If Lying, Cheating and Bad-Mouthing Don’t Matter, What Does?
I got an email the other day that really made me think. Essentially, it said, “My spouse has lied to me, cheated on me, and bad-mouthed me to the kids. Yet every lawyer I’ve talked to said the judge doesn’t care. I still have to give my spouse 50% of the assets and, I will probably still have to pay alimony, too!” What the email didn’t say (but what was jumping out from every word on the page) was: Divorce is so unfair! What can I do?
The Good News and the Bad News
First, the “good” news. (Although, whether you consider this to be good or bad news depends upon whether you were the cheater or the one who was cheated on!) Depending upon where you live, marital misconduct (a/k/a cheating, lying, bad-mouthing your spouse etc.) may be a factor in determining whether or how much spousal support you will have to pay. It may also be a factor in determining how property is divided. (Don’t get too excited, though, until you read the bad news.)
Now, the “bad” news: in most states (including Illinois) marital misconduct is NOT a factor in determining how marital property is divided or whether support is ordered. For the most part, what your spouse did during the marriage makes no difference at all in your divorce. (There are some exceptions to that rule. If your spouse spent money on an affair, you may be able to reclaim some of that in your divorce. But your spouse will not get “punished” for his/her infidelity.)
Want more “bad” news? Even if the divorce laws in a state allow a judge to consider marital misconduct when dividing marital property or granting support, that does not mean that the judge in YOUR case will give that factor a lot of weight. Divorce judges have a tremendous amount of discretion in divorce cases. Just because a judge CAN give you more money because your spouse cheated, that doesn’t mean that the judge WILL do so.
The Bottom Line
The simple truth is this: in today’s world, the fact that your spouse cheated on you is probably not going to make a huge difference in your divorce case. (Sorry!)
Of course, what I have just said is a broad generalization. And, of course, there are exceptions to every rule. That’s why it is important for you to consult with a divorce lawyer in your area. A local divorce lawyer will know the laws in your state. S/he can tell you the likely effect that your spouse’s cheating will have in your case. But, realistically, in most cases, your spouse’s cheating is not likely to dramatically change the financial outcome of your divorce case.
If you are the person whose marriage just crumbled because your spouse had an affair, AND you are coming to the cold realization that you are still going to have to give him/her half of the marital assets, and pay spousal support on top of it, I would not be surprised if you were thinking, “Divorce is so unfair!” Actually, I would be more surprised if you were NOT thinking, “Divorce is so unfair!”
Here is the bottom line: It doesn’t matter what you think. It doesn’t matter how you feel. The law is the law, and life isn’t always fair.
But, what if the important question was not: “Why is divorce so unfair?” What if the really important question was, “How can I make the best deal possible and then put this divorce behind me so that I can live an even better life in the future?”
Before we go any further here, let me acknowledge the obvious: infidelity sucks! If you have just been cheated on, “changing your question” (i.e. changing what you are focusing on) is probably the absolute last thing that you feel like doing. I’ve been cheated on myself, and I know how excruciatingly horrible it feels. It’s like getting sucker-punched by a heavyweight when you didn’t even know you were boxing!
Its only natural when you’ve just taken a body-blow like that to want to try to punch back. And being told that, based upon your financial circumstances and the length of your marriage, you are still going to have to give your cheating spouse half of the marital assets and support him or her – possibly for many years – only adds insult to injury. But, it is precisely because you feel so horrible, that you have to change your question. You have to change what you are focusing on in order to change how you feel.
Change Your Question and You Change Your Life
Science has proven over and over again that what we focus on expands. If you focus on divorce being unfair, you will find a million inequities at every turn. What is unfair to you will grow and expand until you feel like the consummate victim.
But being a victim robs you of your power.
Instead of focusing your pain, focus on your future. Instead of focusing on the fact that your spouse cheated on you, that divorce is unfair, and that your life in general is not at all where you wanted it to be, focus on the fact that you can now get out of a relationship that is not what you thought it was, or wanted it to be. Focus on the fact that you may now be able to create a life that IS what you want. Focus on what you still have, instead of on what you don’t have. When you do that you will put yourself in a position to heal and grow.
Is that Pollyanna-ish? Maybe. But spending your time focusing on why divorce is unfair is like spending time questioning why the sun rises in the east in the morning. It doesn’t change anything. It also doesn’t make you feel any better.
Will focusing on positive things make you feel better? Honestly, the answer is still: maybe. It all depends on you and where you are at emotionally. But, the big difference is that, unlike focusing on what you can’t change, focusing on what you can just might change everything.
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