So, your relationship is becoming intolerable! You just feel like running away with a few possessions strapped to your back. You may want to rethink your decision before you head for the hills and decide to divorce.
I’m not suggesting that you stay in a harmful relationship. I’m just asking that you think about the consequences of leaving without being prepared or having a plan.
This advice doesn’t only apply to individuals running away from a destructive relationship, it also applies to those who sense that their partner will take off on them soon. It could also be that the writing is on the wall: Both of you are heading for a nasty break-up.
Think about the consequences before you run!
This doesn’t apply to cases of abuse where your life and your children’s lives are in danger; in this case, call 911 immediately and escape.
I started to write about my experience shortly after I made the decision to get away from my marriage for a weekend. My relationship was getting ugly, and I needed time alone to think about what to do next. When I returned home, I found my personal belongings packed up in a cardboard box, waiting for me at the back door. Among my belongings, I found a plastic baggie with my husband’s wedding band in it. I took the box, put it in my car, and drove away. I never anticipated that anything like this could ever happen. I was totally unprepared. Two weeks later, I returned to the house, but this time all the locks had been changed. When he appeared on the scene and looked at me like I had no right to be there, I called the police for protection. I never lived there again!
I was totally shocked at how quickly the situation had disintegrated. Our marriage was over in a matter of days. I ended up in a women’s shelter, filling out an application form, totally distraught. I was 60 years old, retired, and a snowbird. My world collapsed and changed forever!
A long and exhausting divorce would follow. I wasn’t eligible for legal aid, so I spent the money I had on legal fees. When that ran out, I was forced to represent myself in court for almost two years. I eventually got through the painful experience, but not without a lot of emotional scars. For almost three years, I endured the consequences of leaving quickly that day.
Leaving is always difficult, whether it’s a short- or very long-term relationship. It doesn’t matter if it’s a husband and wife, common-law, or same-sex relationship.The problems are similar, if not the same.
At first, you hope that your separation will be amicable. The relationship is finally coming to an end, and everyone is relieved, right? Not necessarily. Let’s face it, if your relationship was volatile, controlling or abusive, chances are, your separation and divorce will be the same.Things could get ugly!
You Need a Plan
Statistics say that many know ahead of time, four to five years before they make the move to leave. At least, some have a darn good sense it’s coming!
You may think that your spouse will cooperate with you, as well as lawyers and mediators. You may believe that the negotiations between you and your spouse will go well. You may hope that the legal process will be quick, and that your spouse will treat you fairly.
Don’t assume anything, and don’t be surprised when the legal system is slow and the negotiations go nowhere. Don’t be shocked when you are forced to pay big bucks because your spouse stalls the proceeding, or continues to harass you for more money. You may assume that if you don’t have any money for a lawyer, legal aid will be available to help you. You may believe that you can trust friends and family to be there to support you.
You need to be realistic, and for some, this book will be a wake-up call.
You may not qualify for legal aid or welfare. This may be because your assets are too great, even though you have possession of nothing at that moment. You can’t always count on family and friends to help you out either. Friends sometimes desert you. Family members have their own lives, and organizations don’t always supply you with the help you need. Sometimes the people you think will support you don’t. Sometimes friends change their loyalty to your ex. You could, however, meet pure strangers who come to your rescue, counselors who become your lifeline, and unexpected family members who become your biggest fans.
You may be surprised to know that, if you leave your house and furniture behind, it can take time and money to get what you’re entitled to. If your spouse continues to live in the matrimonial home, that spouse may hide or sell possessions without your consent. No one will send the police after them. If they change the locks to your home, you’ll need to involve a lawyer. If they take off to another country, no one will chase after them. The legal system may just wait for them to come back from their travels. Sometimes the courts are very tolerant that way. This was my experience.
If your spouse is not cooperative, whatever you leave behind may be negotiated much later, maybe years later.
At this point, you may start to realize that leaving your difficult relationship may not be as easy as you thought, and deciding to divorce has more implications that just separation alone.
I made the mistake of thinking it would be quick and fair. What a difference it would have made, if someone had given me a “heads up” on some of the problems I would incur. The more you realize how brutal the battle can get, the more you’ll understand why being prepared is so important. So, make a plan, and get into action to maximize your efforts before you leave. This will increase your chances of succeeding.
Are You Ready?
When deciding to divorce, are you physically, emotionally, and financially ready to leave?
If not, you may want to think about postponing leaving until you have all your ducks in a row. It is encouraging to know that sometimes just making the decision to divorce leave gives you an emotional boost. If you need to postpone for a few weeks or months, you can use this time to develop an effective plan.
If you’re well informed, know your rights, and are self-sufficient, many problems can be avoided, prevented, or minimized.
This blog post has been edited and excerpted from Divorce Prep: Self-Help Guide (CreateSpace, 2016), which helps you plan your divorce and organize the needed paperwork before meeting a lawyer. It also helps you with questions to ask, what to watch for, and how to deal with your emotions. Full of examples and resources, the book contains all the information I wish I had known before I began my difficult divorce. The book is available at amazon.com and amazon.ca.
Liane is a member of Community Action Network Against Abuse (CANAA). In 2007, she worked as a volunteer in a Peer Support Program for abused women, and in 2008, she trained as a Legal Advocate and in Conflict Resolution/De-escalation with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.