'How Can I Get Even With This Man (or Woman) Who Has Just Ruined My Life?'

A Letter to:

Those Who Want to Know What to Expect When They are Expecting a Divorce...

I do not oppose marriage; I believe that most people prosper as part of a couple. But neither do I oppose divorce; there is no reason to put up with a dangerously abusive, or even a “dead,” marriage.

However, while “love and marriage (may) go together like a horse and carriage,” marriage also seems to breed bitterness, even hatred, and finally divorce. For the last decade in America, marriages have ended in divorce approximately 50% of the time.

Some women cheat on their spouses with their tennis instructor, next door neighbor, or with their husband’s best friend; others fall in love with wealthier men (or women). Even if such women have stood by their men in lean times, given them children, and reared them lovingly, think how a husband must feel when the very woman who abandoned and shamed him now demands generous spousal and child support — or refuses to share their joint assets with him.

A lawyer I recently interviewed told me about a case wherein her male client gave up tenure in order to take care of the children and handle the family’s real estate. His wife’s earning potential was much more than his and as she climbed the corporate ladder she became involved with another man. She wanted out of the marriage. The lawyer continued:

My client wants to continue as the primary custodial parent, and he wants his share of the marital assets. He wants both child and spousal support. Even though this mother was the one who left the marriage and was not the primary caretaker, she is now fighting hard to obtain sole custody so that she will not have to pay spousal or child support.

But think how Maria Shriver must feel about her divorce from actor-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who publicly humiliated her by having a “love child” with their housekeeper of many years, a son whom he is now trying to get to know. Think how Ginny Cha, Tiki Barber’s wife, must feel. After she bore the New York Giants super hero four children, he very publicly left her when she was eight months pregnant with their twin girls and in the hospital. Tiki left Ginny for Traci Lynn Johnson, his very young, very blonde, intern, which led to NBC firing him (he was a sports correspondent and he had a “morals” clause). In turn, this has now led to a “bitter divorce” which Tiki says he can no longer afford. Although he is living with his mistress, their elaborate marriage plans are now on hold.

Tiki and Ginny are warring over money in Manhattan Supreme Court and until they settle the matter he can neither get divorced nor remarry.

As the author of several books and many articles on divorce and custody, including the updated and revised 25th anniversary edition of Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody, I’m often asked: “What can I do to win my divorce? How can I get even with this man (or woman) who has just ruined my life?”

Too late, I want to say. The only sure-fire way of “winning” your divorce is to 0) avoid getting married in the first place. In other words, there is no way of doing so.

First: Do you need a prenup?