Here’s what this divorce lawyer learned from her own divorce

Morghan.RichardsonPeople arrive at the head of a new year, reflecting about the year gone by. Nothing weighs on a person more heavily during this time as a failed marriage and the possibility of divorce.  Take it from me.

Some people have asked me to write about my experience being a divorce lawyer and going through my own divorce (OK –  one person asked me. Hi, Emma!). My career has certainly helped me in my own separation and divorce. And my personal experience with the matter has helped me better help my clients.

The end of my marriage was like a long, slow series of gears clicking into place, shifting my husband from the role of my best friend into a dark, unknown shadow. One minute I was drying my hair in the bathroom of our apartment and everything in my life was fine. The next moment my toddler walked in with a train ticket that would serve as the first tiny thread of a lie that I unknowingly discovered. When I pulled at the thread, it grew longer and longer, slowly – then feverishly — unraveling my marriage. The great unravel took a whole year. I’ll never know how deep the lies ran. Did he sleep with someone else? Does it matter?  My anger over every concession I had ever made in the eight years of my marriage came bubbling out.

The thing is, all my manic questioning started to look painfully familiar. I’ve seen countless clients frantically combing for the truth in the wreckage of their marriages: obsessing over phone bills, receipts, credit card statements; going through coat pockets and trying to hack into cell phones and email. You can be consumed in your quest, but in the end, what does all that spent energy get you? Whether you know the truth or just accept that you’ll never know it makes little difference to the outcome of what will be your new life.

At some point I realized I couldn’t chase the truth any longer. I could see that I was spending my energy and time on a relationship that needed to end. I had to take steps to move forward – and that meant letting go of being angry about the past.

As a divorce attorney, I had some advantages. I set aside my emotions – reserved for private moments of sobbing in the shower – and approached my case like any other, with lists:

Assets: 401K, Thrift Savings Plan, pension, Florida condo, oh-my-God-my-law-degree, my law practice, household furniture (Fuck that, he can keep the ugly furniture!).

Liabilities: Loan from my parents, student loans, Amex card (Thank God we sold the D.C. rental house – whew!)

Monthly expenses:  Rent, utilities, daycare, food, car payment, gas, insurance (Why the hell do we have so many life insurance plans?!)

Child Support:  First combine parental income then divide his income by the combined income for his pro-rata amount of 25% of the combined income; next, add-on expenses!  Daycare! (“Oh Lord, that’s impossible for him to live on,” means one thing to a divorce lawyer: leverage.).

Custody:  For most people, custody and visitation are prime divorce worries, followed closely by maintenance (a.k.a. alimony).  My husband’s work schedule made it impossible for him to have residential custody.  (Whatever, I had basically been functioning as a single parent of two kids throughout the marriage.)

Divorce forces people to face an emotional tempest at a time when they need to be as rational as possible.  Having gone through it, I can see how difficult it is to let go of the emotional baggage – I’m still trying to be at peace with everything! – and to focus on the end result of living a full and happy life.Morghan Richardson is a family and divorce attorney and mediator in New York City.  She juggles her Queens-based law practice with her other job as the single mom of two preschool-aged boys, Hayden and Ozzie. Her firm is Richardson Legal, PLLC.

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5 thoughts on “Here’s what this divorce lawyer learned from her own divorce

  1. Thanks for sharing your personal perspective, Morghan.

    As a divorce attorney having gone through your own divorce, I suspect your clients are much better served by someone that can offer advice on when to fight and when to get on with your life.

    1. Thanks for your comment Russ.

      This area of the law is very human (as opposed to corporate litigation, which I spent many years involved in prior to going solo). There is a lot of raw emotion involved in divorce, at least from the client’s perspective. My experience has definitely helped me relate in a unique way.

  2. Knowing what you know now about your divorce process, do you wish you’d done anything differently all along? (Not to prevent the divorce, but facilitate it. I.e. Not so many life insurance policies, segregation of bank accounts, etc?)

    1. I never wanted to get a divorce and I don’t think most people go through their marriages trying to facilitate a divorce (at least I hope not!)

      I think maybe, if I understand your question correctly, you are really asking if there is anything I would have done differently that might have made the divorce process easier.

      Like most people, the biggest area of conflict in my marriage was related to the finances. Perhaps if we had found more positive ways of handling our finances together, it might have prevented some of that conflict and helped our marriage. The fact that I was actively “in charge” of our finances made it much easier for me during the divorce process. The spouse who lives in the dark about finances will always have a lot of catching up to do in the divorce.

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