The emotions that come at the beginning of your divorce – including fear, sadness, and numbness – tend to cause paralysis and depression. As time passes, these paralyzing feelings recede and others – such as anger, euphoria, and sometimes even a desire for revenge – take their place.
Anger is an emotion that tends to lead to acting out and euphoria is an emotion that tends to lead to going out – both of which can lead to big trouble during your divorce. Acting in a way that appears irresponsible, inappropriate, or antagonistic can have a negative impact on your case, leaving you with both less money and less time with your kids. So, at the exact time that you are likely to act inappropriately due to poor judgment, you’re also more likely to be caught and suffer negative consequences as a result.
It’s important to have strategies in place to help you manage your reputation. Otherwise, you might create messes that damage your chances of getting what you want from the divorce. Following the guidelines in this article will help ensure your behavior is above reproach.
Follow the Two-Sentence Rule
Because people love juicy gossip, you will be queried about how your divorce is going by folks who have no business asking and zero need to know. And because you are not your normal, sensible self right now, you might find it surprisingly hard to resist the invitation to spill your guts to anyone and everyone. Although you don’t have a duty to protect your ex’s reputation, there’s no reason to ruin your own by telling everyone about all the ways he/she has done you wrong.
The two-sentence rule is the best defense against saying too much when someone other than a close friend asks you how your divorce is going. Have a two-sentence answer scripted, rehearsed, and ready to go – something like, “It’s been hard, but I’m getting through it. Thanks for asking.” Then, when a casual acquaintance asks you what’s going on, you’ll know exactly what to say. Recite your two sentences and quickly change the subject by asking them a question (“How are things with you?”). Following the two-sentence rule to avoid saying too much to anyone other than your A-Team will go a long way toward protecting your reputation from self-inflicted wounds.
Don’t Have Egg on your Facebook page
The first place your ex’s divorce lawyer is going to look for embarrassing evidence to use against you is your social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You must assume that everything you say on social media will be read by everyone – including your ex and his/her lawyer. This means you should never, ever dish about your divorce, make snarky comments about your ex (no matter how true), or post photos of you and your BFFs doing Jello shots at Coyote Ugly. No matter how liberating it feels to post those pictures at 1:30 a.m., you will only feel humiliated at 1:30 p.m. when you’re answering deposition questions about the episode. And if you’re fighting for custody, you just bought your ex a round of evidence.
It’s not just what you write on your own page that can be scrutinized: any comment you make on anyone else’s page is also fair game. Plus, any remarks your friends post about you can also come into play. Sometimes the most troublesome comments are from well-intentioned friends who are simply trying to be supportive: “Missed you at happy hour on Friday! Ran into that former student of yours there. He asked where you were. I think he’s hot for teacher!” Whether the statement is true or not isn’t the issue; they create an impression of you and what you’re saying and doing, and you may have to answer for all of it.
Because there are so many ways to go wrong, most lawyers advise their clients to shut down all social media accounts until their divorce is final. Short of that, you can maintain your accounts but restrain yourself by acting as if you have “view only” privileges. In other words, you can get on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram only to see what everyone else is saying and doing, but not say a single word yourself. If you take this approach, your first order of business should be to change your Facebook page to get rid of your wall. This will eliminate the possibility of people posting comments that might be inappropriate.
Crazy Isn’t your Best Color
Your ex’s number-one objective right now might be to convince everyone that you are completely crazy. (And since divorce doesn’t bring out the best in people, that can be remarkably easy to do.) Your number-one objective is to make sure you don’t provide your ex with a paint-by-numbers sketchpad and a fresh supply of paint. Don’t set his classic rock album collection on fire in your front yard; don’t drunk-dial her and leave crazy messages on her cell phone in the middle of the night; and don’t secretly attach a GPS tracking device to his car (even if you’re sure that he’s been cheating).
These actions will only make you look crazy, which in turn will make his/her jerky behavior appear somehow justified and put you on the defensive. The narrative will change from one in which you’re struggling to do your best to make it through your divorce to one in which you’re the crazy wife who eventually drove him to leave.
Don’t Buy Yourself Problems
Every dime you spend will be subject to scrutiny during your divorce. You will be required to provide copies of all your bank account and credit-card statements to your ex, and all your spending will be carefully reviewed. That means every time you make a purchase while your divorce is pending, you’re buying a conversation piece for your ex and his/her lawyer.
Be mindful of the picture you’re painting. Charges on your credit-card statement to spas, clothing boutiques, and bars create one image, and charges to grocery stores, bookstores, and kid-friendly pottery painting studios create quite another. You don’t have to live as if you’ve taken a vow of poverty, but you should live within your budget so you don’t buy yourself more trouble.
In addition to the picture you create for your ex and his/her lawyer through your spending records, keep in mind how your spending choices make you come across to people in general. It’s one thing to update your wardrobe, especially if you’ve lost or gained a lot of weight and your current clothes don’t fit you anymore, but don’t buy a bunch of new clothes that scream “cocktail waitress” (unless you are actually a cocktail waitress).
Don’t Manufacture Evidence Against Yourself
Protecting your reputation during your divorce isn’t rocket science. Not interested in answering embarrassing deposition questions about your sex life? Then don’t have a sex life. Don’t want your ex’s lawyer telling your lawyer that you need to stop texting him/her at 2:00 a.m.? Then don’t text your ex at 2:00 a.m. Not looking forward to explaining what you and your kid’s smoking-hot tennis coach talked about for an hour on your cell phone late Saturday night? Then don’t talk to your kid’s tennis coach for an hour on your cell phone.
I understand you might really, really hate your ex right now. I’m not saying you have to somehow magically or instantly get over it. But you have to make sure that you don’t let your anger double-cross you and start working as a double agent. Every chance you get – which is pretty much every minute of every day – make the conscious choice to be better and smarter than your anger would have you be. Use your anger to fortify, rather than weaken, your resolve to avoid making mistakes that will benefit your ex.
Use the Headline Trick
Here’s a foolproof trick that can help you double-check your judgment at any given time. Let’s say you see your neighbor as you’re pulling into the driveway at the end of the day. He’s divorced himself and has a couple of kids who go to school with your kids, but his children are with their mom for the evening. He asks you to grab a quick glass of wine. He is friendly and normal and this wouldn’t be a date, just a couple of neighbors having a quick drink. Your six-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter are with you.
Your first instinct is to say no. After all, it’s a school night and you don’t have a sitter. Your neighbor suggests you just pop in a DVD of their favorite movie and the two of you will zip over to the closest place with a full bar, TGI Fridays. You’ve never left the kids at home alone before, but the notion of having some adult conversation over an adult beverage sounds pretty good.
To figure out whether this is a good idea or not, imagine something going wrong while you’re gone, like a house fire. Then imagine how the headline would read in the paper the next day: “Firefighters Rescue Children from Burning Home while Mom Drinks at TGI Fridays.”
Now the answer is crystal clear, isn’t it? Leaving your kids home alone while you grab a drink with your neighbor isn’t worth it. It puts you in a bad light as a mother and provides your ex and his lawyer with all kinds of fodder to use against you.
The headline trick can help you arrive at sensible answers even after your divorce is final. If you’d feel embarrassed to read about the situation in the newspaper, or if there’s anything about it that seems questionable or makes you defensive, then it’s probably a bad plan.
If at First you Don’t Succeed…
No one gets everything right 100% of the time. Although your success rate counts, how you handle your failures matters at least as much and perhaps even more. You should never go into a divorce with the idea that the stress of it all entitles you to a meltdown or two, but you also shouldn’t go into it expecting that you will behave perfectly, either. You’re human; you’ll make mistakes.
When you realize that you’ve handled something in a less-than-ideal manner, own up to it rather than beating yourself up. Take an honest look at how you blew it. Try to pinpoint what triggered your poor judgment or bad behavior. Learn what you can from your mistakes so you can avoid making similar ones in the future. Then put them behind you and move on.
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Adapted excerpt from Break Free from the Divortex: Power Through Your Divorce and Launch Your New Life (Seal Press, September 2014) by Christina Pesoli. With permission from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2014. Packed with no-nonsense advice and practical survival tips, this book offers advice from someone who can do more than settle your case. A professional divorce coach and an attorney, Pesoli’s book acts as therapist, lawyer, and best friend, all rolled into one relatable guide. www.emotionalhardbody.com