking back your maiden name.
Taking your maiden name back – especially if you have kids – can be a huge thing. Switching names involves a lot of paperwork and it’s definitely not for everyone. But, getting the right to take back your maiden name doesn’t mean that you have to actually take back your maiden name. It just means that you will have the ability to do so in the future – if you want. Preserving the right to use your maiden name costs you nothing if you do it as part of your divorce. If you don’t preserve that right, but later decide you want your name back, you will have to go back to court and pay thousands of dollars in court fees to do it. So, whether you think you want your maiden name back or not, it doesn’t hurt to keep your options open.
- Let yourself fall apart when your kids aren’t around.
You’re not a robot! Divorce is draining and emotional. There will be days when you can barely keep it together. If you happen to have your kids on those “bad” days, you won’t have the luxury of falling apart. But, once your kids are gone, it’s perfectly okay for you to spend some time crying, screaming, diving into a tub of Chunky Monkey, or spending the whole day in bed. While you don’t want to make self-pity a habit, in small doses it’s not only acceptable, but it can be healing.
- Don’t start dating until AFTER your divorce.
It doesn’t matter how “ready” you feel to start looking for love again. Don’t do it! Dating during your divorce can complicate your divorce and your life. It can also make setting the ground rules of your parenting plan more difficult. (Suddenly you may find your spouse wanting a morality clause in your parenting agreement when he never would have thought about that before.) Plus, “rebound relationships” are a real thing. They may feel good in the moment. But, once the initial rush wears off, you may look at your new beau and wonder, “What was I thinking?”
- Choose your lawyer wisely.
When you’re going through a divorce you need good legal advice – especially if your divorce is complicated or contentious. This is not the time or place to cheap out, or to hire your neighbor’s best friend who normally practices real estate law. You need to hire a qualified attorney who works in family law all the time. You also need to hire an attorney who is well-versed in the divorce process that you want to use. If you hire a gladiator to represent you in your mediation, it’s not likely to go well. The same thing will be true if you hire a negotiator to try your case in court. To get the best result, you need to match the divorce lawyer you choose to the divorce process you want to use.
- Stay off social media!
It doesn’t matter if you’re addicted to Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram. Now is not the time or the place to share pictures of what’s going on in your life with anybody! While you don’t necessarily have to go cold turkey and suspend all of your social media accounts, you do have to think twice before posting anything. Remember pictures and posts can live forever in cyberspace. (TIP: According to researchers, Facebook is now cited in at least 33% of all divorce cases. So if you think “unfriending” and blocking your spouse will keep your private information private, think again!)
- Start thinking about health insurance NOW!
One of the biggest post-divorce budgeting items that people either miss or underestimate is health insurance. The time to start thinking about getting health insurance is while you are going through your divorce – not afterwards. Unless you happen to be divorcing during an open enrollment period, your window for securing health insurance post-divorce is fairly narrow. So, there is no such thing as exploring your health insurance options too soon.
- Take up yoga or mediation.
Seriously. You will rarely go through a more stressful time in your life than you do when you divorce. Practicing yoga or mediation can provide you with a much-needed balance to a life that is otherwise out of control. Plus, yoga and meditation are both free, easy and don’t require any special skills.
- Don’t binge.
Binging on anything is not particularly good for you at any time. But, when you’re going through a divorce and your life is already crazy, binging will ultimately only make it crazier. (This prohibition against binging applies to food, alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, gambling, sleeping, T.V., and any other vice you can think of!) While it’s normal to want to numb your pain, over-indulging in anything only distracts you from your pain. It doesn’t make it go away. What’s even worse is that this distraction keeps you from actually dealing with the issues that are causing your pain. Those issues will unquestionably come up again later, and they will keep coming up until you deal with them.
- Rediscover the parts of you that you’ve let go.
When you get divorced, you’re left with a gaping hole inside of you where your marriage used to be. If you’re not going to use food, alcohol or drugs to fill that hole, you’re often just left with a void. To fill that void, try rediscovering YOU. What did you love to do before you got married? What haven’t you done in years? What makes you happy? If nothing makes you happy, what used to make you happy before your divorce? Whatever it was that you used to enjoy doing, do that.
- Don’t have sex with your husband … but if you do – be careful!
Having second thoughts about getting divorced is normal. Having second thoughts that include a romp in the bedroom with your soon-to-be-ex-husband only wreaks havoc with your heart. No matter how you try to rationalize what you’re doing, deep down, you know it’s only going to make you more emotional. So save yourself a lot of heartache and just don’t have sex with the man you are about to divorce! (Of course, we’re all human. So if you DO have sex with your husband, make sure you’re protected! Accidents happen … and a new baby is definitely NOT what you need right now!)
- Don’t expect to be friends right away.
Just because your divorce was amicable, that does not mean that you and your ex-husband are automatically going to be best buddies the day after your divorce. Going through a divorce, even one that wasn’t ugly, is still painful. It’s emotional. Both of you will be hurt. Re-establishing a friendship will take time. Trying to force yourself (or your ex) to “be friends” before you feel ready for that kind of a relationship will only make everything awkward. It will actually make establishing a real friendship harder. So take the pressure off yourself and off your ex. If you want to be friends, take your time. Take your space. Let things evolve naturally.
NOTE: This article is primarily directed at the stereotypical situation where a woman has been the primary caretaker of the children and the man had been the primary breadwinner for the family. This stereotype obviously doesn’t apply to everyone. If you are a female who is the primary breadwinner for your family, you may also want to read divorce advice for men, since this article on divorce advice for women will be missing information you might find useful.