Essentially, when you call an attorney, you can ask for a consult often. Most attorneys don’t charge and some do. Sometimes you pay for an hour of time to get an idea of what’s possible.
An attorney takes your story on the consult, takes the desired goal, and then tells you both how likely it is to achieve it and how much it might cost.
An attorney also has likely seen this situation, and worse, a bunch. They’re not therapists. They can be nice but their job would be to shepherd you through the legal system.
Part of shepherding you through the legal system is knowing common pitfalls, and helping you avoid those pitfalls.
When I have a client part of the advice I give them, initially and even on the consult, is how not to make their situation any worse. That’s the advice you need, specific to your area. (Every jurisdiction is different. You need an attorney in your jurisdiction).
Looking at what you’ve written, you absolutely need to get the advice.
Say you come into the Emergency Room with a horrible injury. The ER might be able to patch you up and get you walking again but you’ll probably need specialists later on to get back on track.
You’re in the relationship/family law ER. You need a therapist for the mental trauma and a lawyer for the legal trauma (or at least a consult). After this point you can kind of start to figure out what you need in a more specialized fashion, but you need mental and legal help STAT.
I won’t say anything about the mental help. Not my area.
There are several things you need to consider here and you need to discuss with attorney(s) before going forward. As I see it (and this is not advice) you might want to look at these things:
1.) Custody issues - if you divorce then what does custody look like? What would the judge in your area do with it normally? What should I avoid doing? (Parental alienation, being "abusive" to mom in front of kids, not being as involved at school because of depression, document how/what you do, etc.). Do you want to get your kids into therapy now? This is essentially planning what you need to do if you file, and with a one year old it might be best to wait for a bit to file for "divorce".
2.). Finances - these can be simple or super complicated. At at consult a lawyer might say "in this situation you could avoid spousal maintenance, but in this situation down the line you might not be able to". Or filing now as opposed to later might impact an asset split. There’s a lot of discretion on the asset splits and normally it is agreed to anyway. You might want to wait until your WW has her stuff together and passes her professional program because that could impact child support. Basically a consult might give you an idea about the asset split, spousal maintenance and child support and timing, and when might be best to do this.
3.). Pitfalls - Protective orders are known to some in the legal community as the "Poor Mans Divorce". Essentially, one party goads the other into doing something violent. The police get called. Or they go to the judge and file an emergency order claiming something happened and they are scared. There are REAL cases where these orders are valid and necessary. However there are other cases where someone is abusing the system. I would consult a lawyer in your jurisdiction on how to protect yourself against a false one of these and a false charge of DV in general. Her statements the other day via text are concerning because I’ve seen stuff like that in my jurisdiction come up in those cases. Please also be aware that you have your own digital life and she has hers. I’d not log into her stuff anymore. Judges in my jurisdiction hate that and it could be considered a crime that can be used as a lever (where I am). So, now that you’re kind of separated, don’t do that again either. Talk to a lawyer about this where you are.
Those are the main areas you want to cover with a lawyer.
My guess is you’ve got a couple options:
1.) Continue to be separated without legal process until you can coexist. This could impact custody and the asset split in both good and bad ways. This you need to discuss with a lawyer.
2.) Get a legal separation with a custody arrangement, but don’t file for divorce yet or wait out the divorce timeline (there is a lot of variation here). A legal separation may be good, or bad, depending on your jurisdiction.
3.) File for divorce and see what the timeline is.
In no event would I say you’re ready to be in her presence if you can avoid it. But you need to be in the presence of your kids. How you accomplish this is something you discuss with a lawyer.
Finally, please be aware of this. This situation is terrible. It’s blinding pain and you expect the world to see it and realize it.
Maybe some people will, but the court system…
Every family court in the country probably started off with lawyers and judges that were really cool and awesome people. After a year.. they see some stuff they can’t unsee. Abuse, physical, mental and sexual horrific stories are so common… they get jaded. To function in that environment you basically have to become emotionally numb. They’ll hear your story, but they probably have seen that story before and have two or three stories that they’re dealing with that day that are worse. Much worse. Kids are the innocent victims so they rightly get the focus in any situation. And that’s as it should be.
This is emotionally devastating to you, but the kids still have lives to live. They’re time doesn’t stop because of your pain. And you are in pain. You have to find a way to protect yourself while still sparing them and remaining they’re stable parent. It’s not easy, but necessary.
A lawyer may tell you to wait. A lawyer may tell you to file. A lawyer may tell you to do a legal separation. A lawyer may tell you to hold off and do X Y or Z before making a decision. Pay a lawyer for some time to get your legal bearings and how to preserve your safety. This should be your first thing you do. If you’ve talked to some and don’t get answers then ask to buy an hour or two of their time, go in or call and tell them what you’re dealing with and get advice. They’ve seen this, and worse, before. Get someone that specializes in family law. Consult multiple attorneys if you can and see which plan makes the most sense.
There are a thousand moments in any type of case where there can be tipping points. If your anger has you lashing out (understandable though it may be) then you need some cold hard reality splashed on you. That anger can be used against you in many ways. She’s lied to you for a year to get what she wants and smiled to you doing so. What else can she lie about? Serial cheaters that can do that are, for lack of a better term, scary. They can lie on a level you can’t comprehend. So you have to assume they’re capable of it again. And here, with those texts, while they’re not 100% proof of this, could very well indicate she’s planning to again. This is where the danger comes in.
So, until you get that anger under control, you need to be away from her. Here are some good phrases to use to keep you on the right headspace:
1.). "I am still just too hurt to have a productive conversation about our marriage right now. I am working with a therapist to process this extreme trauma in a healthy way."
2.) "I love the kids and I want the best for them. I am trying to figure out if I can process what’s happened to us and if we are better together for them or separate."
3.) "I can’t discuss the affair right now. We can discuss the kids and need to. Please be aware that I am so incredibly hurt by what you’ve done that it’s going to take a long time for me just to accept it, and then probably a time to determine if I can move past it. I want to try to move past it, but I also want to be honest in that I don’t know if I can. We need to focus on the kids and I need to work through this on my own timeline. Please allow me that space to do this work."
You get the idea.
Then, take that anger to the gym or hit the road running.
No booze. No drugs. No fighting.
Vent to a therapist or a trusted family member kr friend… NOT her.
Focus on work and kids.
But, before all of this… CONSULT A LAWYER.
Again. Don’t take this as legal advice. You need advice from someone that does family law in your area.