Xanthe and her husband separated in their mid 40s after fifteen years of marriage, in circumstances which meant there was little trust in creating a truly co-operative parenting structure. The marriage had seen careful management of professional earnings, resulting in substantial funds in off-shore trusts. Their three teenage children were in private school.
What I wish I had known:
If you have no idea what your husband earns, or where the money is, then mediation, or probably even collaborative law, is not for you – there is no equality at the outset and in mediation and collaborative law you are relying on the honesty of your husband to play fair. Not all, but many, high net worth individuals tend to be economical with the truth about their finances when it comes to divorce. My advice to a woman who has little idea about the financial details of her marriage would be to pick a traditional lawyer, but one that is sensible enough not to inflame the situation by being unnecessarily confrontational.
The low point:
My ex-husband used to give me interim maintenance cheques which were frequently much less than had been agreed. He would enclose a note (with the cheque) of things he was deducting that he thought I should not be spending money on. He would then pass the cheques to my daughters to give to me when they came back from a weekend with him. This was grossly humiliating…but just part of what I had to get through. It passed.
I was the one who left the family home, as it became clear that my husband would not leave. I took just my clothes with me and a couple of vases that had been given to me by my mother. At the time this felt terrible and very unfair. But, now I am glad. I was forced to start afresh and I have no physical reminders of a life when I was so unhappy.
The certainty that I did the right thing:
It took me about ten years to gather the courage to leave my husband. So, once I had garnered the courage there was no turning back and I was completely committed to leaving, no matter what.
Prior to leaving I used to tell myself that I was staying for the sake of my three children, but ultimately I had to leave for the sake of my children. I finally understood that it was a terrible example to my daughters for me to stay. My husband was a bully and emotionally abusive (something that the government now puts in the category of domestic violence). What kind of message would I have given my daughters if I had stayed with my husband – that women simply have to endure corrosive behaviour? It was bad enough to live through that myself, but to run the risk that my daughters might emulate my example, was too awful to contemplate. In addition, I could not allow my son to think that the way his father treated me was acceptable.
Although all the children were furious with me when I left and took them with me, they have subsequently begun to understand why I had to leave. Indeed, my son actually said to me, about two years after I left, that in a funny way he is glad that I left his father. He says that now he understands what a bad relationship can look like. He said he still does not know what a good one looks like, but he has a pretty good idea about bad ones!
I am absolutely certain that I did the right thing by leaving my husband. I was terribly unhappy for many years. Materially-speaking I have much less now, but I am so much happier and I cannot put a price on that. My children now live with a peaceful and happy mother and so they too are more peaceful and happy.
One thing I would do differently:
I am actually not sure that I would do anything differently, except perhaps to have left my husband earlier! Although divorce is a terrifying prospect, you do get through it and there is life on the other side. You only have one life and you do not know how long you have here, so I believe that life is too fragile to postpone living happily.