When I originally filed for divorce, it wasn’t something I’d planned on doing—for a number of reasons. For one, no one walks down the aisle anticipating a less-than-lifetime commitment. Secondly, although I won’t be going into the particulars of my divorce, the main reason I filed was to get temporary orders put in place. As a stay-at-home mom without a significant independent income, I needed the assurance of financial security for myself and my kids as my marriage was unraveling.
Separation and divorce are a turbulent time for everyone involved—for you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse, your kids, family, and friends. It’s a complete upheaval of the world you lived in, and it can take a while for the dust to settle and find a new normal for yourself. And to top it off, you’re often having to navigate legal waters without much of a compass to guide you. It’s stressful enough upending your life, but adding legalese on top of it—figuring out life-altering logistics like splitting assets and defining custody agreements—all while you’re enduring some of the biggest emotional stress you’ve probably ever faced, is an overwhelming undertaking.
I’m nearly five years on the other side of my original separation and filing date (it took another year-and-a-half or so for everything to be finalized), and it’s been a winding road to say the least. I think I’ve weathered the road pretty well, if I do say so myself, but there are a handful of things I would definitely tell my doe-eyed self as I began venturing down the path of divorce. For those of you who may be starting that journey yourself (or still finding your footing), here are some things I’ve found really helpful in navigating mine.
1. Everyone’s divorce looks different.
Just like the dynamics of every couple’s marriage are different, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to divorce—which is part of what makes it so isolating. The circumstances of your divorce are never going to be quite the same as someone else’s. Your custody agreement, the timeline of finalizing your divorce, the ease of the legal process, etc. are all going to look different from your neighbor’s. But there are some universal experiences going through it, too. Stress and uncertainty are, unfortunately, two of those. The upside is that anyone else who’s gone through (or is going through) a divorce will be able to relate to these feelings when you share them.
2. Your weight is likely to change.
The extreme stress of divorce is highly likely to affect your weight in some way or another. For me, I initially lost a lot of weight. It was hard to eat and take care of myself like I normally did. I eventually gained it back (and then some) due to a number of circumstances. Whether you gain weight or lose it while you’re going through a divorce, be sure to make taking care of yourself a priority. And don’t make yourself feel guilty when your body is showing signs of stress—just pay attention when it does.
3. It’s a good idea to put a messaging platform in your orders.
For some reason when my original custody orders were drafted, the standard of including the use of a shared messaging platform (like Our Family Wizard) was not included. Although your relationship with your ex-spouse may be an amicable one, utilizing a shared messaging platform to work out all of the logistics regarding your kids can be helpful. And in the case that your divorce is an acrimonious one, having a record of all of your communications will be beneficial in the long run.
4. Parenting facilitators are a thing.
Navigating co-parenting is not for the faint of heart, and even ex-spouses with the best co-parenting relationship can use some outside help in making joint decisions regarding their kids. Having a court-appointed parent facilitator (or mediator) can help bring an objective third-party to help both parents make decisions that are in the best interest of the kids—and help keep unnecessary arguments at bay. I recently requested a parenting facilitator when I went through mediation for a new custody agreement with my ex-husband. So if you don’t have one in your original orders, you can request to have one added. It’s still relatively new territory for me, but I wish I’d known about this option years ago. It would have helped with navigating a number of difficult situations.
5. Free mediation is available through Bexar County.
If a parent facilitator isn’t a feasible option for you but you need an option other than going to court to make changes, the Bexar County Dispute Resolution Center is a great FREE option. And the Dispute Resolution Center is available to anyone with an issue they’d like to mediate, not just divorced parents. To request mediation, fill out an online form, and then the DRC will contact both parties to set up a convenient time for mediation. Any mediated agreement you go through (unless it’s court-appointed mediation), is not legally-binding. But both parties do sign any agreement that you come to with the good-faith of following through on it. This is a great option for minor conflicts/decisions you need to make with your ex-spouse that don’t necessitate legal action. This is how I originally requested the use of a shared messaging platform, before amending my custody agreement to include it.
The last three probably would have made the biggest difference for me personally, if I had known about them sooner. There are going to be numerous things you could never foresee as you go through—and move beyond—divorce. I’m sure there are still a number of things I have yet to experience—hopefully more positive than negative.
Surrounding myself with a strong support system of friends and family (and therapists as needed), has made a tremendous difference in navigating my own life post-marriage. Wherever you are in the process, I wish you all the best on your journey through divorce.