March 20

The Real Truth About How Divorce Works: 10 Rules You May Not Know


dealing with divorce, divorce advice, divorce blog, divorce tips

Lots of roads with different road signs criss-crossed over each other in the shape of a heart. How divorce works: it's confusing!Have you ever tried to play a game without understanding the rules?  If you have, chances are, the game did not go well for you. You probably lost big time. Going through a divorce is similar. If you want to have any chance of getting through it well, you have to understand how divorce works.

Hopefully, you learn the rules BEFORE your divorce is over. But learning the rules is not enough. You must also understand the rules, and understand how deeply they will affect the rest of your life.

The problem is that, to the average human, a lot of the “rules of divorce” don’t make sense. Unless you are a divorce professional who works with divorce all the time, much of what you think you know about divorce is probably wrong.

If you act based upon that wrong information, you are not going to get a great result. In gaming language: you will lose.

The Truth About How Divorce Works

Cute baby with glasses and quote: It's not what you know that will hurt you. It's what you know that just ain't so!Divorce is often counter-intuitive.  From where you sit, it might not make sense that half (or more) of your paycheck for the next _____ (insert a length of time you think is crazy) will be siphoned off to support your spouse and kids before you even see it. Or maybe you are on the other side of the fence, wondering how the court expects you to raise two kids on less than ten dollars a day.

Either way, you feel like what is happening to you is unfair. Why? Because your expectation about what should happen is different from the reality of what is happening. In the gap between your expectations vs reality is misery.

10 Divorce Rules You Need to Understand

If you want to get through your divorce with the least amount of damage to yourself, your future, your finances and your kids, you have to understand how divorce works.

You might not like these divorce rules. You might not agree with these divorce rules. But if you ignore these divorce rules, you will pay a price. 

1. Divorce is not fair.

Nothing about divorce is fair. It’s not fair that your marriage didn’t work out. It is not fair that your kids will suffer. It’s not fair that you are going to lose half or more of everything that you own. It’s not fair that you are going to be alone.

I don’t mean to be cruel, but you’ve got to get over it.  Divorce truly is unfair. The sooner you stop expecting it to be anything else, the sooner you will start making better decisions in your divorce.

Close up of confused young woman thinking about divorce. How divorce works doesn't make sense.2. Divorce laws don’t always make sense.

Divorce laws are “one size fits all.” That means that they usually don’t fit anyone well. But, just because you might not agree with the divorce laws does not mean that you can ignore them.

Violate the law and you will have some judge getting all up in your business and forcing you follow rules that don’t even apply to married people. Child support formulas tell you how much money you must pay for your kids. Visitation schedules dictate when you can see your kids. You no longer have complete control over your family and your life because the law dictates what you have to do. I know it’s not fair. See Rule #1.

3. Going to court is the riskiest decision you will ever make.

Do you really want a total stranger in a black robe, who has never met you, your spouse, or your children, deciding when you can see your kids, what you are going to do with your house, and how much money you will get to live on for years?!!!

No matter what your lawyer tells you, divorce litigation is risky.  You can never predict what a judge will do. Unless your spouse is being a complete butt head and you have no choice but to fight your divorce in court, settle your case yourself. Go to mediation. Use collaborative divorce. Negotiate your own settlement at your kitchen table. Avoid litigation like the plague.

Construction hat, gloves and blueprint on a table with the saying "Divorce is Like Construction" over them.4. Your divorce will take longer and cost more than you expect.

Most people think that they are different. They believe that they will be able to resolve their divorce in a few months for a few thousand dollars.  Most people are wrong.

Divorce is a giant untangling of everything that you have been building with your spouse for years. It won’t be done in a few weeks – and that’s okay! It takes time to separate your finances, and deal with your emotions, and transition your kids into a different life. It takes money to do all that, too.  While divorcing fast and cheap sounds great in cheezy ads on late night T.V., the reality of divorce is that it will take time and cost money.

5. Unless you are one of the 5%, your standard of living will go down after your divorce.

When you divorce, you are taking the income and assets that used to support one household, and stretching it to support two. That means that everyone’s lifestyle is going to take at least a temporary hit.

Going through a divorce also forces you to be realistic about your lifestyle. If you were living above your means, you will figure that out as soon as you prepare the financial documents that are required in divorce. As painful as living on a budget can be, if you have been overspending for years, it was only a matter of time before you were going to crash and burn anyway.

Man and woman watch each other while playing with puppets of themselves: the woman controls the man and the man controls the woman.6. The longer you keep trying to control your ex, the more miserable you will be.

The only person you can really control is yourself. You can’t control how your spouse will parent your kids after you divorce. You can’t control who s/he sleeps with, or how s/he spends money (even if you feel like it is your money your spouse is spending!)

The corollary of this Rule is that you probably will no longer know what your spouse is doing. You certainly won’t know what your spouse is thinking. The longer you focus on trying to figure out why your spouse is doing whatever s/he is doing, the more miserable you will be. 

7. The biggest mistake you can make is to try to go through your divorce alone.

It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It doesn’t matter whether you are the kind of person who thinks you can take care of yourself. When it comes to divorce, don’t even think of going it alone.

No one (not even your lawyer!) is an expert at everything. The best way to navigate your divorce is with a team. At the very least, you will need legal advice and emotional support. You may need financial advice, and help with your kids. Finally, you will need a strong network of supportive friends, family, and maybe even a divorce support group. Not everyone has to be a paid professional. But, having people on your side will make an enormous difference in how you get through your divorce.

Young, handsome man depressed about being divorced8. You need to get a handle on your emotions as soon as possible.

Getting divorced is a full time job. You will be expected to gather information, analyze your finances, make a budget, change your living arrangements, divide up your stuff, make a schedule to see your kids, learn how to be a single parent and help your kids deal with their new reality. You can’t do all that if you can’t think clearly.

When your spouse dies, people will tell you that you shouldn’t make any major decisions for the next year. You will be too fuzzy-headed and emotional. Divorce is like death, only worse. In divorce, you don’t have the luxury of putting off making decisions for a year. If you want to put yourself in a position to make the best possible decisions for yourself and your family, you have to deal with your emotions and keep them in check. 

9. If you care about your life and your kids’ future, you will stay actively involved in your divorce.

Divorce is not a spectator’s sport! Even if you don’t want the divorce, you can’t close your eyes and pretend it’s not happening. You also can’t just turn everything over to your lawyer and hope that your life turns out okay. Divorce doesn’t work that way.

If you want to get the best result possible for yourself and your family, you need to stay involved in your own divorce. That means you need to research your options and make your own decisions. You need to stay in touch with your divorce lawyer and make sure your case isn’t sitting on a shelf somewhere. Finally, if you have kids, you need to work on your emotional control and your communications skills so that you can create an effective co-parenting relationship with your spouse after divorce.

Divorcing African American couple arguing with each other10. You will not necessarily stop fighting with your spouse/ex just because you are divorced.

This is the secret that most divorce lawyers never tell you. If you start a war with your spouse during your divorce, you are almost guaranteeing that you will continue to battle long after your divorce – especially if you have kids.

The divorce courts are packed with people fighting in “post-decree” court. Even if you don’t end up back in court, who wants to spend years arguing with your ex every time you exchange the kids, or want to switch parenting days, or have to split an expense for your kids? Once you understand that divorce will change your relationship with your spouse, but will not necessarily end your relationship with your spouse,  you will start to act differently during your divorce.

Understanding How Divorce Works Will Change the Way You Divorce

Divorce is not a game.  It is your life.  But, if you think of life as a game just for a moment, you will immediately understand that not knowing the rules before you start to play can have serious, and often unintended, consequences.

If you are going through a divorce, you have to understand the rules – especially the ones that the professionals know, but you don’t.  Once you know how divorce works (i.e. how it really works!), you will be able to get through it with much less pain, and a lot fewer problems.


You may also like

Virtual Court Hearings: 15 Simple Tips for Success in Zoom Court

  • Thanks for all you share, Karen. I am inspired by your dedication to help people navigate this process with as much grace as possible. Please let me know how I can support you!

    • Thank you for your comment! I really appreciate it!

      The best way you can support me is to share with others. If you know anyone who is looking for divorce information or help, send them here to my website. You can also like my Facebook Page, and follow me on Twitter at @KarenCovy. The more people we can help, the better!

      Thanks again!


  • I found a DIY divorce site and paid and filled out the paper work. I received the papers in the mail but my husband wont sign them. We are an older couple with one grown son but we don’t own anything or have money of any kind so this divorce should be quick and easy. My spouse wont sign the papers but I have discovered in my state which is Oregon I don’t need his signature for me to move forward. What would you suggest?

  • going on 6 months into this divorce, my husband decides he needs to take my truck ,says his is unreliable.
    i’m 60 i live in his home ,he walked out on me,moved and changed his he wants (3 weeks before we go back to the divorce judge)
    to had over the keys to the truck he bought me 4 years ago..i will be left with no transportation. what should i do?

    • What should you do? Talk to your attorney about this! I can’t give you legal advice online and, without knowing a WHOLE lot more about your case, I couldn’t begin to tell you what to do. Sorry!

      If you don’t have an attorney, it would be wise to at least talk to a lawyer in your area. S/he would know the law in your state and the facts and circumstances of your case.

      I wish I could be more helpful. But this is a question I can’t answer for you.


  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}