Dealing with a Major Personal Crisis/Divorce Pragmatics
The personal account below is not posted in Main or Discussion directly but here because it contains personal details the author does not want to be directly trackable to himself via a trivial Google search. The author is aware that linking and Wiki functions allow to make this connection but assumes that this will more likely happen only by persons who know him and his story anyway. Please respect this wish and don't mention the authors name in a link to this page. You are free to cite parts of this as per this Wikis license. You may of course make typographical corrections or add/correct links and references.
When the crisis was over and it became clear that I wouldn't leave the house she didn't immediately move out either. She couldn't: He was far away and they couldn't just relocate. And she wouldn't leave the children. And I avoided anything that could push her in that direction.
Instead her logical choice was to look for a house or apartment nearby and large enough for them both and the children. And I supported that as I already understood that it would most likely be the best for the children if they could be with both parents often and freely (see Mom's House, Dad's House). I just didn't want to also do the work of finding the house. But she looked and by chance the high turnover in our municipality led to some row houses being on sale. And one just around the corner. She wanted it. Not my problem.
I had more than enough to do with the overdue project. Bugs piled up and the deadline had long since been dragged.
To Mortgage or not to Mortgage
But there was trouble. She couldn't mortgage the house herself nor with her new one. But I didn't want to be obligated to pay the mortgage and alimony. So I embarked on the odyssey of finding a legal way of mortgaging the house without being bound by it in the end. I told her that I wouldn't help her buy the house if there wasn't a clear contract that freed me from the bond. I discovered that ideas like buying together and then selling her my part back wouldn't work because the mortgage would still bind me.
We couldn't buy it from petty cash. Though we had some savings to get a mortgage with low interest because of a 'silver' equity ratio we still needed a high mortgage and I saw the money slipping through my/our hands - esp. as the project and the cash-flow it should bring dragged and dragged even despite lots and lots of half-night (easy in so far as nobody was waiting for me any more).
The notary I had contacted said that we'd need a marriage contract for such a construction (and he also said that this set-up was very unusual) and referred us to a lawyer specializing in this. Bound to be expensive. But an initial consultation might be cheap. I made an appointment. Month away.
I looked into family law and alimony and child support and divorce cases and determined that her breaking out of marriage was definitely not a symmetrical case of breaking up. It might not be a case of hardship (where being forced to stay with the spouse would be unreasonable) but I thought that I didn't owe her alimony - only for the children she cared for.
So when the appointment came I had an idea of what I wanted. Even if not how. I didn't want a divorce (at least not yet; we might still need to reconcile) but I didn't want to shoulder all responsibilities indefinitely either.
The following is likely specific to Germany, where a) divorce is not (since 1976) a question of guilt but a consequence of failure of marriage and requires in most cases a separation year before and b) marriage contracts are heavily regulated concerning alimony and property requiring a notary and sometimes a judges ruling.
The 'initial consultation' (a term meaning a first consultation for a fixed regulated price) turned out to be extremely valuable. The lawyer was competent and goal oriented. It became clear that we needed a marriage contract changing our marital state to separation of property and spelling out offsetting mortgage with alimony. The question of alimony was duly addressed. My position of no alimony against her position of default alimony were countered with the question whether we wanted a mud fight or a compromise. With a strong tone she proposed half the regular alimony as fair considering equitableness and even though this couldn't be fixed contractually in a legally binding way we could agree on that without precedent. At the end of less than two hours we had all the key points for a solid marriage contract.
The key effect of this agreement - even though it was a long way from being written out and much less signed and legally binding - was that it established a mutual understanding of the responsibilities. As a settlement it was in so far morally binding as any deviation from it would be seen as real unfaithfulness by us both (with the danger of real escalation in that case). I wasn't aware of this effect immediately but tried to get it signed quickly. Before the house contract.
Now I was ready to go forward with the house and mortgage. More or less. The children (she was away often). The long phone calls reflecting my situation with friends and family. The time for research and diary. The project - the good thing was that my client understood my situation and saw that I gave my best (especially as the failure to meet the first deadline(s) wasn't my fault really).
Now she was plainly unhappy in our house. She cared for the children well, but had lost her spirit. She didn't feel at home any more. She wanted to leave. She continuously urged me to either go forward with the house or that I move out. Said she'd move out in any case when his exam was done even if the house wasn't ready in time.
This was the time when I started to notice that I couldn't hold flow and concentration as long as I used to. I needed more and more phases of me-time. Time to find my own thing. My own new style. Time surfing LessWrong. Time visiting courses in university (machine learning). Registering on okcupid. Plain old surfing the web. Bordering on procrastination.
Time went by.
She negotiated for the house. I prepared financing documents. Lots. We used a credit broker so acceptable rates could be had without too much work and negotiation.
Note on Rational Home Buying
We knew that the location was near optimal - after all we lived in that municipality long enough. We might have been able to negotiate a better price or a better mortgage - but I didn't have any real incentive to do so (not my end cost) nor had she (too high emotional involvement).
One really shouldn't buy a house under such a high pressure (Rational Home Buying ). The risk it quite high. We would have failed if we hadn't had such high savings (which are now almost completely gone).
Under the circumstances buying the house took much longer than she liked. We got along fine. No arguments. No accusations. But naturally also no niceties.
We still slept in the same room often with most of the children between us in the same bed (me working late, she getting up early). But on many nights she was out meeting him in a cabin in our garden plot. But after a cold and wet autumn night she moved out into a flat that had become free.
Her position after moving out was: "Who stays in the house has to care for the children." We agreed in so far as taking the children to her two-room flat far away from kindergarten and school was not really an option. Moving the children back and forth should be the exception not the rule. For her it meant that she took care for the children in our house only at those times when her beau was on the job - shift work - which meant changing. She came when it suited her. Not spontaneously. No. That wouldn't work for the children. But she planned the weeks and let me know. I had to organize my work around it.
Now I was really on my own. I had the children even more. And the overdue project. How did I handle that?
Intermission: Brain Adaptation
Separation is said to be like a part of your brain being ripped out. Couples are said to specialize thinking in different domains (there is at least one study which I can't find right now which shows that couples perform better at joint tests than randomly selected pairs). And if one leaves the other misses that domain knowledge the other specialized in.
For me this definitely was her scheduling and time keeping. For her probably my long term strategy (I'm not sure if she will notice).
I already mentioned that I installed a shared calendar system. It reduces my scheduling efforts. But if I do not have an eye on it she schedules as it suits her (why shouldn't she). So I have to at least plan a rough schedule one month in advance every month. Without her reminders and coordination my schedules are inefficient, delayed, overlapping or badly communicated; I have even missed appointments.
I also miss her always having clear logical consequences for the children's behavior. The children out-maneuvered me on the old rules. I had to massively reduce the rule-set in my household and rely on longer-term effects. It means they have to do less but also get less (e.g. ready clothes and meals) by default. But once I adapted the new structure basically fitted me better. It is more relaxed and flexible.
The purchase of the house dragged on but so did the preparation of the marriage contract. I had long since written down what I wanted in a draft. With preamble, child care rules, alimony, everything. She assumed the notary would do it. When we had our first meeting the notary asked us what we want, was somewhat surprised that we had no contract prepared by a lawyer (which would have been massively expensive), was even more surprised by our unusual construction and asked what we wanted. Pulling out the draft. It didn't go through immediately. Forging it took time. Weeks. Months. Delay by holiday. Back and forth of drafts and changes. And another meeting. And more delay.
The New House
In the meantime the house would have been sold elsewhere a dozen times. But as I said I came to the conclusion that she couldn't back out of the contract process any more. Nobody would have forgiven her that. So we bought the house.
She moved in almost immediately. And he too. But not the children. The house was completely unrenovated. She wanted to have at least a room for the children. I agreed. But I refused to pay her anything before the children moved in. The children did go there of course. They stayed some days there but no nights. Basically the times she would have cared for them as before.
We agreed on a date where we'd make the second home official. She didn't fully stand behind the two homes idea but she also didn't oppose it exactly. It just wasn't exactly what she wanted but what she found she had to live with.
And then the day came. It was a bit of a ceremony. I was also present but afterwards I went home the first evening along since a long time. It was a mixed feeling of success and loneliness.
In the end we also signed the marriage contract. It is a 16 page stack addressing lots of aspects many of which crept up late (like pension rights adjustments or who gets the washing machine). More than half of it are standard legal steps to change ownership and mortgage of the houses. But it also spells out our joint care for the children and it effectively anticipates the divorce and will thereby hopefully also simplify the legal proceedings around the divorce itself when it comes to that.
So we are legally and financially separated now.
Now that the children have two homes and everything is stable the next question is where this will lead me. Some steps into new directions I already hinted at. But how did they play out?
That will be the topic of the next section.
The remaining of this section are the lessons to take and the references. Both of which you might skip.
These lessons basically apply to marriage with children and property ownership. Otherwise the complications are not as difficult.
- Build up savings. It is a buffer for all kinds of bad times.
- Look up applicable laws (here: marriage/divorce and alimony)
- Decide what you want, write it down, prepare it so you have it handy.
- Do not sign large contracts on blind (i.e. non-legally secured) trust.
- Consult lawerys but don't spend lots of money letting them prepare contracts. A notary has to advise you on legal issues and is paid based on contract volume. And you will mostly not get around the notary anyway. (depends on country)
- Literature on children and divorce
- sorry, mostly German partly because I intended my wife to read it too (she didn't)
- of information about child development in such situations
- Book giving concrete advice for ensuring the well-being of the children: für glückliche Trennungskinder
- Book proposing the two homes model (which I strongly moved toward early):
- Glückliche Scheidungskinder by Remo H. Largo (German); roughly "happy children of divorce parents"
I'm not aware of a comparable english book but there should be some. This one is based on scientific research.
- General economic and organizational advice around divorce und Vorbei (by German test foundation):
- warning on the stay-at-home-mother model (basically our model, efficient with four small children)
Continue to Dealing with a Major Personal Crisis/New Directions.