The Silent Shame of Divorce: Stability to Struggling
According to George Mason University, Sociology and Law professor Lenore Weitzman women typically endure a 73% reduction of standard of living after divorce. Some studies indicate as much as 61% of court-ordered child support is never paid.
One of the leading causes of poverty for women is DIVORCE. We talk about domestic abuse, we openly dialogue and organize against sexual harassment of women in many forms. It's time to start talking about the impacts of divorce on women - financially and mentally. Only 17% of single-parent households are fathers raising children. The divorce rate in America is staggering- some place it over 50%.
Why aren't we talking about the millions of women and children caught in the devastating aftermath?
Pop culture glamorizes the life of privileged housewives. I starred in a Reality TV show that focused on my lavish lifestyle, and my life as the wife of a high profile surgeon. The bubble of West Los Angeles oozes affluence and extravagance from sprawling mansions and exclusive private schools to fine dining and luxury cars that easily cost more than many American's homes. But women here face the same glaring and silent issues women all over the country face when divorce happens.
Whether it's nature or learned behavior, women are nurturing. We become mothers and raise children. Frequently, careers are placed on hold, or given up altogether. No matter the particulars, a woman often become what she needs to be for her family. The number of children a woman chooses to have is based on the dual-income of her and her partner or her partner's ability to support the family alone, while she carries the bulk of the domestic duties at home. She may be part-time, she may work for her husband, the list goes on and on. Two lives are intertwined to create a family, yet it is her body that must create life and not leave the baby's side. Within the family unit, there is some semblance of balance and defined roles that help to ensure no one parent is overwhelmed or overworked, making family success more likely, personally and fiscally.
Like many women, during my marriage I worked for my husband. Not only did I give up one career when I married, I built a new career surrounding my husband's profession and our family business. I had children and did what most women do- I worked my ass off! Every day and every night. Happily. I chose, as so many women do, to put the needs of my family ahead of my own. And I did so without a second thought.
Being married to a successful Beverly Hills surgeon offered me a seemingly glamorous and privileged life. It was also routine for me to work 50 plus hours a week. I cared for six children from the moment I walked in the door. While my partner was rarely, if ever, home. I spent hours in traffic a day, volunteered at my children's schools, I reviewed emails, and returned calls and texts- sometimes late into the evening, all while breastfeeding two small children, cooking, cleaning, doing all our family administrative duties, and trying to remember everything all at once, for everyone. I literally spent years being pregnant, so many times that I was also in physical pain from the constant rigors of my life. However, it is not lost on me that I also vacationed in Europe, owed multiple cars, had a nanny to help with childcare while I worked, and rarely worried about anything but the health of my marriage and my family.
When I filed for divorce, I didn't just end my marriage- I ended my life as I had known it. I ended my career. I ended the slew of support structures that I had rarely considered over years that gave my life balance. What I gained, besides ending an emotionally abusive and soul-crushing relationship, was 100% childcare duties without resources or options, financial ruin, and the realization that I was on my own. Period.
A few weeks after I filed for divorce I woke up in a multi-million dollar home, but I had 39 cents in the bank. My accounts had been closed without my knowledge or consent. The money was all gone. All of it. I just knew a judge was the fail-safe. I knew I'd be okay and this helplessness and abuse of power couldn't and wouldn't continue. It doesn't matter if your ex is a police officer in Iowa, or a surgeon in Beverly Hills if he doesn't pay court-ordered alimony/child support the process to get help is arduous, emotionally and financially exhausting.
I watched like a spectator as my life fell apart. I didn't "save up" for divorce. I thought it was a fair fight. Up until I filed, I was holding out hope my marriage could be saved. I had nothing. My children were under constant threat of being thrown out of their private school for non-payment. I couldn't make a court-ordered check clear the bank, he moved when he wanted and only after he felt I had suffered sufficiently or had enough fear of the battle to come that I knew moving forward would be the fight of my life just to survive him. I can attest, I am battle scarred and hardened. Divorce became outright opposition to his responsibility to our family and any need I had.
I am not spoiled and therefore lazy. I am not out of touch. Child rearing and family was job #1. Supporting my husband's dreams and helping him build a multi-million business job #2. Multiple other acts of building and working together to invest sweat equity in asset acquisition and quality of life for the family we created together job #3.
So, I ask you, what is the number?
What is giving up your life, your body, and your heart worth? What number is fair as I face raising beautiful children alone? What number equals being deleted from your entire life? What number is your peace of mind worth after having 39 cents and babies that don't understand why they are changing school, and can't go to swim class anymore? What number rolls back tears not from selling diamonds and Hermes bags but from knowing even my once vast collection of designer bags and jewelry will soon run out and then how can I, David, continue to fight Goliath as he mocks court orders and drags my name for filth?
This is the silent shame of divorce. Stability collapsing into struggle. Overworked domestically, desperate to protect innocent children and without a soul in the world who thinks a former trophy wife deserves empathy. But this is an "us" problem. As I pour over my life and situation, I realized I've never heard anyone talk about this issue. This grey zone of waiting on a court to provide financial relief when a former partner refuses to even meet basic necessities of the family. With divorce statics and poverty rates being what they are, where do all the exes go? How does this "system," which most think gives women more leverage than men, enforce accountability after favorable judgment?
"Survive until settlement" is my sentiment. The courts are overloaded, judges are human, and the legalities and motions are mind-numbing.
If nothing else, I want to share that fact that one thing is for certain - divorce keeps serving up its fair share of hard lessons. Do not be shamed into silence when pushed to the brink. More women, more organizations, and more outlets should address this issue. Too many have walked into this storm unprepared, and unsupported.
So, again I ask you, what is the number that makes all of the above worth it?