The Psychology of Women welcomes Lauren Bittner to the Giveaway Girl project. Lauren is an award-winning freelance writer who focuses on women’s issues. She is a self-titled Giveaway Girl. Today, Lauren offers insight into the difficulties of divorce as seen through her interviews with women and the professionals guiding them.
Like many of you, I know what it’s like to be a Giveaway Girl. I am the youngest of four siblings who are 12, 14 and 16 years older than me. It seems so ingrained in me to defer to others that I don’t realize I’ve given anything away until my power is almost gone.
Thanks to working with a therapist, 12-step programs and my Higher Power, I have a lot more girl power than I used to, but I believe that my work in this area will be a lifelong process. My passion for empowering myself and helping others to become more empowered propels me to contribute to this blog.
The timing is perfect. Divorce filings surge this time of year. Apparently, some couples avoid this subject during the holidays and later revisit this topic in the new year, when many are considering making life changes and/or trying to avoid an awkward Valentine’s Day.
I’ve witnessed many of my women (and men) friends struggle with staying empowered during the divorce process. When the pressure is high, they give it away emotionally and financially. In some cases, this has long-term, disastrous effects on their serenity for years to come. I want to help them and you, so I’ve talked to various experts and divorcees to gather tips to how women can stay empowered during the divorce process.
Keep in mind that this is not a pro-divorce or anti-men article. The advice here applies to many of the guys I know. If you’re a woman, I encourage you to pass this onto the male friends in your life.
How do we give it away during divorce?
Michelle C. of Chicago, who recently divorced her same-sex spouse, devalued herself. When Michelle’s ex said it didn’t matter who the kids resided with because she was open to 50/50 time with the kids, Michelle believed it. “When we came to the table, she recanted her 50/50 stance and was seeking significantly less time for me. I lost out on parenting time with my children.”
And, Michelle says she put herself last, deferring the concerns of others to her ex, when she needed the support.
“I kept putting her needs for mine. I would tell our mutual friends ‘Don’t worry about me, worry about her. I know how to support myself. My friends eventually told me that my true friends could be there for both of us. The first thing I needed to do was getting strong network of friends of family.”
Megon M. of Chicago adds it was through the grace of God, the fellowship of 12-step programs, and ‘not doing it alone’ that she stayed empowered through her divorce. “We feel so guilty for not making it work. I felt so guilty for not working it out that I didn’t think I deserved anything. I thought ‘Oh ok, I’ll just go away.’ Wake up, don’t fade to black, disappear or go away. It’s hard. It was a mix of friends and higher power that helped me. This is what we really need: friends, family and counseling, counseling, counseling.”
Then there’s giving up too soon on a fair settlement. Megon understands how challenging it can be to persevere. “That’s the whole idea of attorneys for the other party,” she says. “They will wear you down just because you’re wimperingly tired. I’m not saying kill yourself by hanging in there. I had a lot of support and a really good attorney. It made me stronger to keep going. I was being fired into this stronger person.”
Stop Giving It Away: Top 3 Tips from the Professionals
1) Get informed and participate in the decisions you make with the professionals guiding you.
This is from Psychotherapist and Divorce Mediator/Coach Paulette Janus. “They [women] turn over all of their decisions to an attorney or judge. Part of becoming informed is that you want to consult with an attorney to be able to make your own decisions.”
Janus recommends exploring all your options—not just litigation, which involves filing with the courts and can be a long and drawn-out process, one that should be avoided at all costs. Mediation and collaboration are options that are known for being less costly to your checkbook and your emotions. “All of those processes look very different. It’s important to know what those processes are, what the unique situation of the parties is, and what process would look right for them.”
2) Find a qualified attorney.
Joshua Haid, managing partner of Women’s Divorce and Family Law Group, says it’s best to look for a lawyer who specializes in family law. “Hopefully, you can look at references online or personal reviews. Find someone who it really seems will advocate for you. No one should do this on their own because what occurs during the divorce can have a significant impact on how you live your life for many years to come.”
Haid adds, “The lawyer needs to be aggressive and, most importantly, be willing to be aggressive … willing to sit down and work on a settlement, because that is a faster, better and far less expensive way of getting through the divorce than litigating in court.”
Speed is your friend. “If a woman is not the breadwinner and if they don’t have a reserve or savings to dip into, and if a lawyer waits until someone is in a bad financial position, it’s too late. Nothing moves too quickly through the courts, and it may be two or three months until a court can fit you in for a hearing.”
Depending on the circumstances, a divorce can finalize in a matter of months or take up to two years or longer depending on the complexities.
3) Make sure your lawyer uses pressure wisely. Don’t cave in to the pressure you feel.
Laura V. Bare, a financial advisor in Chicago, meets a lot of women who want to throw in the towel prematurely. “I have to take them back a few steps. I usually say, ‘I totally understand you wanting to get it over with. I don’t want you to wake up three years from now and say “I screwed up. If I had just fought a little harder and longer I’d be in a better position now.””
And remember, abuse should never be tolerated. Report it to your lawyer. Get help.
Are you going through or have you been through a divorce? What are your suggestions for staying empowered?
Share your experiences here.