Leaving a cheater is an intimidating process. It’s not like you want to blurt out to everyone in your life, “Hey, Bob won’t quit cheating on me. Do you know a good divorce attorney?” And anyone close to you who knows, like your father, probably will not give the best advice. Mine would have preferred to steer me away from the legal system entirely and straight toward the shotgun he keeps in the front hall closet.
So how do you do it? Here is your step-by-step guide.
1. Do NOT tip your hand. This is the first rule. It’s so tempting to flounce off to a lawyer and announce it to your cheater, expecting, boy they see that I really mean it this time! And half expecting them to do some Hail Mary maneuver to win you back. Bad move. When you tell your cheater that you’re seeing a lawyer, all this does is kick them into high gear to hide the evidence, fuck you over financially, and get to the biggest pit bull attorney in town first before you do. They’re probably doing that at the VERY SAME TIME they are trying to throw you off the trail with “remorse” and “needing time” and booking trips to the marriage counselor. Hide the payment to the attorney as well, by whatever means necessary.
2. Do not think “Oh they would never…” Oh, they would never ask for full custody. Oh, they would never hide money. Oh, they would never throw me out of the house. Yes they would. Anyone who would fuck around on you and expose you to STDs and gamble with the well-being of their children is certainly capable of all sorts of things. Your cheating spouse is not your friend. These are acts of aggression and you need to protect yourself accordingly. The best approach is to treat this like you are severing a business relationship. Detach. But do not ever for one second think that this person will treat you fairly because you shared a life together.
3. Gather your evidence. Whether you live in a fault state or not, evidence is important and your lawyer will know what to do with it. Back up copies of everything, put on a flash drive, email stuff to yourself at another account — store it away safely.
4. Find a good family law attorney. Make sure they specialize in family law. martindale.com is one resource. Superlawyers.com is another good place to look, these are the top professionals in their field recommended by other attorneys. Hiring a lawyer is expensive, but you can do a lot of the work yourself, such as copying and research. Do ask them how you can help make this affordable. A good experienced lawyer will usually get you a much better settlement and will push the process along faster. Remember, your lawyer is not your therapist. Save your emotions for people who don’t bill in six minute increments.
5. Move the money. Move half of all cash and liquid assets into your own account that only you can access. Cut off all credit cards you have in common. Check your credit report to look for weird charges. Any money spent on an affair is marital money you can ask for back in a divorce. Also, run a credit report on your spouse at freecreditreport.com — you will have to answer some identifying questions (like the amount of your last car payment), but this can unearth a wealth of information, like credit cards you don’t know about or post office boxes. Usually cheaters have slush funds to hide the evidence of their cheating. If you don’t want to be an amateur sleuth, hire a forensic accountant.
6. Go No Contact. How you announce you’re divorcing is a very personal decision. You might just want your cheater served at work. Or do it in the therapist’s office. Or if your cheater is volatile, be VERY careful and just get out safely. Don’t be afraid to seek the services of a domestic abuse hotline. Whether you remain separated but living together (pure hell, don’t do this unless you absolutely must), or one of you moves out, don’t talk with your cheater unless it is about kids or finances. Preferably do ALL this communication by email so it is documented. It’s easier to be less emotional this way as well. No contact means no new hurts. Don’t get sucked back into their drama. Don’t tell them how you hurt (they don’t care, and if they act like they care, it’s to further manipulate you). Now is the time for crickets.
7. Stay strong. You’re going to get wobbly. It’s entirely human. You will doubt that you’re doing the right thing sometimes. You’ll fear for your children. Stay the course. If your cheater is sorry, they will do the hard work and be sorry regardless of what you do. If a cheater tries to derail the divorce, it’s because they don’t want the consequences for themselves. That isn’t remorse. It’s self interest. When you feel weak, it’s good to look at that evidence again and let the anger fuel you forward. Focus on yourself. What kind of person do you want to share your life with? What are your values? Divorce from a cheater is terribly painful, but it’s also birthing pains to a new beginning. The pain is finite. Push past it. There’s a good life here waiting for you.