In my work as a Pennsylvania divorce attorney, I have found that men routinely encounter a number of issues directly or indirectly related to the divorce process. This is not to say that women do not also have these issues; however, they seem more prevalent in men. Over the years, I have counseled many men during my legal representation and this article is intended to capture some of these discussions.
YOUR EMOTIONS AND BEHAVIOR
A slew of negative emotions is likely to accompany your divorce. The transition can be tough, and men are subject to a particularly high amount of emotional stress during this time. Coupled with an increased strain on your finances and uncertainty about the future, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by what lies ahead.
I have found that it can be difficult for men to deal with all of the emotions surrounding a divorce. As a divorce attorney, I generally advise my clients that the more emotional you are, the less able you will be to think and act rationally. It is important to keep this in mind throughout your divorce. You must separate the negative emotions of divorce from the legal steps necessary to terminate your marriage. It is equally as important to keep in mind the concept that emotions may cloud your judgment during communications with your wife. If she is extremely emotional, you may want to choose a better time for conversation or negotiation. Do your best to remain calm and to avoid being reactive. If your wife is simply unreasonable due to her heightened emotion, then let your divorce attorney communicate on your behalf.
Divorcing men are not as likely as women to reach out for emotional support. Many men are too proud to ask for help. Men need to get over it. If your friends or family are not available, consider seeking out a local divorce support group for men. The advice, experience, and moral support of other divorced men can be very beneficial, making it easier to get through this tough time.
YOUR LEGAL CONCERNS
The legal decisions that you make throughout the divorce process should be based on careful thought and reason. The only way to make rational decisions is to first get the information necessary to make that informed decision. This can only be accomplished by listening to and trusting your divorce attorney. Your lawyer should take the time to discuss the legal issues inherent in your particular divorce. For example, if you have young children and one has special needs, then the advice you receive for custody should be tailored to you and your situation. There is no cookie cutter approach to divorce, child custody, alimony and property division.
Do not be afraid to be guided by the advice of your lawyer. Keep in mind that a good divorce lawyer will not make the decisions for the client. Instead, your lawyer should give you information and various perspectives to allow you to make the right choice for you. Sometimes there is conflict between you and your attorney. Maybe you cannot agree on a course of action. In these situations, it is better to give your lawyer the benefit of the doubt. Your lawyer’s experience should always be carefully considered. Also, there is little room for negative emotion as you navigate the legal process. Your choices, arguments, and concessions should be dictated by logic and fairness, rather than by feelings of anger, guilt, fear, or revenge.
Once you have given yourself some time to deal with the emotional fallout triggered by divorce, it’s time to get assertive and protect your rights. As a man, it is critical that you hire a qualified Pennsylvania divorce attorney to protect your legal rights as a husband and a father. As a husband and father, you’ve got a lot to consider and protect.
The financial side of divorce is a common issue of concern among divorcing men. Divorce can be expensive if you and your wife cannot amicably resolve the divorce issues among yourselves. Custody trials and equitable distribution hearings can increase the cost of your divorce, so it is always advisable to try to reach a settlement with your wife. Your lawyer should be able to give you an estimate of fees and costs for the various stages of the divorce process depending on how things evolve. You must be careful not to overextend yourself with attorney’s fees and costs, especially when these fees could have been avoided with better decisions during the process.
When one spouse moves out of the marital home, you and your wife will have to determine how you will share in the household expenses, children’s extracurricular activities, health care costs, tuition, and so on. These discussions can be difficult when you and your wife are facing the same financial concerns and burdens. It is usually advisable to sit down with your wife and discuss these issues. The two of you should try to reach an agreement and share responsibilities for the daily, weekly or monthly expenses during the divorce process. Your lawyer should be advising you on your legal rights, but you also need to be practical.
There is often uncertainty about your new lifestyle after the divorce is final. You will now be living on one income and your expenses will change significantly. Your divorce lawyer can help you prepare for a financial budget during and after the divorce. Your lawyer can estimate the amount of spousal support and child support that you will have to pay or, in the event your wife has the higher income, your lawyer can calculate the amount you can expect to receive. After divorce, child support will continue and one spouse may be entitled to alimony. Only an experienced divorce lawyer can give you a good estimate for what to expect for alimony.
You may want to consider speaking to a financial advisor. A financial advisor can help you with a budget and help you prepare for long term growth in your investments. Your financial advisor can also help you determine whether you can buy a home after your divorce, how much you can afford for your kids’ college savings plan, and how much you can save for your own retirement. Your divorce lawyer can also use this information when he or she helps you plan for an equitable division of the marital property and the impact of a claim for alimony.
Your lawyer will help you negotiate a settlement of the financial issues. If you and your wife are able to speak calmly with one another, ask your wife what her expectations are. During these discussions, nothing either of you says at this point is binding. You are just trying to get an idea of where you both stand with regard to money matters. Do not make any promises you cannot keep, and try to stress that you are open to working out a fair arrangement. If discussions with your wife are not possible because emotions are running high, then your lawyer can discuss these issues with her lawyer. The lawyers should facilitate an amicable agreement to save their clients the costs of protracted litigation. Good advice for men – it will be in your best interest to stay calm for any conversations with your wife or your lawyer about the financial matters.
It is a common concern among men going through a divorce that the Pennsylvania family court system is inherently biased against men. In the past, fathers struggled to assert their custodial rights in a system that favored mothers considerably. In 2010, Pennsylvania passed a new child custody law, that expressly states that child custody determinations in Pennsylvania are to be gender-neutral. This means that decisions regarding child custody in Pennsylvania may not be based on the gender of the parent. Rather, child custody decisions are to be based on what is in the best interest of the children. This legislative development has been accompanied by more judicial willingness to permit fathers to exercise their custody rights in Pennsylvania. More and more fathers are gaining 50/50 custody, and in some cases, primary custody of their children. Fathers who are willing to invest in the counsel of a divorce lawyer and who follow their lawyer’s advice, are gaining more time with their children after divorce. When hiring a Pennsylvania divorce attorney, make sure that your attorney understands your desire to gain as much custody as possible.
Regular and continuing contact with their father is extremely important for developing kids. This topic is of considerable importance for men because it is often more difficult for men to maintain contact with their children. The quality of your contact with your children is also important and can be impacted by several things, including how both you and their mother react to events. Always remember that your kids look up to you more than you know. Your children model themselves after you and your wife, so you want to be the best person you can be for them. You will always be their dad. It is very important that every father realizes the importance of their role in a child’s life. Your wife may try to use the children as a bargaining chip, especially in the beginning, but do your best to remain calm. With the help of your lawyer, you can work together to develop a custody arrangement that works best for everyone involved.
One of the more difficult aspects of going through a divorce is sorting out what to do with your home. In many cases, there is simply not enough money available for one of you to keep the house. Do not hastily move out of the home. Leaving the marital residence too soon can come back to get you later in the divorce process, particularly with regard to child custody determinations. Before moving out, consider some other temporary options such as staying at a friend’s house or with a parent, and be sure to consult your divorce attorney.
With regard to other marital assets, in my experience as a divorce attorney, wives tend to place greater value on tangible possessions than do husbands. Men tend to be more detached from personal property than their spouses. Your divorce attorney will work to negotiate a fair split of your marital property. It is important to keep in mind during these negotiations that emotional attachment can substantially elevate the value of particular items to a particular party. Good advice is to try to stay calm and rational as these negotiations progress, and let your divorce lawyer counsel you based on his or her experience in these matters.
YOUR PERSONAL LIFE
Many men want to start dating as soon as possible. You may feel liberated since you will soon be a single guy. Or, you may feel like you want to start dating to get revenge from something your wife may have done. It is also a possibility that you just want some immediate companionship or a “rebound” fling. Whatever your reasons are, you should make every effort to wait until after the divorce is final.
Dating someone new can have legal implications. For example, if you and your wife are engaged in a serious child custody battle, your wife and her lawyer will want to find out if you are dating anyone. The “new” woman is relevant in a custody dispute if she spends a lot of time in your home with the children. Everyone involved in the custody dispute, including the Judge, will want to know if your new relationship has a positive or negative impact on the children. During a custody trial, you will be questioned on the interaction between the new woman and your children and the extent of their involvement with one another. Your wife’s lawyer may conduct a background search on her. Your wife’s lawyer will try to prove in court that this new relationship is not a good parenting decision, especially during a divorce and custody dispute. Your wife’s lawyer will search this new person’s social media accounts and may hire an investigator to investigate her past, including a criminal history. You do not want your wife’s lawyer convincing a Judge that your decision making is questionable or poor during a child custody proceeding. The Judge will only be concerned about the well-being of the children and the Judge will be less concerned about your happiness in the new relationship. Judge’s in a custody dispute are focused on one important thing and that is the emotional and psychological development of your children. If the woman has a criminal history, this could be even more detrimental to your child custody case. Do not think you can hide a new relationship from your wife. If the woman has interaction with your children, then your children will almost certainly mention this new person to their mom.
Being romantically involved with a new partner can have other implications. If you and your wife are close to amicably resolving the various divorce related matters, and she sees you out with a new woman, your wife may not be so inclined to continue with the amicable discussions. In fact, you could set off an emotional reaction that causes all negotiations to fall apart completely.
I always urge my male clients to re-engage with friends who may have fallen by the wayside during the marriage. You should get out of the house and go to a football game, or social gatherings, or a trip to visit a friend in another state. You do not want to sit home alone because it will just cause you to dwell on your situation and it will probably make you sad, angry or depressed. Be very cautious though. Try to avoid random flings (see above), arrests, or poor decisions that could have a harmful impact on you. Avoid going to any place where your wife might be. Be smart. If you run into your wife on a night out with friends, you should avoid her. If you cannot avoid her, be polite to her and then leave. You will be happier with your friends if she is not around and she will appreciate your giving her space.
SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS
Regarding social media accounts, the best advice is to stay away from social media completely. This may not be a reasonable expectation since many of us access our social media accounts on a daily basis. If you cannot stay away from social media, then there are some important things to consider. Your Facebook “friends” probably include your wife’s friends and family. They will see anything you post or comment on. Do not post any disparaging remarks about your wife or the divorce situation. Do not post any pictures of you with another woman. Some men want to show off their new woman, but this backfires in most, if not all, divorce cases. Do not post pictures of you partying, whether it is with friends or colleagues. Pictures tell a thousand words. If you are socializing with people and you have a drink in your hand, many people assume that you are intoxicated. This would not play out well in child custody proceedings.
You should also consider your wife’s feelings. Even though you may be angry with her, your wife is probably going through her own emotional struggles. Neither of you got married with the expectation that you would be divorced. So, no matter what happened in your relationship, she never envisioned a divorce when she walked down the aisle with you. You should be respectful with social media. Do not try to make her jealous by posting pictures of you and another woman. It will only trigger sadness, anger or frustration from your wife. These are not emotions that are helpful for any divorce. These reactions can derail settlement talks. If the negotiation involves custody time with your children and your wife is now angry about your social media postings, you will find yourself fighting harder for custody, spending more money, and those postings will be evidence at your custody trial.
You should avoid, at all costs, checking your wife’s social media postings. Nothing good comes out of it. For example, if her adulterous behavior caused the divorce, do you really want to see pictures of her with the new man? If your behavior caused the divorce, she may post some disparaging comments about you. Then what? You certainly should not respond to those comments. Reading negative comments about you is not helpful to the situation and it will only trigger your negative emotions. Just let her be. If her postings are relevant to the divorce proceedings, let your lawyer access her social media accounts for evidence that may be helpful to you. And by the way, your wife will post pictures of her in happy moments without you. Get over it. She will be moving on with her life and so will you.
Now is a good time to engage in healthy activities. Start using that gym membership that you might be paying for, but never use. Weight Lifting, running, swimming, hiking, and skiing are all healthy activities. Spend time outdoors. Not only will these activities make you feel good, but they will help clear your mind and relieve your stress. If you plan on being single for a while, you will want to be in good physical shape as you start to re-enter the dating world. Many women are now engaging in fitness activities and they will want to date someone who is health conscious. It is also a good time to try new restaurants or learn to cook different meals. A good diet and exercise will be helpful during your divorce and it will pay off in other ways, including long term health. One of my male clients in his late 40s just signed onto Instagram. He set up his own account and he now follows exercise trainers and chefs. He commented that his daughter used Instagram for years and he never understood the value of it. Now he knows.
YOUR SPARE TIME
Since you will soon be a single guy, you need to understand that your options for your new life are limitless. If you do not have young children, you may want to consider relocating to a new city. If you wanted a dog, but your wife was opposed to it, now you can get one. There are plenty of animal shelters with dogs and cats looking for a new home. If you love music, you can now go to those concerts that you always wanted to see. The point is, that many men feel as though they failed in their relationship or that their identity was too interconnected with their wife and now, they do not who they are. Now is the time to find out. I once had a 70-year-old client who came to me because he wanted a divorce. I respectfully asked him why he wanted a divorce at this age. He said that he wanted a divorce for over 40 years, but never had the courage to do it. He said he wants to live the remainder of his life the way he always wanted to. This was a few years ago and he checked in with me recently to tell me how happy he is.
Regardless if you want the divorce or not, your new life will be an adjustment and it will be emotionally difficult for a little while. You will, however, move on mentally and emotionally. When this happens, you will want to find yourself in a good place, doing what you love.
Jason B. Martin, Esquire is a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer. He founded The Martin Law Firm, P.C. in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. Call Mr. Martin today for a free divorce or child custody case evaluation. Call (215) 646-3980