An Open Letter to Ariel: You're Going to Lose the Divorce

Dear Ariel,

Many thanks for writing to me, adding to my growing knowledge of the inner lives of the “happily ever after” folk, and giving me a chance to comment on your situation. First let me say that while I appreciate your desire to “get in on this open letter thing,” and I’m happy to provide advice on your imminent divorce, I fear you may not be happy about what I’m going to say. Still, yours is a situation that will potentially be informative for others, so here goes.

As you wrote in your letter, after two decades of marriage to Prince Eric, you’ve decided you want to divorce him. However, the facts of your life together may make it difficult for you to get what you feel you deserve, in terms of division of marital assets. You say you’d like to keep half of everything, based on the fact that you gave up your fins and your livelihood as a sea princess to be a wife to Prince Eric.

Personally, I think it’s fairly obvious that you are not going to get what you’re aiming for, for a number of reasons I’ll explain now. It should be noted that, of the reasons below, alone none of them would necessarily bar you from getting something—but taken together, they present a fairly hopeless case. (Ie. These are some pretty big mistakes; readers, take note.)

Lesson 1. The prenup should be updated and/or include an elevation clause.

You have a habit of signing your life away, Ariel, and this is what it appears you did in your prenuptial agreement. After going over the copy of your prenuptial agreement that you faxed, I can see that it does not allow for you to receive half of the marital assets, as you’ve said you want, but rather allots to you a monthly stipend (roughly equal to what you currently spend on self-tanning and pedicures). In the case of infidelity, says the prenup, you get nothing.

It would have made sense for you and Prince Eric to update the prenuptial agreement at some point in the last two decades to reflect your spending and lifestyle as these increased over the course of your marriage. It also would have benefited you to have built a percentage increase in your allowance based on the number of years spent together (known as an elevation clause) into the contract. However, you did neither of these things, so in the event of divorce you’ll theoretically be back to the monthly allowance that made sense when you were sixteen.

Lesson 2. Know what’s going on with your house finances.

Ariel, you said in your letter that you don’t deal with any of the financial matters. You know next to nothing about monthly bills and outgoings, accounts held jointly with Prince Eric, or the state of joint assets. (You did mention you keep a very detailed catalogue of your “treasure trove” of secondhand forks and spoons—unfortunately I feel this will be of little value in the divorce.) While I can help you to get hold of some of the relevant information, you’ll be in a disadvantaged position.

I’m guessing it’s rather difficult to feel empowered in a clamshell bra, but as a modern human, Ariel, you should make a point of understanding your finances. As it is now, you don’t have a leg to stand on, so to speak, when it comes to arguing for more money.

For the same reason, you should be aware of what mutual assets are in your name, if any, and if not, you should start putting things in your name—cars, summer house, what have you. Then you would be able to argue for at least these things, irrespective of the prenup.

Lesson 3: Don’t cheat.

Now we’re down to the most difficult issue of all, and the one I was indeed most surprised to see you bring up in your letter, especially one you knew would get a public response: your infidelity.

The long and short of it is that, suffering from a feeling that the “seaweed is always greener” as you put it, you’ve found it difficult to save your upgraded lady parts for Prince Eric alone. In the early years of your marriage this wasn’t such an issue—you had gadgets and gizmos aplenty, you say—eventually, you wanted more.

While you haven’t yet been caught, Ariel, you’re right to be worried that somehow it will come out—and the longer it goes on, the more you raise that risk. As for how that affects the prenup, there will be very little room to argue for a cent if there is any evidence of you cheating. Not only are you not going to get the optimistic half of everything that you want, you’re not going to get anything at all.

My advice to you, Ariel is this: Stay married, or else be ready to leave with nothing.

This isn’t advice I give often, but in your case, you have committed the golden trinity of mistakes: bad prenup, no financial involvement, and infidelity. In a phrase: You lose.

I feel for you, don’t get more wrong. The Disney franchise compelled you to get married at the age of 16, as they do. This isn’t just an epidemic of Disney princesses: getting married too young is a mistake you share with thousands. So is giving up your entire life and livelihood for another person—again, a mistake made by many people who come into my offices, usually female people.

The problem with making big commitments, like marriage, at a young age is that you believe the future will take care of itself, when in fact, it often doesn’t. That’s why, in my opinion, marriages between people over 28 are at least 3 times as likely not to end in divorce: you get to a certain point where you realize planning is important.

That’s not to say you can’t divorce Prince Eric; you can still divorce him, certainly. But you are likely to leave the marriage with, at best, a stipend, and that means a change of lifestyle.

Thank you again for the opportunity to use the hard-earned lessons of your fairytale marriage – and fairytale divorce – to educate the masses.


James J. Sexton

An Open Letter to Snow White: Alimony, Custody, and Child Support for the Dwarves

Dear Snow White,

Thank you for reaching out to me.

I expect you got wind of my recent open letter to Cinderella, and that’s why you got in touch. While I was sorry to hear about your marital troubles, I’m simultaneously honored to be of service to the original Disney princess (and the star of the first ever animated feature film), and of course I’m happy to assist you.

(Also, many thanks for allowing me to do so in this public form of address. As you so aptly pointed out in your letter, perhaps indeed there’s something in it that can be of use to others in a similar situation.)

This is my understanding of the situation, Snow White: you are a cheerful, nurturing, positive woman whose extreme naivete has essentially led you down the garden path with a partner who was perhaps never set up for the domestic life you love. Beyond this, you’re in an even more precarious position because you have a family of little ones to consider, that is, the dwarves.

The dwarves are central here. It seems many have misunderstood your relationship with the dwarves, seeing you as a bit of a house-wench when in fact you have been for all intents and purposes their mother figure. You say this remained through the first years of your marriage to the man we’ll simply refer to as The Prince, that in fact early in your marriage he was not only an excellent father to the dwarves, no easy task when some of them were twice his age, he even legally adopted them as his own children.

However, as your marriage deteriorated, so apparently did The Prince’s investment in your family, and now you feel you would all be better off to return to the way things were before you awoke from that fated coma to find The Prince attached to your face. In other words, you want a divorce.

Now you need to ensure that if you get this divorce, you’ll have the resources to continue looking after the dwarves, and to do so as the primary caregiver.

Here is my advice to you, Snow White.

Lesson 1: Be certain you’re the more capable parent.

When it comes to getting custody, the primary concern of the court is going to be the best interest of the child. In short, which parent is the better parent? Your first job is to make sure that you are, in fact, the better parent.

Now, Snow White, I can see with you that this is certainly the case. Your recounting of the recent occurrence of The Prince coming home drunk after two many tankards of mead and challenging Grumpy to a duel for allegedly staining his tights, which ended in fisticuffs—well, I took your hint that this wasn’t the first time, and surely won’t be the last. This alone suggests that it’s you, rather than The Prince, who is more suited to look after the dwarves.

So too does your assertion that the care of the dwarves, in particular Dopey with his special needs, fell almost entirely to you. The truth is, YOU were the one who got up every morning and sang the dwarves awake. YOU were the one who packed their lunches for work, did their laundry, and cleaned up after them as well as after The Prince. You waited and waited for your prince to come, and when he arrived, he turned out to be less of a rescuer than he was an addition to your daily chores; you have had the equivalent of seven children (or seven husbands), a position few would envy.

Since you’ve been doing all the heavy lifting, Snow White, you need to be ready to remind the court of that, over and over.

Lesson 2: Take note of your financial sacrifices.

It’s important to understand that, by taking on the majority of the domestic duties in your home, including caring for the dwarves and The Prince, you effectively sacrificed your prime earning years, decreasing your lifetime earning capacity in a way that is unlikely to be rectified. In short, you’re never going to get those years back, and as such you will have to get on the career ladder at a lower rung, later in life, if indeed you can get back on at all.

You will never be able to make the income that you would have made, had you not married The Prince. As you yourself pointed out, when you met The Prince you were well on your way to earning an online Master’s in Counseling, and only stopped your studies at his request that you “relax and focus on domestic duties” instead. Had you continued, at this point you would likely be financially independent. But because The Prince insisted you didn’t need a profession, you gave up your earning capacity.

As such, in your divorce you ought to be compensated for your sacrifice in the form of alimony, just as The Prince’s practical contribution to the dwarves’ welfare should be accounted for in the form of child support.

Lesson 3: Do good PR.

It has to be said, Snow White, that while your innocence and grace have made many fall in love with you, unfortunately these attributes have to take a back burner in the coming months. Indeed you have to develop just a pinch of the main thing you lack, that your wicked stepmother had in spades: that is chutzpah, Snow White, in common usage, which in reality usually simply means a willingness to stand up for your own interests.

As I see it, Snow White, you haven’t been so great at doing your own PR so far. Now it’s time to buckle down and stand up for your character, and you will probably have to do this by contrasting it, in court, to the deficiencies in your partner’s character. We’ve discussed the things you should highlight that you’ve done right. What about what he’s done wrong? It will feel a bit vulgar, but trust me, don’t be Bashful.

Consider the case of Shrek. He wasn’t the best father figure, as it turned out, and the messy divorce between him and Fiona was made so mostly by what came out about his parenting: everything from his lack of basic hygiene to his tendencies to disappear for days to the infamous driving around with a baby in his lap. As a result of the unpleasant coming out of these details, however, Fiona got custody of their children and rightly so.

It’s also worth mentioning the uncomfortable historical details around how The Prince “rescued” you from your coma, when you were fourteen and he was a ripe thirty-six. Allowed in fairytale times, this isn’t going to fly as normal in the New York courts. And while we’re on the subject, it’s also to be considered that The Prince, back on that day, effectively came across what would have appeared to be an attractive corpse in the woods—that being you—and started making out with it. This raises another red flag, this one more related to his mental health and perhaps odd sexual habits.

I’ll help you be at the ready with everything you feel can and should be used, Snow White, to show who The Prince really is.

Lesson 4: Be prepared to argue for limited visitation, if you so wish.

While I think you’ll have no problem getting custody based on the above, then the terms of that custody, for example, the rights of The Prince to visit the dwarves and continue to be a part of your lives, will be the next issue to resolve.

It’s my guess that The Prince is will argue for visitation rights. While he might not care about visiting Grumpy, but he will certainly, it sounds like to me, argue for the right to see Happy, Dopey, Bashful, etc., based on what you’ve said about their mostly pleasant relationship. And he is likely to get visitation, because he is a legal guardian of the dwarves at the time of your divorce.

Visitation can range from short, supervised visits to weekend-long visits with the non-custodial parent; to keep this on a tight rein, you’ll need to be prepared to argue against The Prince’s capacity as a parent. What you want to do is keep the visitation minimal and under your control—and you can potentially allow more, when and if it suits you.

Snow White, here is the bottom line, as I see it.

In terms of custody, you’re in a great position; you’re the better parent.

In terms of alimony, you’re also in a good position. So too for child support. With The Prince’s considerable financial assets, you can hit him hard.

Maybe that makes you feel guilty, but frankly, you’ve put up with more than your fair share of hardship. Just because you took a bite of the proverbial apple when you married the The Prince, doesn’t mean you should be punished indefinitely; there must be a statute of limitations on kissing someone out of a coma, and my sense is that your debt is well paid. At this point, you shouldn’t be left without adequate and deserved financial support for yourself and the dwarves.

I’m ready to get you what you deserve, and trust me, it’s a lot.

I urge you to be ready to combine your wholesome work ethic (that has doubtless been the first inspiration for what are now literally thousands of single mothers) with a dash of your stepmother’s poison … The big lesson here, Snow White? Don’t be afraid to let your chutzpah show.


James J. Sexton