A divorce can be one of life’s most difficult hurdles. And for men who often don’t share their emotions as openly as women, surviving the process can become overwhelming without a 'road map' for navigating the legal, financial and emotional issues that arise, says E.B. Gunn, New York Times best-selling author of The Gentleman’s Guide to the Nasty Divorce.
Gunn recommends men first assemble a network of experienced professionals, including a lawyer, accountant and therapist, to help formulate legal and financial plans and offer emotional support throughout the divorce process. “Get the right lawyer, one that you can get along with, one that makes you smile and one that has expertise in the family law field.” Susan Hais of Hais, Hais, Goldberger & Coyne, agrees that a proactive plan is the key to getting through a divorce. “When you plan, it takes a lot of the fear away; and when you know what the end result is going to be, it takes away that feeling of not knowing what to do.”
During the initial consultation with a lawyer, most of the time should be dedicated to listening to the client—seeing where he is coming from, what issues there are and what advice can be provided to guide him through the divorce process, Hais says. “Men really want to take care of their families, and my job is to be as creative as I can so that the plan works.” Craig Kallen of Kallen Law Firm says it also is important for lawyers to provide their clients with realistic expectations and updates throughout the process to ensure they are not surprised by any steps along the way or the case’s final outcome.
Local lawyers and Gunn agree that many men go into a divorce in a reactive, rather than proactive, way. But, they say, prepping for damage control while bracing for the worst is the wrong approach. According to Hais and Kallen, the playing field has leveled, and men have as much of an opportunity as women to come out of a divorce with what they want—including custody of the children, ownership of the house and the support of family and friends. “Men shouldn’t assume old standards are still true,” Kallen notes. “They’re not necessarily going to ‘get taken to the cleaners.’ ” In fact, they say men are fairing better than ever in today’s divorce courts when it comes to two of the most important issues during a divorce: child custody and asset protection.
When it comes to child custody, women are no longer the automatic choice for judges, Kallen says. Societal roles have reversed in many marriages—women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners of the family, while many men are stay-at-home dads, equal working counterparts or even out of work. This opens up men’s ability to argue for custody and request child support from his soon-to-be ex-spouse. “The courts are willing to hear arguments on why men should have custody,” Kallen notes. “In a lot of cases, dads are getting significant custody of the kids—often 50/50—where it used to be he received every other weekend.” In the St. Louis area, St. Louis County judges often side with mothers, while many St. Charles County divorce courts give fathers child custody, Kallen adds. “Upon separation, it may be in the husband’s best interest to move to St. Charles County, so he can file for divorce there if he wants custody of the children.”
Gunn advises men to first try to work out a parenting schedule with their spouse. But if a dad faces a legal custody fight, Gunn says he should show how his work schedule has flexibility for child care and know how to do everything a mom can do—from managing the children’s health and schooling to offering them a supportive home environment.
Kallen emphasizes with clients that there are choppy seas during the divorce process, but it will be possible to reach the safe port with the help of a legal team, therapists and family. Hais agrees. “I still get Christmas cards, featuring photos of former clients and their families, thanking me. That’s what makes it all worth it.”