Have you heard of pregnancy brain? When your brain’s so foggy you can’t seem to remember even the simplest things? For me, pregnancy meant not only being forgetful, but clumsy. I walked into cabinets regularly, and backed my car into the same pole in my office parking garage twice.
While I never lost the clumsy part, I did find help for the forgetful part by writing everything down. I mean everything. I wrote “lunch” and “shower” on my daily to do list, for fear they wouldn’t happen otherwise.
You may be experiencing similar forgetfulness during divorce, although for different reasons (anxiety/depression vs. hormones).
From losing your keys to having trouble remembering something you knew yesterday, the effect divorce has on your memory is real (even if temporary).
Ironically, divorce is often a time that your recollection of events matters the most. And details matter. Details suggest that you know what you’re talking about. In fact, communication experts have cited “specificity” (i.e. details) as one of the factors that makes your words more credible. “He missed the last 4 parent-teacher conferences” is more credible than “he never shows up!”
Details can literally be the difference between someone - the mediator, the judge - accepting your version of events or not.
And because details matter so much, if you have a lawyer, he/she should be asking you for them. They tell your story. They paint your picture. Substitute whatever catch phrase you like here - you get the gist.
Now that you know your memory may be foggy right now, and details really matter, what can you do? The answer is simple, though it’s not easy: you’ve got to write them down! Simple, because you’re just writing down things that already happened. Not easy, because it will require discipline - and drudging up things you might rather forget.
When we say “write it down,” we’re talking about 2 things. In this article, we’re covering the first, which is writing down the important details of your marriage. And in the next, we’ll talk about keeping an ongoing log of important events.
If you’re going through divorce, the first thing you should write down is a history of your marriage.
Why it’s important: Writing down the key events of your marriage is important if you’re going to want to share any of those facts with anyone. It helps your lawyer gain a ton of information without spending hours talking to you (read: lower legal bill!) It also lets you get these details out of your brain and onto paper. Which means you can be somewhat freed of the need to keep remembering them.
What you should write down: Think of this as a highlight reel of your marriage. Though unlike the highlight reels splashed all over social media, this one shouldn’t be spun towards only the best parts. Or the worst. Write down the most important details, negative or positive.
What you write will be specific to your marriage. Here are some of the big categories. The details will be up to you.
1. Pre-Marriage: This is an overview from the time you began dating until you married. Write down facts like where you met, what you were doing (in college, working, etc.), how much each of you were earning. Write down anything that stands out. Like how you both wanted 5 children or that you quit school to move to New York with him.
2. Careers: Include where you each went to school, degrees, and a history of your jobs. Include the names of your employers, job titles, and income information. And if there’s anything unusual, like how he never seemed to get along with bosses, or how he was always a superstar at the office, write that down.
3. Moves. Make a list of all cities you’ve lived in during the marriage and the reason you moved (e.g. your promotion, aging parents), and addresses where you lived. (The first may show your contributions, the latter can be important if you or your lawyer want to pull up the real estate deeds).
4. Children: Write down any significant events of your pregnancy (like how your parents paid for in vitro twice), and the names, ages, and gender of your kids. Include where they go to school and any special needs.
5. Parenting: Include who primarily handled both the daily events (meal prep, carpool, homework, bedtime routine, etc.) and non-daily ones (attending PT conferences, playdates, soccer games, etc.). Write down how your children’s relationship is with each of you. If you have parenting concerns, put them down here. A lot of parenting happens inside your home where no one sees it, so it’s important to write those details down.
6. Finances. Write down how your finances were handled, and key things you know about income, inheritance, gifts, assets and debts. How general or detailed you are will depend on your own knowledge. Make sure to include anything that concerns you, like seeing an envelope in the mail from a bank you don’t recognize, or that your spouse hasn’t filed tax returns in 3 years.
7. Conflicts. Think back to your major disputes - whatever they were about. You don’t have to write down every single thing. Think high level. But maybe if an issue was really an important one, you want to write more about it, like what the dispute was over and each of your positions.
8. Health. If either of your health is or has been an issue, this is the place to write it down. Include ages, major illnesses, injuries, and any limitations on either of your ability to work.
9. Divorce Causes. This one might be the hardest to do, but it’s important. While you don’t need to record every argument, you should put down significant issues like abuse, name-calling, infidelity, and the major things that caused you to separate.
10. People. Who knows you best? Who can speak to your parenting, your career, your children’s needs? Write down the names and numbers of both “lay people” (your friends, family, neighbors, etc.) and professionals (doctors, marriage counselors, special ed teachers, etc.). Include a short summary of what information each knows (e.g. “Deborah has knowledge of my involvement as a parent and being classroom mom”). Shoot for a few people in each category, but make sure they’re ones who actually have knowledge. It’s better to list only a handful of people who have information that matters than 30 people who don’t.
If your divorce is amicable, you may not have to refer to all of this. But this information can also be valuable to helping you reach a settlement. And if your divorce is lengthy, you might find yourself pulling this information out along the way.
It’s so much easier to write it down now, while your memory is still somewhat intact. Before the stress of separating households, negotiating custody, and all the other things kick in.
One last note: once you’ve taken the time to write all this down, you want to keep it safe! If it’s electronic, make sure to password protect your document, and if it’s in written form, lock it up somewhere no one has access.
Getting these facts out of your head and onto paper can make a huge difference in the outcome of your divorce. If it helps you get it done, set a timer. You might be surprised how much progress you make if you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for just 2 hours. So please - write it down!