I WAS NEVER a June bride. I was a July divorcée.
I got married when I was 28. It didn't seem like a rash decision. I'm smart. I think things through. I tend to make the right call, and this one seemed like a no-brainer. Lots of marriages fail, sure—but I don't fail. I was in love, and people in love in their late 20s/early 30s get married.
Well, not all of them should. I shouldn't have. It lasted two years. Whoopsie!
I didn't know what the dissolution of a marriage would look like back then. I didn't have any close friends who had done it. Sure, my parents had, but only when they were middle-aged; my brother and I probably were to blame for that. My collapsing relationship was different. I didn't have a guide on how to untangle a newly established life together. There aren't 1,000 blogs dedicated to having "the most Instagrammable divorce ever." While it was hard on a practical level—because paperwork is daunting and expensive—it was harder on an emotional level... especially when every other person on Facebook was getting engaged and making babies. Where's the "got divorced" button on the timeline? Is that even an option for 30-year-olds?
So. I've got plenty of insight into the "Divorce Industrial Complex." I might also have some "baggage" and "resentment" and "lingering hostility." But what better person to help you have the Best! Divorce! Ever!
Note: Because I'm not a lawyer, and because tears and excessive white-wine hangovers have clouded my divorce memories, I spoke with local family law attorney Myah Kehoe to double-check my amateur lawyer-ing and give me some retroactive legal advice.
Feel free to tuck this story into your dog-eared Martha Stewart Weddings to use as reference should the time come. Remember: It probably will!
Should I get divorced?
Maybe! I don't know. I don't know you. But yeah, probably. About half of you.
Or better yet, don't get married.
But I want to get married!
A lot of people do! And a lot of people make it work. Check out pre-marriage counseling, and get on the same page from the get-go. If you want it to work, act like it! Don't be too proud. You're about to sign up to a lifetime of sharing a bathroom with this person. Humility is clutch.
I hadn't grown up wanting to get married, but then it was happening. I didn't even care a lot about the wedding itself. I was just going through the motions. Hindsight is 20/20, and in hindsight, good god, I was a disaster that year. Bad call, me.
How much does getting a divorce cost?
Filing for divorce in the state of Oregon costs $260, but those filing fees change all the time. If you've got tricky stuff to sort out and you need a lawyer, you can easily spend thousands of dollars in attorney fees. The "tricky stuff" could be shared debts, individual debts you accrued while in the marriage, cars, health insurance premiums, retirement accounts. Oh! Or kids, which are like this whole other layer of complication. It is really just a fucking clusterfuck of garbage to sort out.
My divorce was as straightforward as they come (no kids, no shared debts, and we sold our house quickly before filing the paperwork), but it still cost several hundreds of dollars in fees, and I had to burn leave time waiting in line at the courthouse.
Breakups are terrible. Breakups that cost a lot of time and money and involve judges—after you've stood in front of everybody and said that you wouldn't—are beyond.
Note: A marriage license in Multnomah County costs $60 and takes 20 minutes. It's just one goddamn form. They make it way too easy.
Do I need a lawyer?
If you have any of the aforementioned tricky stuff, yeah, probably. I didn't because I'm a cocky bastard and I'd done a lot in advance to uncomplicate our situation. It was a good decision for me—according to Kehoe's estimate, had I hired an attorney to help me, it probably would have been around $5,000. Yes, that's $5,000 for an easy divorce. Family law attorneys usually charge by the hour, so it's essentially impossible to get a firm quote before going in. Had my ex-husband also lawyered up, and wanted to argue in the courtroom (which, of course, is very common with all the hurt feelings floating around a failed marriage), it could have easily been more.
There are several agencies around Portland that provide family law assistance on a sliding scale (St. Andrew Legal Clinic, Legal Aid Services of Oregon), and some attorneys can review your forms without officially representing you for just a few hundred dollars. But this is on top of now paying rent to live alone, and buying yourself a new couch, half of a cutlery set, and a fuck-ton of alcohol. Do you really have a few hundred dollars to burn?
What should I do now to avoid a potentially messy divorce later?
If I could go back in time, the only marriage advice I would give my younger self is: "Don't." Obviously, the only way to avoid a messy divorce is to never get married in the first place! It's 2014! You seriously do not need to get married! (This advice is clearly coming from a dark place. Do whatever you want.)
But if you just have to get married, be smart about it. People don't get married when they're 20 years old and debt-free anymore. You and your beloved are probably heading into the marriage with some student loans, a maxed-out credit card, and if you're lucky, the start of a retirement account. When (if!) the end comes, you'll want to keep your shit, and not wind up with his. (Or hers! Sorry.)
Even though you want to be googly-eyed and full of hope, don't be dumb: "Go over your credit reports together," advises Kehoe. It's not romantic, but it's smart; there is already so much anguish involved in undoing a serious relationship, the least you can do is protect your assets and credit score.
If you think you need a prenup, that's an option too, but only really necessary when there's a family business or a substantial wealth disparity. But if you're serious about putting together a prenup, reconsider your relationship with this person you're marrying. Do you not trust him/her enough to be fair in a divorce? If not, why are you marrying them?
Do I get to keep my stuff?
Maybe! Per Kehoe: "Although we are not a 'community property' state, there is still a presumption that anything purchased during a marriage is part of the 'marital estate,' which means it should be theoretically divided equally. In other words, we presume it is to be divided equally, unless you can show a reason not to." And: "Even with a prenup, you have to continue to keep things separate so that you do not accidentally fall back into the 'marital estate' analysis." Also: "If you put your expenses on a credit card before the marriage, it may not be divided equally later. So, for example, I do not recommend paying for all of the wedding expenses on your credit card." So. Yeah. Good luck with all that.
How long does it take to get divorced?
My simple divorce took two months. My ex-husband and I co-petitioned, or filed together rather than having one person file a demand on the other, and we agreed to terms from the beginning. Since we'd divvied up everything by that point, it was an easy decision. We also filed a form to waive trial, since again, everything was already sorted.
Still! Two months! I had one full morning at the courthouse filing the initial forms (and redoing the stuff I got wrong, even though I followed the county's directions to a T, which are available—albeit unclear—online), an uncomfortable meeting with a notary for my ex-husband to sign everything, then I went back to the court to file more stuff, and waited for a glorious piece of mail that said it was over.
It's been over a year, and I still haven't finished doing divorcée stuff, like taking hyphen-other-last-name off of Jones. Some places won't even let me do it. Facebook won't let me change my URL. Fucking Facebook.
A friend of mine had a shitty marriage and terrible divorce and it took almost a year, and cost over $20,000. There was a kid involved, and a lot of anger. Everything had to go through lawyers, and when you're paying by the hour, arguments become really expensive. Crazy-high attorney fees were unavoidable there.
Another friend of a friend is on the second year of her ongoing divorce, and the ex is currently trying to get equal custody to avoid child support—but doesn't actually want 50 percent of the child-rearing responsibilities. So they have to see judges and mediators, which accomplishes nothing except spending a ton of money to be mad.
Think about the worst argument you've ever had with your partner. Now make that argument last several months, and have it cost upward of several thousand dollars. Do you still want to get married?
So you're saying it's more of a hassle if we have kids?
Oh my god. SO. FUCKING. MUCH. Don't have kids to save a marriage. Your marriage will still suck, and your divorce will quadruple in cost. You have to co-parent with this person forever. You will have to see them multiple times a week and hand off this human you freaking created to your greatest disappointment.
We're too cool for kids. What about our dog?
You can duke it out about the dog in court, too—but Kehoe advises against it. Fido can't go to a child development specialist to determine his well-being. Dogs can't talk. Joint dog custody is only prolonging contact with a person you can no longer live with. Kehoe says you should make clear who the dog's primary person is from the beginning, even if you're adorably convinced you'll never break up.
Is it any different in gay marriage?
Nope! Marriage equality = divorce equality! Same goes for domestic partnerships. Turns out they weren't kidding when they said it was the same as marriage in everything but name.
When's the best time to get divorced?
Dude. Winter. You need the darkness.
Should I even get married?
NO! I mean, do what you want. But I'd definitely advise against it.
What's your deal, lady? Most people get married!
Honestly, I'm a jaded asshole. You would (or, more likely, will) be, too. Take all of this with a grain of salt. And it's not like it was all terrible! Love is nice. Weddings are fun. There were some good times in there, for sure.
On the whole though: Several hours of having fun in front of my extended family was not worth all of the subsequent bullshit. No way. Not even a little bit.
I'm not mad at love, and I'm definitely not mad at any of you in successful marriages. I get why you want to do it. I do. I only wish I'd thought seriously about what divorce would look like before I tied the knot. So maybe I can help you become better informed—or maybe kinda talk you out of it completely?
Or, at the very least, maybe I can give you a reason to feel smug at your crappy cousin's doomed wedding this summer. Go on! Start the "failure betting pool." Your odds are pretty good.