I think the traditional legal process of divorce in the U.S. puts you at odds with your spouse and it can bring out the worse behavior in the best of us. It can make surviving divorce a constant source of stress, anguish and fear.
My current guest, Lisa also lived a daily nightmare with extreme harassment from her ex, alienating her children in the process. Fortunately, Lisa’s story doesn’t end there. She did get her divorce, she did reunite with her children and she knows now what real love is. Here’s Lisa as she reflects on her divorce:
I’m in North Carolina with is a no-fault state. You have to be separated for one year and one day before you can go to court and they just say “done.” If you’re both there, that’s fine, but my ex didn’t sign the papers saying he got the divorce papers served to him, so then I had to put an ad in the paper and let it run for ninety consecutive days, any paper. It can be a teeny, tiny paper, but it has to be public.
He has the right to respond to that by saying “no,” but he didn’t and I’m sure he didn’t see it. Then you have to wait another sixty days and then whenever the courts can fit you in. For me it was another four months. Anyway, it was 18 months total.
I went and he never showed up. The judge just said,
“Is XXXX here? Is XXXX here?”
Then she hit the gavel and said,
I said, “Just like that?”
She said, “Just like that, have a nice day.”
It was so surreal. I expected him maybe to be there and I was nervous and I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t eat. What does one wear to a divorce? But it was nothing, I was there with the traffic violations and the drug dealers and I just walked out with my high heels and my dress and my sunglasses and got in the car and broke down. After so long, it was just over.
I felt relieved, but I felt bad, like two decades just like that? The planning of the wedding and the babies and the births, it just all goes through your mind like a movie, because there are definite good memories, but I didn’t regret it and I haven’t missed him one day. I cannot say that I have missed him. I’ve never thought, “What am I doing?” which I’m glad. I don’t want to waver, but I just didn’t think it was going to be so bad. I didn’t think he would react that way, but knowing what I know now, I know why he reacted that way.
He was so afraid I was going to tell somebody, and he was so angry that I made him tell me. He told me,
“You’ve ruined my life by exposing me.”
I didn’t tell any of our friends, I’ve never spoken to his four siblings, I’ve never contacted his parents and I’ve never said a word to my parents or my brother. Zero. Not one thing.
I have all the emails and all the texts printed out, because of course my attorney wanted them, and we never ended up using them. My next step is to take all the stuff one day, it’s got to be 7 or 8 inches thick, and just burn it. It’s all that toxic garbage that’s still sitting in a drawer somewhere. I did sell my wedding ring and paid some bills, and I don’t feel bad about that. It’s just baby stuff of moving on, but yeah, it was just so unexpected.
It’s like a movie. There are horrendous shows on the Discovery Channel and some girl is…by her husband and he starts texting her, and they find her dead. I used to think my story was way worse than that, I just wasn’t dead.
You just never think it’s going to be that bad. I wish I would have opened my own bank account and gone to a counselor saying, “OK, I’m going to divorce my husband, what do I need to start thinking about.” It all just came so fast and so hard, it just brought everyone to their knees.
He’s drinking now, the kids say he has wine glasses all over the house. For a long time he didn’t go to church, he has not worked in three years. He’s been hospitalized. He’s had three “suicide attempts” which weren’t really serious. He just said, “I have a gun to my head, come over” to his friends who call me and I just can’t do it. I have to preserve my own sanity after twenty-two years of emotional abuse and indifference.
Some days I feel bad about not standing by him, but he lied to me on the altar. I take marriage vows very seriously, and I stuck by him. He could have said something then, and he could have gone to counseling, even by himself and never told me. But he made the decision not to and we grew apart so much that I just wasn’t willing to try to get that back again, because it was really never there. I’m almost fifty years old, I don’t have the energy to stand by him and start over. I just can’t do it, he has to do it himself.
I always wonder if I’m going to get to the point where we can celebrate events together, not that I would want to but I think I’ve got three children. There’s going to be weddings and grandchildren and college graduations coming up. It’s such a pity to think that this foundation has been laid where it’s going to be hard for us to be together.
My daughter said she was talking about planning her wedding with friends, and she called me and said, “What am I going to do with you and dad?”
I don’t even want her to have to think about that on that day. I said, “Well honey, no one’s going to do anything.” And she said, “What if dad freaks out?” and I said “I don’t think he will. I think he’ll cool down.” But she’s like “but what side do I put him on?” She’s all worried about these little things. She’s worried he’s going to wreck her day. “Maybe we’ll just go to the justice. Maybe I shouldn’t invite him” and I tell her she has to invite him, “he’s your father.”
On a good note, I’m happily in love, which I never knew what that felt like. The contrast is like “Oh my God, now I’m living.” I’m not stressed, I laugh easily and I sleep at night now. It’s completely different. My life is just lighter.
The Divorce Coach Says
There’s two parts to the divorce process, the legal and the emotional. Both are grueling but the legal process does typically have a defined end. While you’re mired in the legalities, you keep your eye on the end and tell yourself, it’ll all be over in just xx months or xx weeks. And then sometimes, as in Lisa’s case, the final decision comes and it feels anti-climatic. Be prepared for that.
My legal process was relatively smooth and it was still anti-climatic. Since my ex and I had agreed to a financial settlement and parenting agreement we didn’t have to appear in court. Our attorneys filed the paperwork and then the divorce was final when the judge signed the order. I got notice of that in the mail about a week after it happened so then it was, ‘guess I’ve been divorced for a week now.’ No heralding of trumpets, no poppers, no celebratory drinks, just life moving on.
Judy Osborne talks about reaching a benign space with your ex that allows an ongoing kinship and welcome participation at ongoing family occasions. I agree with Lisa that’s it’s hard to imagine that space will ever exist for them and I think that will be hard to accept particularly for the children. Lisa is however in a healthy relationship now and can focus on rearranging her family, because they are still a family.
This is the last post in Lisa’s series and I’d like to thank Lisa for sharing her harrowing story and how she survived the harassment from her vindictive ex. If you’re facing divorce now, please don’t assume all divorces are like this. They’re not. Many, many divorces go much smoother than this. And if anyone has any tips on how you can tell if your ex is going to behave like this, please do share them.
Photo credit: s_falkow