Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
Jessica: Today’s episode, we’re doing a Just Us of some of our top tips for people when they are going through a divorce when you are starting to even be separated, some things that you should know when it comes to actually working out, and working through your divorce agreement, and some of the kinds of things that you should do or not do when it comes to answering your kids’ questions with a divorce. These are things that just come from my personal and T.H.’s personal experience. We’re not therapists. We are exEXPERTS, real-life experts. This is based on our real-life personal experiences, and we hope that you will get something out of them. We definitely want to hear your feedback. We’d love for you guys to also share with us what some of your best tips are in going through these things.
T.H.: Absolutely. Okay, do you want to start?
Jessica: Sure. Okay, so we’re going to start off with what are some top tips when it comes to actually going through your divorce agreement. This may sound silly, actually, I don’t want to feel I have to preface everything by this may sound silly, because it’s all about where you are in any certain situation. But I will preface this by saying when I was getting divorced from my first husband he was in the midst of an affair that had been going on already for at least two years. I had found out that my kids had already met her, and they had already interacted with her. They had somewhat of a relationship with her to some extent. My kids were only two and four, and of course, they had no idea what was going on. She was just [daddy’s friend] someone special in daddy’s life. That’s right. But I felt very possessive about the possibility of a stepmother and what my kids were going to call her or any other woman that was going to come into their life. I think that it is important, whether or not these are your circumstances going through a divorce, but if you are expecting that at some point there might be another parental figure in your kids’ lives, it’s not a bad thing to think about when it comes to your divorce agreement. I literally have language in my divorce agreement that prohibits my ex-husband from allowing my children to call anybody mom, mommy, or any words that would be replaced with the idea of a mother. For me, my kids never did. It really never actually became a conversation for me personally with my children, but I was hyper-aware of the fact that it could get to that. I had written that into my divorce agreement. My first tip is it’s something to think about.
T.H.: If it’s important to you, then you should put it in. But I do have a personal experience about that, and I’m going to add to it. It’s not one of my tips, but I’m going to add to it. My ex-husband was with someone who wasn’t Jewish. I remember six months after separation there was a Christmas tree in the house. And look, I’m all about Christmas and as many gifts as you can get, kids love it, and I totally get it. But I was freaking out. So in my divorce agreement, I put in that the kids are raised Jewish. Then as far as the mom thing, my son was like five, and he was not feeling well and he was at his dad’s. The other woman was very sympathetic and compassionate to Jason. I don’t know what that actually looked like, but it was more than what he was getting anywhere else at that moment, and I was not there. He came back to my house and literally put his hand to his chest. So if you’re watching, okay, all you moms just take a deep breath right now. My son goes, ‘I want to call her mom. I love her.’ He’s five.
Jessica: Oh my god.
T.H.: This is at bedtime by the way when all the shit always comes out anyway. I don’t know what possessed me, but I took a deep breath and I said I birthed you. You grew inside of my body. I am your mom. I am the only one who has earned that description, that name in your life. We can think of a lot of other really great names for her, but mom is not one of them. Mom is not one of them. You can put that in your agreement, but you can’t really control your four and two year old from saying it. But you won’t know if he’s encouraging it or not, because you’re not there, but if it makes you feel better, then put it in your agreement. But just know that you can’t control what you’re not controlling.
Jessica: Totally. I think that that’s an important point for everything because one of my huge things is you have to learn to take a step back and not micromanage what happens at the other parent’s apartment. But to your point, no, you can’t control what the kids might call her when you’re not around, but hopefully, if it’s something that is important to you, and it’s something that is in the agreement, your ex would be smart enough to not encourage that and to actively discourage that because everybody knows that what comes out of kids mouths get repeated in other places. But to your point, the religious thing, I too was in a situation where we are Jewish, and she was not. I did have in my agreement that they were not allowed to have a Christmas tree in his apartment, which I guess they got around, because technically, he ends up moving into her apartment, and then whatever. But I was like the kids are not having a Christmas tree. I think I may have worked it out that I had the kids most of the time on Christmas, so they wouldn’t be able to celebrate Christmas. And also I had it so that for any Jewish holidays, if he was not planning to actually celebrate the holiday in a traditional manner, meaning on certain holidays that would include going to synagogue and going to services, and on other holidays, it would include a specific type of traditional dinner if he was not planning on celebrating the holiday in that way, by default, I would get the kids for that holiday. So if he was not going to go to synagogue for Yom Kippur, they were mine. If he wasn’t having a Passover Seder, they were mine.
T.H.: Did you have an age limit of when that ends? Because then kids start making decisions on their own.
Jessica: I didn’t have an age limit for when that ended. But I felt–I mean, listen, obviously, you’re right that does, but I think even around age probably 13, or between 12 and 14, I think my kids definitely started having active decisions in terms of whether or not they wanted to go to services. I don’t give my kids an option for are you–if we’re having a Rosh Hashanah dinner, we’re having a Rosh Hashanah dinner.
T.H.: But if they’re 20 years old, and they are maybe away that week or something, or whatever. Shit happens when they get older. That’s what I’m saying. It’s harder to control when they get older.
Jessica: I’m fine with that. It was more about when they are our wards, so to speak–
T.H.: And they’re in your home.
Jessica: And they’re in our home, and we have control over what they are doing and where they are going and that by default, I would get the Jewish holidays based on the fact that I would be displaying for them a traditional Jewish holiday.
T.H.: It’s important.
Jessica: That’s right. As young adults, and as adults through their lives, they can certainly make decisions as to whether or not they want to continue those traditions. But that would be the example that I would set for them when they were younger. I do think the religion thing is very important and something that people should think about. And I remember you and me talking about that. Back in the day, my lawyer had not brought it up. I don’t know that your lawyer had brought it up.
T.H.: No, but I saw the Christmas tree and I freaked out.
Jessica: Right. But I’m saying offering this right now as a tip for people to think about because I don’t think it’s a traditional standard part of a divorce.
T.H.: Your religious practices whatever that is, just keep it in mind. And also, keep in mind really, my number one–well, I have a few tips, but Jessica’s making me think of another one, you really can’t control what goes on in their home. It’s a hard thing to get through, and Jessica and I’ll do another Just Us on that, but you just can’t. You just can’t. So you can put stuff in the agreement, but I do remember I said stuff to my lawyer that I wanted in there, and she’s like, this isn’t going to stand up anywhere.
Jessica: What kind of thing?
T.H.: It isn’t even worth us having a conversation about. I’m not even going to say it.
T.H.: It wasn’t religion. It was like how many times they were around the other woman and stuff like that. I mean, I was afraid I was going to lose my kids. But those things don’t really fly. And we’ll get into custody and custody experts and stuff like that in another podcast because I had all of them. You just be the best mom that you can be. And obviously, this is for anybody with kids, or anybody who knows someone going through a divorce that has kids, you just be the best mom or the best dad that you can possibly be. Cream rises to the top. Because we both separated more than 13 years ago, and cream really does rise to the top.
Jessica: And to go along with that, I think that you can’t put in your divorce agreement the kids have to go to bed at nine o’clock because you really can’t micromanage what’s happening at their homes, but I do think that there are things that I had not put in my divorce agreement because I had not thought of them at the time, things that may not have even existed. My kids were literally two and four. However, when my kids were nine and above, there came times where the transfer from my apartment to Daren’s apartment or vice versa became sometimes annoying on a weekend or whatever it was. I definitely recall occasions where I would be told if you want the kids to come to yours, and you don’t want them to be in an Uber by themselves, or taking the subway, or whatever the case may be, then you can come and get them. So I would then have to make the decision of okay, well, am I going to have to go and pick them up? Or am I going to let him put my nine-year-old by herself in an Uber? And so, I do think that those are things that are worth putting into a divorce agreement. I wished at times back then that I had something that would have said he had to bring the kids to me.
T.H.: I think I had that with mine that he was responsible if he had the kids for picking them up and dropping them back at the house. I think that if there was a time outside of that then I would have to go and pick them up.
Jessica: But for you living in the suburbs, I think that the verbiage–
T.H.: You get in a car and you go pick them up.
Jessica: Right, but I think in the city he was like, well, I can hire a car and I can put them in it, and that’s me dropping them off. It’s semantics and it’s literally–
T.H.: Yeah. With city and country though, really those are very big differences. One of my top tips in terms of a divorce agreement is to read carefully. Slowly read it a lot of times and make sure you understand what’s written there. I asked a million and one questions. I didn’t care if I sounded stupid. This is my life, my relationship with my children, my financial stability, my health insurance, everything. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and read everything slowly. Your lawyer is there to make sure that it’s clear to you. Your lawyer is not there to be your therapist, but your lawyer is there to represent you in a way that you understand how you’re being represented. That’s the terms of your divorce agreement because it goes back and forth. So once he has it, then it comes back with a lot of edits that you may not understand. I was headed to trial so I had pendente lite. Do you guys know what that means?
Jessica: I don’t know what that means.
T.H.: And I had Case Information Statements. And I had stuff that normal people don’t talk about. You don’t know what it means? Pendente lite is setting a precedent. So if this is how it’s been for so many years, then this is how it will continue to be until the divorce is settled. You’ve already set a precedent. The time when we were separated versus the time our divorce became final was considered pendente lite.
Jessica: Hold on, stop. Because what you’re saying is actually a bigger point than you think you’re making.
T.H.: Yeah, yeah. I’m going to say it as number two.
T.H.: Make sure you understand everything that’s written in there and all the questions that come back. I brought up things that my lawyer didn’t bring up, and they ended up being in my divorce agreement. They ended up being rock star decisions because I was looking for a solution that she wasn’t presenting to me, and I came up with something. My father was there with me the whole time, but I was like, yeah, you guys even think of this. And meanwhile, that decision has paid for my children’s college.
Jessica: Can you give an example for people?
T.H.: No, I don’t want to get off track because we’ll talk all about convenient change of employment at the time of separation, so that’ll be a whole other conversation. But my other point is that what happens during your separation is very important for your ultimate divorce agreement. If you are doing visitation Wednesdays and every other weekend, and your kids are healthy and great, guess what? That’s probably what’s going to fly for the agreement in the end. If he’s paying you a certain amount of support while you’re separated, then you’re likely to get that kind of support. When your divorce goes through, because he’s setting a precedent, or she’s setting a precedent, I’m sorry I don’t mean to take sides. I’m only saying my side here from my experience. But if she’s paying money to you for support until that divorce is finalized, then that’s setting a precedent for what she is capable of doing for you financially. Just be very careful during your separation of the decisions that you make because they will be or can be indicative of the ultimate divorce agreement that comes between the two of you. My lawyer and his lawyer were awful to each other, and he was awful. Then I ended up being awful, and nothing was progressing. And in the end, what we had through our separation is what we settled on for four years preparing for trial. That’s my second really big thing, separation and what happens then is important. Make sure you use your lawyer during that time, or divorce coach, or financial analyst, or whatever to set it up as favorably and reasonably as you can for yourself, for your shelter, and for your home. Those are my top tips.
Jessica: Yeah, and I will say just for the men out there listening, I mean, look, it is I think oftentimes common and customary to an extent where there’s a separation and everybody, I want to say husband and wife, but again, it doesn’t matter if it’s same-sex, that both parents want the kids to be in as stable of an environment as possible. And so initially, one parent may agree, as T.H. mentioned, to less custody or less time with the kids just to not rock the boat. They may say, yeah, the kids will primarily stay at this parent’s apartment all the time. I’ll come in and I’ll have dinner with them this night, and maybe then they’ll only sleep at my house for the weekends because they don’t have school.
T.H.: There are so many different ways to do it. It was called visitation when we did it. Now it’s called parenting time.
Jessica: Right. But I’m just saying, and again, not to generalize, but I do feel there are men that I know that ended up getting screwed in a sense because they wanted the best for their kids, and they wanted their kids lives to be not upended and have no upheaval in the beginning. And so they agreed that yes, the kids can stay with mom most of the time. That ended up being what ended up happening in the divorce agreement, and that wasn’t what they expected. But I also want to say this is not so much about setting a precedent but another tip for your divorce agreement, this is based on a conversation that T.H. and I had earlier, which is it is very common in a divorce agreement if you are a partner that’s receiving child support, over time, at a certain point, and maybe it’s certain increments in your child’s ages, the amount of child support that you’re receiving will change. You may be receiving X amount when they’re this age, and then it might go up based on their expenses, or private schools, or whatever. Then it may go down as they get older and they’re really out of the house more, especially when your kids go to college. Now they’re technically not in your home. The money that would have maybe gone to child support is maybe now going to college expenses. But here’s the thing, if you are the parent who’s receiving child support, and you know that when your kid turns 18, or whatever, that now your child support is going to be decreased let’s just say arbitrarily by 10%, then you need to talk to your lawyer about whether or not what you’re financially responsible for should also be decreased.
T.H.: It should reflect that.
Jessica: That’s right. If you get child support of $100 a month, and you know that you’re responsible for 20% of the kid’s expenses when it comes to music lessons, and now you’re not receiving $100 of child support, but you’re receiving $90 of child support, maybe your 50% of the responsibility for music lessons should now be 35%. It’s a conversation that you need to have with your lawyer because it certainly is logical that child support will be decreased at certain times of their lives and your life. But I think people don’t think about necessarily the other side of it, which is if I have less money to spend on these things, then should I still be paying the same percentage that I’ve been paying all this time?
T.H.: Well, and the other side of it is what if the other spouse can’t pay it? Then it’s a conversation and it shouldn’t be something that may be continued. I mean, for me, what Jessica and I were talking about is college. At the time, I don’t know how it works so much now in terms of planning, but the truth is when your kids go to college they’re more expensive than when they lived at home. They’re on a budget, you have tuition, you have books, you have Grammarly – $30 a month, you have the streaming stuff that they’re going to have, and you have technology that they need. And by the way, they need transportation to and from college, whether they’re taking a bus or plane? Or are they having a car? Who’s paying for the car? Who’s paying the insurance? Who’s paying the gas? Who’s paying for the car? I mean, in my experience, both of my daughters are currently in college, and the expense of them traveling back and forth from school is insane. For whatever, since COVID, every airline is charging you for, I don’t know, to breathe the air on the airplane at this point. Jessica’s kids were infants, and we did discuss college, and I had told Jessica you need to plan for college. Who’s paying for college anyway?
Jessica: Based on that conversation that you and I had, I had put in not just college expenses but also if the kids go to college in a location that requires a flight, then he is responsible for four round trip tickets per year to get them there and back. These are things I never would have thought about. You do have to really plan ahead. I think I put something in there for the kids’ bar and bat mitzvahs.
T.H.: I did too.
Jessica: And I think I did something in there for my kids’ weddings. How much is he going to be responsible? I can’t remember. I feel I may have, but for the bar and bat mitzvahs, for sure. He’s responsible for X amount, and then anything over that amount was then split along a percentage way.
T.H.: You need to think about the future, especially if you have children. Because by the way, aside from college being exorbitantly expensive, even if they’re on scholarship, I would take music lessons over college any day, what happens when they graduate college and they move back home? Now, who are they living with? Then the food expenses, transportation expenses, insurance, work clothes? Look, a starting salary let’s say is between 30 and $50,000 on average if you’ve gone through college, right? They can’t pay for shit. Then they’re like, oh, I want to invest in Acorn and Robin Hood and invest my money. Your money? You’re moving back home. We’ve got to figure this out. You want your eyebrows waxed? You want your nails done? You want to go to the dermatologist? You want your hair colored? All I’m saying is don’t forget all of those expenses. Then when they’re on their own, they are more expensive than when you had control over those expenses in your own home. Every month for six months, don’t use my credit card. Don’t use my credit card. It’s only for travel. It’s only for travel. Why is European Wax Center on here? Oh, I’ll pay you the money. I’ll Venmo you. Don’t Venmo me. I don’t want you to Venmo me. I don’t want it on my card. I’m trying to stay on a budget. I’m trying to be responsible, and you’re throwing me off. So anyway, we can go on forever. [I know, I know] But don’t forget the future. They are children even when they’re 22. They are children even when they’re 25. And don’t forget when they’re 26, they age out of insurance in most states so then they have to go get their own insurance. Plan for the future and don’t be naive and think, oh, we’ll address that. You won’t address that. She or he will be remarried, maybe with a new family, or maybe they’ll just be gone to South America, and you’ll be fucked.
Jessica: Also, keep in mind it’s very state-specific, but I think the overall message when it comes to it is there may be a standard boilerplate template for divorce agreements, but some of the stuff that we’re talking about is really in the weeds that your lawyer won’t necessarily bring up to you because it’s not standard. It’s the kind of stuff that may require more back and forth and more infighting, and it just isn’t the kind of stuff that they may say to you, well, who do you expect to pay for your child’s books when they’re in college, and the room and board, and the plane tickets back and forth from the East Coast to the West Coast?
T.H.: And they want to eat out on the weekends, by the way, and they want to have Domino’s on Thursday nights.
Jessica: And they want to go on dates.
T.H.: And alcohol.
Jessica: No, but even just dating, they’re in college, and now they want to ask someone out. They want to take them to the movies or take them to a restaurant. And it’s like who’s giving your kids an allowance? Are you making your kid get a job? Anyway, as T.H. said–
T.H.: We could go on forever. [It could] but just think about if you went to college and all the stuff you spent money on, they’re spending it x10. Just saying, Uber doesn’t disappear. It grows every single day on your credit card so just keep track. I would say my last tip is, don’t vent to your lawyer. I had a lot of situations where I felt like you need to know how bad this is for me. I would sit there–I was her perfect client. I would just spew shit in texts and emails and everything. You need to know this, write this down, and keep track of that. You know what? Every single second of attention that they give you is a fucking fortune. So get a therapist, call Jessica and me through the app or in an email, and let’s build this community of support for one another so your money is there for you and your future, and your money is there for your children, and your money is not wasted on lawyers. Like really, it’s so hard, but divorce is a business. They don’t really care about your emotional state. There are some who are compassionate, but still, the compassionate lawyers will say go find a friend. exEXPERTS are your friends and you can ask us anything and we’ll do our best to answer. We are vulnerable and at a point in our lives where we’re able to share our experiences. We’ve learned so much not even just from one another but from other people who have gone through a divorce that we have a tremendous amount of knowledge to share. Put it on us, and we’ll give you an objective supportive place to be. But please don’t waste it on your lawyer.
Jessica: If you think you can’t afford therapy, I promise you that the cost of an hour with a therapist is far less than it’s going to be for the cost of that hour with your lawyer for sure.
T.H.: Because it’s never an hour with your lawyer by the way. It’s never one hour.
Jessica: They’re billing you by 10-minute increments or 15-minute increments.
T.H.: If you think you were on the phone for five minutes – that was an hour. That was clocked as an hour. I think one more quick–go over your bills with your lawyers and anybody who you hire in your divorce process, any other professionals, and ask questions and understand why you’re being billed a certain way. Some advice we got the other day is that if it’s a low retainer, they might be upping your hourly charge. Make sure you just really ask a lot of questions. They work for you. You’ve got a certain amount of money and you want to spend it as wisely as possible. Keep track of the money so that it doesn’t get out of hand if you don’t want it to get out of hand.
Jessica: Right. We hope that was helpful for you. We have more Just Us episodes. As I said in the beginning, we’re going to be talking about things when it comes to answering questions for your kids about divorce and things to be thinking about doing for yourself when you start off with the separation and divorce agreement, so be sure to check those episodes out as well. See you next time.
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