Before you take the hard decision to go down the divorce route, you'll probably have at least some expectation of what it will be like. We all know that it will be hard and emotional - but there were some elements of it - good and bad - that I hadn't expected.
1. It's slow
Ideally, you and your ex will have agreed everything over a cup of tea and a jammy dodger. You'll have scribbled some notes on the back of a tissue, and given these to a solicitor to type up. Job done. You're both off to the pub for a celebratory drink.
Of course, most divorces aren't like that. At the beginning, I thought mine was going to be simple and swift - and it turned out to be anything but. Negotiations involved my ex (who at times was purposefully slow as well as being generally abhorrent - see later) as well as both of our solicitors. My solicitor - damn her - had other caseloads to look after as well as mine. And occasionally, she very selfishly went on holiday.
But the person who really screwed up the timings was my ex's solicitor. Not only was she on my ex husband's side (*lets out a small growl*) but she also had the lawyerly knack of tactically delaying in order to save my ex from paying maintenance to me.
This almost made me pop. I could literally feel pressure building up in my head, and was just waiting for the moment when my brain would start spurting out of my ears.
2. It's expensive
Again - you may have agreed everything. If your divorce is uncontested - whoopeee! Fly the flags, crack open the Bolly and run round in your underpants - you're quids in. The Co-op run a DIY divorce service which, at the low end, costs just £118.80 plus £410 court costs.
You might think that £530 is expensive. It isn't.
One thing that you may not have considered. If you are 'The Petitioner' - ie, the person who wants the divorce - you will pay most of the fees. I suppose it makes sense, but if, like me, you're considerably worse off financially then it's a real botty burp. The Co-op offer an 'all in' service for both Petitioner and Respondent; Petitioner will pay from £570, respondent from £360.
I paid about £3,500. Most of this was taken up with my lawyer writing letters to my ex's lawyer, putting the squeeze on him to cajole him into paying maintenance. My lawyer charged just under £200 per hour. Plus VAT. And I had to correct her typos.
It is astounding.
And all of this is without going to court. Don't. Go. To. Court. At times you may hate your ex - really, properly hate them - but if you go to court, you will both lose a shedload of money to line the pockets of solicitors. It is much better to suck it up, lose a few quid at the time, smile, compromise, even apologise if necessary. It will sting, but it is a bazillion times better than fighting fruitlessly in front of a man with a wig on.
3. It brings out the worst in your ex
When I first went to see my solicitor, he told me to ring-fence my savings. It was almost the first thing he said. Don't be silly, said I, my husband wouldn't steal from me.
Excuse me while I throw my head back and laugh scornfully at my former self.
My ex husband did everything he possibly could to hurt me. He denied maintenance. He refused to help financially in any way, even with things obviously associated with the boys (such as school trips away, or toys). He wouldn't help out with childcare during the school holidays. (He still doesn't.)
He demanded his name back.
When he did this, I knew that he was living on the edge of insanity. Lottie Lomas is a pseudonym, and my real surname is a very common British name. Bit like Smith. In fact, it could be Smith. (I'm a boring tease, aren't I?) Ok, it isn't Smith. Anyway, he demanded that I change my name.
4. Everyone is suddenly very interested in you
Now I find this, out of everything I've been through, the weirdest thing. I work, and I look after my children, and I'm trying to rebuild my love life - and all of this means that I don't go out much with big groups of friends. But when I do, everybody - EVERYBODY - wants a piece of you. People you hardly know, including the waiter, the chef, the doorman - they'll all be queuing up to hear your story. What they'll ask is, "how are the children?" but what they mean is, "how is your love life?"
I feel like printing flyers and handing them out. "Love life fine; see boyf once a fortnight - we have lots of sex although he occasionally finds it difficult to orgasm. Last weekend I was on my period. Haven't washed bedclothes yet. Bit sticky."
Some women want to leave their husbands and are looking for 'cloaked' advice. Some women want to bask in the weird excitement of having a friend who's dating. Men look at you differently. Children run away from you, screaming.
5. You man-up. You just do.
There's really no point crying about it. It's got to be done, and you're the one who's got to do it. You'll probably have to do all sorts of things on your own that you've never done before. Take some tough decisions. Work hard. Take risks.
Looking back of the enormity of what I've been through, and what every single other person goes through when they get a divorce, I think - bugger me! I'm amazed that I coped with that. Every time you accomplish something on your own, whether it be move house or change a lightbulb, your confidence increases. And eventually, you feel that you can cope with whatever crap is thrown at you. You've heard it all before, but I'm going to bore you with it again: what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.
Unless of course it cripples you.
Just don't let it.
6. It is incredibly stressful at times; at other times, you'll totally forget about it.
I've already described a time when I felt my head was about to explode into a million tiny parts of gooey matter. Thank God I wasn't monitoring my blood pressure. There are points in the process where I have lost the plot so completely that I have wanted to run amok in a small market town shouting and waving my arms around wildly, or simply lie in a darkened room for 36 hours with a wet towel, my teddy and a bottle of whiskey.
And yet, these are just pinch points. The issue is usually resolved, or subsides after a few days. And life travels on as normal. You work. You take the kids to school. You see your friends who both cheer you up and provide comfort. There are birthdays. And Christmas. And gradually, you - and your ex - find a pathway through it all.
7. I felt like I'd failed when the divorce came through
I remember in October last year, we'd just negotiated a maintenance deal. It had involved face-to-face meetings, abusive emails and texts and LOTS of money spent with the solicitor. But it had been signed by both parties and money had finally started landing in my account. I was relieved, but exhausted.
Come December, my solicitor mailed me to ask if I'd got the divorce certificate through. After much searching through piles of paper, I found it. As it turned out, I'd had it for weeks - it had got buried under the mountains of post that a divorce generates. And when I opened it, I felt profoundly sad. I didn't feel joyful or even relieved; I just looked at the slip of paper and thought: so this is what it has come to.
I felt like I'd failed.
8. My kids coped well
When people started hearing that we were getting divorce, they always asked how the children were coping. One woman said, "But have you thought about the children?" I nearly lamped her. Of course I had thought about the children. I thought of nothing but. They had sellotaped our marriage together for the last five years. But it had come to the point where they were living in a very unhappy household, and I took the decision that they would be happier if they had separate, but content, parents.
I had no idea at the time whether I was right or not. Initially, my eldest (then 11) was more fragile than usual and particularly sensitive at school. My youngest, more laid back and robust, hardly even noticed that anything had changed. It helps that they are not the only children - by a long chalk - in their classes who have divorced parents. They do not feel 'different' and there has been no unkindness amongst their peer groups; in fact, quite the reverse. It was also good for them that I didn't have to move out of the family home for six months, so they could get used to the idea of separated parents before having to move house themselves.
I have been as honest as I can with them throughout the whole process. I have made it clear that I love them without reservation. We have become a close-knit unit of three; my eldest helps me with practical things (fixing the lawnmower, setting up anything tech-related) and my youngest is the entertainer, while I take on the role of part Mum, part Dad. Or MuD, as I call it.
Of course, it would have been better for them to have grown up in a secure and loving two-parent family. But as that isn't available (and wasn't even when my ex and I were together), then this is the next best thing. And I believe that they will have developed life skills from this difficult time that they may not otherwise have had.
So the next time someone tells you that you are ruining a child's life by splitting up from your spouse, tell them my story or, even better, tweak their nipples and run away laughing. Quickly.
9. How my family reacted
Some context: I come from a 'broken home'. My mum left my dad when she was the same age as me. I suspect that we had made the same choices, same mistakes, and have similar needs - so perhaps she saw it coming before I'd even thought about it. My mum was very supportive, as I knew she would be. She's never been very hands on, but offered financial help and lots of verbal encouragement.
I wasn't sure how my Dad would react. In the event, he has been wonderful. Tear-jerkingly wonderful. At around the same time that I left, my Dad's partner was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, so his whole world was turned upside down in an instant. He has coped with everything that MND has thrown at them, as well as offering me the world. I realised that, to him, I will always be his little girl and he wants to protect and support me; despite the fact that I am 43.
I realise that I am extremely lucky and privileged to have parents like these. They have shown me that you never retire from being a parent, and your love for your children continues - like you are bound to them - until you die.
My brother, on the other hand, has been as useful as a holey bucket. When I was struggling, he barely phoned me. I suspect he thinks that I have done a 'bad thing', that I haven't stuck it out, that I didn't try hard enough. He has not taken the time to find out anything about the situation, and all of this makes me sad.
10. It brings life into focus.
Important life events always make you consider your position in life, I think. Making that decision to leave was the first step in a huge life change to live a life less ordinary. To step out of the middle class enclave and into something unknown and slightly scary. To challenge myself, live with little money but more fresh air.
To boldly go where no o....oh alright, millions of people actually, have gone before.
But my point is, that when you see that the bag you wanted is now sold out - it's not important. That the guy who pulled out in front of you, making you brake, is not important. Even dropping your phone down the toilet - it doesn't really matter. For me, what does matter in life is family, safety, love, laughter.
Oh, and eating cake.
Um - and also coffee.
But that's it.
Thanks to www.divorcedmoms.com for the inspiration for this piece.