Today, dissolving a marriage no longer carries much social stigma. In other words, getting a divorce doesn’t seem like the end of the world. Liam, 42, and Maggie, 39, (not their real names) were high-school sweethearts, and were happily married and living in New York for years before Liam began to have doubts about the relationship. It wasn’t anything specific, he says, just a nagging feeling they’d drifted apart. Liam’s dissatisfaction led to Maggie’s becoming defensive. Several years ago, they separated and began proceedings. “You know what?” Liam says. “I still don’t know if we should have gotten divorced.”
Barring cheating, addiction, or abuse, experts say the key to assessing a marriage’s health is intimacy. When the talking, the touching, and the sex go, the union is in trouble. “Look for whether one or both of the spouses have pulled back,” says Marsha Kline Pruett, a psychologist. “Once that process starts, it can be hard to stop.”
It varies from state to state, but most divorces take less than a year, and even complex ones rarely go more than two years. During this time, the couple can decide to separate physically, or they might continue to occupy the same home and separate on paper. But take note: It’s important not to move out before the separation is legalthat can be construed as “abandoning the family home” and can hurt your chances of getting custody of your kids. Bear in mind that during this period you’re still married and your behavior can have a big effect on whether your divorce goes smoothly.
Lawyers say that the most common mistake men make is acting like, well, men. About the worst thing you can do is go into dick-swinging aggressive mode. Divorce isn’t the NFLyou don’t win by destroying your enemy. You win by coming through with your relationship with your kids, your bank account, and your sanity intact. Hard as it may be, that means staying close with your wife. Don’t hide money. Don’t cancel credit cards. Don’t get lawyered up with an L.A. Law, Arnie Becker type who likes to talk volubly about how he’s going to clean your wife’s clock. Above all, don’t spread rumors about your spouse or get into a war over friends or children.
“I tell every client, ‘You need to deal with your spouse as though she were your boss,’” says Jim Hennenhoefer, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “‘Keep her on your side, or it’s going to cost you.’” Hennenhoefer once had a wealthy client whose wife cheated on him. The unfaithful wife was willing to settle quickly and cleanly for $2 million. During the divorce proceedings, however, the husband got angry when he saw his ex, and insulted her. That’s when the wife decided to play hardball and took her husband for $29 million including lawyers’ fees.