My Divorce Story

My divorce story is very unique because we split up while we were living in the Philippines for a year.  Here is how it all happened…

We had been in marriage counseling for about four months and working on our marriage, years of baggage and resentments had built up.  We really did not enjoy each other’s company anymore, were more partners managing a household than anything else at this point.  It had been building up for years, almost since we had our kids.  Unexpectedly,  my ex got an offer from his company to go to Manila in the Philippines for two years to manage their software development center there.  

We agreed that the kids and I would go for one year, he went five months ahead of us and we followed him during summer so that the kids could finish out the school year in the US.  

The five months that he went ahead of us became a glaring red flag to both of us that our marriage was on the verge of falling apart.  We hardly spoke on the phone, he was very focused on his new job there and somewhat checked out of our life in the states.  I think we both started to come to the conclusion that we were happier apart than together.  Essentially, it was almost a trial separation that life imposed on us and I suddenly realized that I could be happy being a single parent.   I realized that I was less lonely with him out of the house and my day-to-day responsibilities did not change much without him in the house.   I was spending more time with friends, and not feeling judged for not keeping the house the way he liked it or that the dinners were not to his liking.  It was a freedom and lightness I had not felt in a long time.  And I think he was feeling free getting to live his life without my expectations of what he should be doing as a part of our household on a day-to-day basis.  I was realizing that our values and priorities in life were just so different and that being around each other did not make either of us happy anymore.  

We were very honest with each other when we did speak on the phone, we both acknowledged that we were enjoying our time apart and that when the kids and I came to the Philippines, it would be a ‘make or break’ year for our marriage.  We agreed to give it a shot but I think if we were being completely honest with ourselves, we knew our marriage was not going to make it.

I had rented out our house for a year and sold both our cars in the five months he was away.  I packed up 10 big bags of stuff for us to go live abroad for the year and he came home to get us for the flight over there.  

Things with us felt awkward from the beginning but we kept up the charade that we could possibly repair things with this new adventure.  Any intimacy with us felt forced and sadly very uncomfortable.  After about three weeks over there, I knew it was over and I could not keep acting like we had a chance together.  

It might seem cold but I decided I would send him an email expressing my feelings.  In a nutshell, I said that we had had a good run together but that we were not making each other happy anymore and we both deserved to be happy.  I asked that we keep it amicable for both us and for our kids.  I said that I thought we should separate and keep it quiet for a bit before we told the kids so that we knew for sure it was the right thing for us to do.  I said if he felt that same way, he could just move into the third bedroom and we would tell the kids it was because of his weird work schedule so that we did not wake each other up.  

He did not respond to my email but he slept in the third bedroom that night when he came home from work.  I woke up early and saw he was not there and went down to the third bedroom.  It was actually really sad. I woke him up and he told me he agreed with my email.  I cried a little, something I was not expecting.  Even though there was a large part of me that had been preparing for that moment for a long time, actually saying it out loud to each other was more emotional than I had anticipated.  We agreed on being amicable, that we would work together to keep it from the kids and try to have it impact their lives as little as possible.  

I cried on and off the rest of that week but then I had another feeling start to wash over me and that was relief.  I had this weight I had been carrying lift off of me.  I felt like this ‘ball and chain feeling’ that I felt when I thought about having to spend the rest of my life with my ex had been cut off.  I felt free, like the opportunities for me and my future were endless.  I wanted to explore my sexuality more, enjoy this new freedom and soak up as much joy as I could in life.

Throughout that week I reflected on our relationship a lot.  We had had a really good run for a long time and we did so many cool things together.  We traveled a lot together, we have been to almost every state in the US together, backpacked through Europe together after college, visited my original home of South Africa three times and explored a few countries in South America.  We learned how to snowboard and rock climb together and renovated three homes together.  We also dealt with infertility issues when trying to get pregnant with our first child which was a very tough emotional experience that definitely put stress on our relationship but we made it through that too.  But we just grew apart, lost interest in each other and the intimacy slipped away along with that. And for the last few years of our marriage, I was very lonely, had a very bad depression and could not figure out why I was so unhappy.  I now know that for me, living in an unhappy relationship stripped away a lot of the joy and zest I had for life.  Coming back from that is not easy, I respect couples who can re-kindle but that was not to be for us.

The next few months for me were a mix of emotions from elation, to huge insecurity, to YOLO – just gonna have fun.  I was so grateful that I was in the Philippines, contrary to what most people would assume, I think having your marriage break up away from home is optimal.  Everything there was new so suddenly being ‘single’ just got added to the list.  Initially I only told the two closest friends I had there, I had literally known them for three weeks, lol  But they were wonderful and super supportive and it was enough to keep me going.  I had a lot of support from my friends and family back home as well.   And I wanted to make the best of this amazing opportunity to explore the other side of the world!  

Here is a little aside:  I think back and know that because I was on an antidepressant already, it probably made the first few months a bit easier.  I had been put on one when I had a very bad 6 month depression a few years earlier and it definitely numbed some of the pain.  I think they are a wonderful tool for a period of time to get you through really difficult situations.  One caveat is that for me, they definitely numb you to all emotions to some degree.  Now that I am feeling much better about myself and in a stronger emotional place, I am tapering off the antidepressants very slowly and cautiously with the support of my doctor.  I can feel the difference, I can feel all my feelings fully again, the joy, anger and sadness and it is actually a really beautiful experience.  Thankfully I am now in a place in my life where my emotions are a healthy guide for me and manageable because I know how to stand in my own power and can tell when I am not doing that too.  

My first year single in the Philippines was truly amazing for me.  It was a year where I found that I was a happy and fun person again.  I will write much more about this year,  and the years following and my growth in future blog posts.  I will just write here that I started out the year feeling very unsure about myself and who I was and also very insecure about my desirability.   It was a journey but I finished the year out feeling very good in my own skin and confident that there were many wonderful relationships in my future.  

I started doing latin dancing that year, something that I had wanted to do for a long time.  My ex and I tried learning it together because I wanted to but he was terrible at it and we just ended up fighting so we stopped.  I never even considered doing it alone back then which is so silly.  I don’t think he would have cared, it was in my own mind that I could only do social dancing if he did it with me.  This is a very good metaphor for my life in my marriage and how much my mindset changed once I became single.

The kids and I stayed on in the Philippines for the rest of the year.  He was not home with us very much, his work had weird hours and he spent a lot of his time there.  We did not tell the kids we had decided to separate for the first few months.  He was just sleeping in the third bedroom and when we would go away for weekends together with the kids, we slept in separate beds.  I would say it was a treat for my daughter to get to sleep with me and so my son slept in his bed in the hotel rooms.  After three months of being officially separated, we decided it was time to tell the kids.  We agreed to take them to a park and tell them together.  We should have come up with a clear agreement about what we were going to say, we had not really discussed this and on the way to the park, he said he wanted to start and I agreed to let him.

I have no idea why my ex thought that his opening that he had come up with was a good idea, it confused everyone.  He started out by asking the kids if they had known that I (their mom) carried around a poisonous lizard in my purse and they did not know about it so it did not hurt them.  We all looked at him dumbfounded.  My kids were 9 and 11 and so they turned to me and asked if I carried around a poisonous lizard in my purse.  I said no, and looked at him quizzically and asked, where are you going with this?  He said, let me explain and I gave him one more chance.  He explained that if something was there and because they did not know, it had not affected them and that the poisonous lizard situation was similar to what we wanted to talk to them about.  I could not take it anymore, I jumped in and said, forget about the lizard, that is not what this is about.  I told the kids that their dad and I were not in love with each other anymore and we had decided that it was best for us to separate.  I said that we had been separated since he had started sleeping in the third bedroom and we had agreed now that it was better if we got a divorce.  My son went catatonic and fell into my lap and my daughter started crying.  It was devastating but it also felt like a relief to not have to feel like I was lying to them about our situation.  I explained that their daddy and I did not make each other happy anymore and we would be better as friends.  I explained that we would still be a family, just that our family would take a new shape.  My daughter stopped crying but neither of them said much.  My ex then explained his poisonous lizard concept was a metaphor for the fact that we had been separated for three months and they had not known and their life would not change much.  I still cannot believe that my ex, who is an intelligent person, thought that this metaphor was a good idea.  I also don’t understand why I was the one carrying around the poisonous lizard, lol, I guess because they spent most of their time with me.  With things like this, I laugh at the absurdity, I could get mad or harbor anger at him for these things but that would only end up hurting me in the 


He and I did stick to our agreement of being civil with each other, we did travel together with the kids throughout the year.  We really made the best of the opportunity we had being over there and put our differences aside as much as possible.  Yes, we annoyed each other and it was not always super fun to travel together but we did it and I am so glad that we did.   We had very different opinions about introducing the kids to his girlfriend because it was only 3 months post separation.  That was a big sticking point and the introduction was done without my permission.  I was really unhappy and mad and I expressed my frustration but after that conversation, I let it go.  I believe that you have to do that, we do not have control over what our ex’s choose to do, we can share our wishes but at the end of the day we cannot wallow over their actions.  I remind myself of the Serenity Prayer often in those hard moments.  Of course, I still worry about whether that was traumatic for my kids because it was very soon but it was done and I had to get past it.  I am sure he has a long list of things that I did that he does not agree with too.  My constant mantra to myself then and now is ‘choose your battles’ and ‘let things go’, I know that harboring anger hurts me more than him.  And the serenity prayer is my best friend!  

Soon after the kids and I came back to the US and I moved us back into our house, which was a feat in itself because the backyard barn that we had stored all our clothes and house stuff in had gotten infested with moths so it was a huge endeavor cleaning every item before I brought it back into the house.  

My ex decided that he was going to stay in the Philippines indefinitely and that he would come back to visit the kids a few times each year.  It was all very confusing, however I was so preoccupied with getting our lives back up and running in the US that I really did not pay too much attention to his plans.  I worried about my kids and whether they would have abandonment issues but there was not much I could do except be the best mom I knew how to be and support them.  I asked them periodically if they were OK, my daughter was mad at him and my son was just sad.  It took a real toll on their relationship with him but I can say now that relationships are repairable.  In this last year he has been coming back for longer visits and slowly but surely they are rebuilding and healing some of the distance that occurred during those years of less time and connection.  I am not trying to downplay any of the emotional aspects, I know there are long-term repercussions for kids from divorce but kids are also very resilient.  I believe that having a healthy co-parenting relationship is key if that is at all possible.  

After he left from a visit where we were cordial, I got served divorce papers without any notice.  I was shocked that he had not told me he had hired a lawyer considering we were on decent terms.  Then I looked up his lawyer and he looked horrible, his website was all about how he could ensure no alimony for ex’s, typical shark attorney type.  I wrote an email to my ex with screenshots from the attorney’s website asking him if we were still going to attempt to do an amicable divorce and he did not respond.  The next day I spoke with a divorce attorney that I knew from my kid’s pre-school years and I knew he was quite successful and I had interviewed one or two attorneys at this point but had really not done much research or focus on it because I had no notice that I should.  I was also broke!  I used anything I had left on my credit cards to pay half of his retainer and I had to borrow money from my brother to cover the rest.  I am so grateful for the support in every way possible that I had from my entire extended family.  

I took on the divorce as a project like it was a job and I needed to be successful.  I filled out the paperwork for him immediately, I was not going to let myself be caught off guard again.   I created a Big Red binder for myself that was everything I would need for my divorce.  I made a copy of everything I gave my attorney and put it in my binder.  

We had been married for over 17 years and in Florida, that is considered a long term marriage which means that for the most part, alimony is assumed along with child support, it is just dependent on how much and for how long.   

I did research online, and I asked friends about their divorces.  I got little bits of insight from all the most unexpected sources, some of which I took and others I discarded:   

  • I had one guy that I went on one date with tell me that most of the women that he dated who had been divorced for more than three years regretted not asking for more during their divorce and were now feeling very insecure financially and I kept that in the back of my mind.  
  • I had another friend who was telling me about his divorce tell me that he stopped paying alimony after six months because his ex had her boyfriend move in with her and that is how I found out about the cohabitation clause which I requested to be voided from our agreement.  My ex had been living with his girlfriend within three months of our separation and I did not think it was fair that I should be penalized for doing the same.   (I AirBNB my house when I go away, we had been doing that for years, long before we broke up, and that is the rationale I used to remove the clause).
  • This is one that I did NOT follow – I had one girlfriend tell me to buy gift cards at Publix to sock away money.  I did not do that just based on my ethical beliefs and I still trusted that we would come to a healthy agreement in mediation and I did not want to start playing dirty myself or lying.  But my ex and I are both honest and rational people, I do not judge others who make different decisions.  I know that every divorce and every ex is completely unique.  I am very grateful with the way mine worked out and this is just my story.  And, honestly, there was no money to buy gift cards with, I was literally considering applying for food stamps at this point as the mediation got closer, I had no money in the bank.
  • I had a Realtor give me an assessment of what she would list my house for (I feel bad but I did lead her to believe that I might sell and I never had the intention of selling, I really wanted to keep my house).  
  • I got estimates for how much it would cost to replace the roof because I knew that needed to be done ASAP.  
  • I applied to lots of jobs in the field that I had gotten my Master’s degree in but had not worked in for 11 years.  I knew that they would try to use that as an estimate for my salary potential but I knew I would get no responses to my applications because I had tried applying to similar jobs right when I came home from the Philippines and had not gotten a single response from anyone.  I knew I would be starting my career from scratch because I did not want to go back to being a Real Estate Agent which is what I had done for a few years before the Philippines.

I put all of this in my binder!!! 

I have to say that looking back, I appreciate that my lawyer very much underplayed how dirty my ex’s lawyer was acting.  They filed something saying that I could not use my health or mental health as a reason to not be able to work.  I was shocked, I had worked the entire time we were married even though I was the main child care parent as well.  Assuming I would not have to work post-divorce was not ever something that I considered.   I had gone through one very bad depression about three years earlier and I had stopped working during that six month period but once I came out of it and got back to myself, I went back to work.  The longest time that I had not worked while we were together was the year we went to the Philippines which was one of the things he offered as a benefit to get me on board with going to the Philippines for his job opportunity.  It was all just so absurd and caught me very off guard.  I called my attorney immediately and I was freaking out.  He told me to ignore it, not to worry at all, he would just respond and truly acted like I should not give it another thought.  I am so grateful that he told me that because I was able to keep my belief that we would resolve it all in mediation.  

In my mind I was not in a high conflict divorce but if my attorney had reacted to those filings with frustration or made it seem like we were not in a war, I would have really started to lose hope and freak out.  Honestly, it took me taking this Divorce Coach Certification to recognize how much my lawyers laid back style helped me stay calm.  He had a very hands off style, almost like there was no point in doing too much until we saw how mediation went.  I wish more attorneys would react like this, I think it would help keep more clients in the mindset that everything would get resolved in mediation. 

Leading up to mediation, I was really nervous but I was prepared.  I had done a lot of soul searching on long walks and runs where I had thought about how long I believed it would take me to get back on my feet to be able to fully take care of myself financially while keeping my lifestyle within the same realm that it had been.   I am not a very materialistic person, I am fine with eating at home most of the time and I don’t need name brands or a fancy car.  My biggest priority outside of living comfortably is having money to travel and I also don’t travel fancy but I like to explore the world and I know I would not be happy if I had to give that up.  

I believed that I would need about 5-7 years of career building to reach a point where I was fully self-sufficient.  And along with child support, I thought about how much money I needed to live, take care of the kids and get my career moving.  This number will obviously be very different for everyone but I had very specific numbers in my mind when I went in that day.  I also knew that I wanted to keep the house.  The fact that my ex was now living in another country definitely made a lot of my request for the house much easier to swallow.

The Mediator was agreed upon by our attorneys and a date was set, she was a Divorce Attorney herself and an amazing Mediator.  I am grateful again for having her, she was very thorough, patient and knew both attorneys and knew how to handle our particular situation perfectly.  Every Mediator runs their mediation differently and many times they choose the approach based on the lawyers involved and the amicability of the ex’s at that point.  

For our mediation, we all started out in one room, me, my ex, my lawyer, his lawyer and the Mediator.  She opened with an overview of how the day would go and that we would do the parenting plan together in one room and then split into two rooms for the second half of the mediation.  

I know that custody and a parenting plan can be some of the hardest parts of a divorce but ours was pretty cut and dry.  Due to his living location, I would have the kids 75% of the time and he would have them 25% of the time when he came back to the US.  I also agreed to bring the kids over to the Philippines for the first two summers for two weeks to help him reach his 25% time with them.  This was not something we had discussed before going into mediation but I was open to ideas and compromises to make out situation work for both of us as much as possible.  (His company paid for our flights but I did pay for my own travel costs for those two weeks.  I did my first solo traveling during those two summer visits, it was a bit lonely at times but also empowering to know that I could do it and enjoy myself).  I think my lawyer thought I was a bit crazy to agree to those summer visits but I knew that it was in the best interest of my kids to see him as much as possible and as I have said before, I love traveling so I looked at it from the glass half full perspective.  

One other thing I requested to have in our parenting agreement was that if he did not reach his 25% then he had to pay me additional child support for each day he was short.  Sadly, there was a part of me that doubted whether he would keep coming back for his 25% every year.  Obviously he did not doubt it because he agreed to that stipulation without much thought so that was easy.  

Once we completed the Parenting Plan, his lawyer, who was a complete idiot, jumped in and brought up that I need to go back to work full time in the field of Master’s degree.   I opened up my binder and showed him all of the applications I had done with no response from any of them.  It was at this point that our Mediator said it was time to go into separate rooms.  

My ex’s first offer out of the gate was such a joke, I literally laughed out loud.  The Mediator went back and forth from room to room with each counter offer.  My ex was not prepared, he had not done much research, he had relied on his lawyers guidance which was very bad advice, basically just prepping him with an offer that I would never accept and would have led us to have to go to court.  My ex told me later that after my counter to their first offer, he lawyer said we are just gonna go to court.  And that is when I stopped listening to his lawyer and started working solely with the Mediator directly.   I am extremely lucky that my ex came to his senses and realized his lawyer’s guidance was going to take him in a direction that we had agreed not to go.

Our mediation took four hours total, we probably needed one more hour to flesh out the details but his lawyer was annoyed that my ex had stopped listening to his guidance hours prior and announced he had to leave.  So we agreed to close up and finalize the little details over email which is what we did but it took another month for us to agree via email with multiple parties involved on those final little details like how we split the kids phone bills etc.  It actually got so frustrating for the two of us for the details to go back and forth between our lawyers that we asked for the settlement agreement to be sent to us in a Word document and we redlined it back and forth until we agreed that we were both comfortable.  We have tweaked a few things since then, not legally but just between us.  

For example, at mediation I proposed that we would keep a shared bank account that would be there to cover the kids medical expenses, college prepaid and school activities.   In the initial agreement, we stipulated that he would contribute 75% and I would contribute 25% but as my income started to go up after the first two years, I told him that we could change the split and each contribute 50% equally to the account.  I have found that each little bit of give and take that we do has rebuilt trust and strengthened our relationship as co-parents.  

I really like the shared bank account concept because we both have access to look at all the transactions and we can both transfer money into it quickly if it gets low.   The amount we both contribute each month has ebbed and flowed, we had to increase our contributions when both kids got braces and it always goes up around summer for camp and in the fall as school begins.  I keep track of when it gets low and I reach out to him and we agree to put in extra periodically.  It has worked out really well and there is no back and forth about owing each other money or keeping track of receipts and stuff like that.  Neither of us are great bookkeepers and I think having to nickel and dime each other regularly for small amounts of money just adds unnecessary stress and complications.  

My ex had to fly back to the Philippines the day after our mediation. I think the fact that we did not have to see each other for three months after mediation worked in our favor.  Some of the anger and resentment had dissipated by the time he came for his next visit.

On his next visit was when we finalized all the paperwork and filed it at the courthouse.  We met each other there and on our way out we gave each other a hug, it was the end of an era for both of us.  Then he took out his wedding ring and gave it back to me and it felt like my heart dropped into my stomach.  It was so unexpected and I started crying.  It was not that I wanted him back at all, it was just such a real life example that the dream of a life together was over.  Divorce recovery has lots of unexpected moments of sudden anger at your ex as you revisit random events in your head.  It also has bouts of sadness that come in from left field.  It is an emotional rollercoaster and you have to hold on for dear life but you do make it through and you are much stronger with each passing year.

During that first year post-divorce we were definitely not friends like we are today.  We got along well enough to exchange the kids back and forth and have brief chats about our respective lives but we were not ready to spend any extended time together just yet. 

It took about a year post divorce settlement for us to start having dinner together with the kids occasionally on his visits in the US.  And we had our first Christmas together with the kids seven months after the divorce was final.  His girlfriend was not here in the US but my first boyfriend had just moved to town so he joined us for the holiday and the two of them got along fine.  We have done every holiday that he is here in the US together and I know it means a lot to the kids to have us still doing these things as a family.  

So for the rest of the details, I will short blog posts because this is turning into a short book :).

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