When to Consider Divorce (Part 3)

 Previously, we have discussed the benefits of a happy marriage, as well as warning signs in this article; and, the types of marriages that might be saved, and are worth fighting for, in this post following-up the first one. Today, we will discuss different types of commitments to a marriage, and which is required for a marriage to be happy and thrive (and so, for divorce to not need to be considered).

In traditional, ceremonial, marriages, the individuals to be married make vows to one another. They, typically, will publicly attest to their mutual love, devotion, and expressed intention to work towards a lifelong, supportive relationship. That commitment is usually “for better, or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”  And yet, despite those vows, many once-married people find themselves divorcing or divorced. Why is that?

Notice that the vows cited above do not express how the couple will stay together through troubling times. There is no mention of what actions they will take when warning signs (discussed in the articles linked above) present themselves. Divorce should not be considered, at least not initially, in a non-abusive relationship, where the partners are appropriately committed. So, that raises the issue: what type of commitment is “appropriate?”

According to Benjamin Karney, a professor of psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA, “’(w)hen people say, ‘I’m committed to my relationship,’ they can mean two things. One thing they can mean is, ‘I really like this relationship and want it to continue.’ However, true commitment to the marriage is more than just that.”[1]   In a new study, UCLA psychologists based their analysis of 172 married couples over the first 11 years of marriage. What they found was that couples who did more than just commit to wanting their relationship to continue; who were actually willing to examine how they might change themselves, compromise on their wishes and preferences, and prioritize the welfare of their marriage, over their individual desires, were significantly less likely to divorce, than were those couples who did not commit at that level.[2]

That makes sense when applied to other contexts. Let’s take parenting for an example. There are times when a parent prefers not to get-up with a sick child at night; prepare a healthy meal, wash clothes, arrange parties or outings for a child. They may even reside in a location where it is better for a child (such as in the attendance zone of a good school, or within an area designated by a court for the child to reside) rather than where they would ideally live (on a mountain, at a beach, in another state, or in a downtown condo, for examples) But, most parents will do those things anyway, because they prioritize the welfare and happiness of their child over their own individual wants, desires, and preferences.

It’s easy to want to have a good relationship, with a thriving, healthy child. It’s the parents’ commitment to sacrifice for the child’s welfare that is truly important to achieving those outcomes. Should spouses treat the welfare of their marriage with less commitment? If the answer to that question is “no,” then divorce should not be considered in that circumstance. If the answer is “yes,” then that spouse should consider whether s/he wishes to truly be married, or whether being single is the preference.

Healthy marriages bring much value to spouses, including a longer life expectancy, more general happiness, and life satisfaction. But like most things worthwhile, they take work, commitment, and sacrifice. But, the process of making them successful improves our own attitudes towards life, and ourselves as people and partners.

 

[1] https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/here-is-what-real-commitment-to-228064

[2] Ibid.

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Is There an Ideal Time to File for Divorce?

One of the more common questions that we receive concerns when to file for divorce (another one is “(d)oes it matter who files first). There are several factors that go into figuring the timing. For one thing, is divorce an appropriate response to your current situation? Some considerations to think about can be found here and here.

Assuming that you have fully considered your decision, as discussed in the links above, and you wish to proceed with divorce, the next consideration is whether you have taken the steps necessary to be prepared for divorce. A discussion of those steps can be found here.

Ok, now that you have given thought to whether divorce is right for you; and if you are ready for divorce; then the issue of ”when to file” arises. January is the most popular month for filing for divorce. In fact, it is commonly referred to in the industry as “Divorce Month.” February is, typically, the second most popular month for new divorce case filings.[1] But, does it truly matter in which month a new divorce case is started?

As far as the law governing the divorce case, and the manner in which the proceedings will go, the answer is “no.” Filing in either Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter, will not change your case. So, the answer as to when to file is that you should file if and when you are ready to file.

Have you made the plans discussed in the links above for how things will go during your case? Also, will the two of you continue to reside together, or will one of you move out of the home? Have you considered finances and debt payments? Is now a particularly dicey time for one or more of your children? Is it a particularly stressful time at your work? Is there a preplanned family vacation on the horizon? All of these considerations, as well as the others discussed within those other blog posts, amount to determining whether you would be happier staying together, at least for now, or beginning the process of legally dissolving your marriage.

It is not an easy decision for many folks. As for others, they emotionally checked-out of the marriage in the past, and so, it is merely a business decision for them. Wherever you are in that process of emotionally coming to grips with the loss of your marriage, our advice is for you to not make a rash decision. Think about what you want to do. Discuss it with friends, or a mental health worker. And, if you decide that divorce is right for you; and that you are ready to proceed, then make that decision. Until then, wait until you are ready (or, ideally, work to improve your marriage, and never get divorced).

Until nest time, I am the Family Lawyer who says “Divorce is a big decision. Please don’t rush into it!”

 

[1] There are a few reasons for this phenomenon. Many people do not want to start the divisive process during the  holiday season. The stress of the holiday season pushes other to realize how unhappy they actually are. And, January is often viewed as a time for new resolutions, and major life changes.

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When to Consider Divorce (Part 2)

Committed relationships, such as marriages, are bedrock institutions of our society. When these relationships are healthy, they provide us with joy, contentment, stability, connection, and opportunities for personal growth. But, unfortunately, not all such intimate relationships become, and remain, healthy for both partners. Continuing with our series, we will discuss today some additional warning signs, or bad omens, for marriages.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., Social Psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, and author of “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want,” being married is correlated with being happy: married people are more happy than unmarried people are1. And so, trouble in a marriage may manifest in the early stages as a state of uneasiness, dissatisfaction, or chronic unhappiness. This may or may not be accompanied by the feeling that there is no value in the marriage.

These feelings may result from something as benign as a gradual drifting apart of the parties, or, something more malignant, such as some form of abuse2. Or, the feelings may arise in other ways that are instrumental in a spouse’s coming to feel unvalued, unappreciated, untrusted, constantly questioned or criticized. In any of those cases, the lack of an underlying happiness and satisfaction is a signal that the marriage is in trouble.

When one or both partners begin to feel dissatisfied with the marriage, then it is important for those feelings to be addressed. If the spouses’ talking-out the causes of the unhappiness or dissatisfaction does not seem to resolve the problem(s), then enlisting the help of a professional may be beneficial. While it might feel pointless or hopeless to try to further work on the lack of meaningful connection at this point, it is worth noting that if the partners can look back and remember good times, then, according to Susan Heitler Ph.D., the marriage, or other committed relationship, can be saved and strengthened.

Importantly, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy reports that most couples who have attended marriage counseling report high levels of satisfaction with the process. While marriage counseling requires each partner to work on himself or herself (rather than just blame the other spouse, and wish for his or her change), the end result can be the satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness that flow from a happy, healthy marriage. Given as much marriage counseling is often worth doing, for those spouses who have not already given-up on their marriage.

Previously, I wrote about When to Consider Divorce (part 1), and noted that “[m]arriages are worth fighting for when they support us and our spouses…. If the spouses are committed enough to address [their] issues, then the marriage is worth fighting for.” You will find a discussion of some bad omens for a marriage in that earlier writing, so you might want to check it out.


1 It is also true that happy people tend to attract the types of partners with whom they might build a long-term, satisfying relationship

2 Abuse is not always physical; and, other forms of abuse can be just as damaging, or more so, than physical abuse is.

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When to Consider Divorce (Part 1)

All good marriages have their ups and downs. That is normal and healthy, because it shows that both partners are committed to the marriage, vulnerable, and working on their relationship with one another. In a loveless marriage, by contrast, there is not an intimate connection nor commitment to the marriage, and so, it is easy to not care enough: about your spouse, nor the relationship, to get upset; to work to make things better. Strong emotion is evidence of a connection between two people. But, when is that connection worth fighting for? That is what this series of posts, which we begin today, is about.

Within the comfort of our marriages is where we should feel the most secure, hopeful, and happy—free to be ourselves and supported by our respective spouses. So, the first thing to watch for as a sign of trouble in your marriage is a feeling that you are not able to relax and be yourself. You shouldn’t feel anxious in a healthy marriage. And, if you do, then that is an issue to explore (perhaps with a counselor) to determine whether the anxiety exists because you aren’t supported and getting what you need in the marriage; or, if it is due to something else, such as an anxiety disorder. In either case, that anxiety should be addressed, rather than ignored. Otherwise, the marriage is in trouble.

Next, it is worth noting that when spouses are unhappy, and feeling unsupported, they will often uncouple; i.e., operate as individuals sharing some things, like a house, and maybe children, but not as an intimate team. If marriage is anything, it is a team of two people sharing their lives with one another in an intimate partnership; if there is no team, then there is no marriage. So, uncoupling is not a good omen for the marriage.

Uncoupling often takes the form of infidelity—either emotional, physical, or both. When a spouse becomes secretly intimate with someone other than his or her spouse, then infidelity is occurring, and the marriage is in trouble. Besides having sex with someone other than your spouse, infidelity is occurring if: you are confiding your thoughts and feelings in someone other than your spouse, especially someone whom you are attracted to; you find yourself wanting to spend time with that other person; and, you are keeping the truth about that relationship hidden from your spouse. This is true, even if that relationship is not a sexual one.

People engaged in this kind of infidelity, by the way, will often attempt to justify it by saying “well, we’re not having sex,” and “my spouse is so jealous, that I don’t want to upset (him or her).” But, deception is destructive of a marriage, and so, is the crux of the problem with infidelity. You should question any relationship that you would not want your spouse to be fully knowledgeable about.

Marriages are worth fighting for when they support us and our spouses. If either or both of the issues discussed in this piece are present, then they must be appropriately addressed for the marriage to be supportive of the spouses. If the spouses are committed enough to address these issues, then the marriage is worth fighting for.

There is much more to discuss on this topic. I plan on addressing other related matters in subsequent posts. In the meantime, if you are considering divorce as an option, then you should know the 8 steps to take to prepare for your divorce.

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Does Shacking-Up Before Marriage Affect Your Odds of Divorce?

During the 1960’s, only 10% of American couples lived together—cohabited—prior to marriage. Today, that number is between 60% and 70%, depending on which survey one believes. For years now, we have heard that shacking-up before marriage increases the likelihood that a couple will eventually divorce. But, is that true?

Does living together before marriage really increase the odds of divorce? As it turns-out, the answer to that question is “no.” According to newly released research, performed by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the most important variable when predicting divorce is the ages of the people when they started living together—whether they were married or not. And, it also turns-out that people who live together before marrying one another tend to be younger than people who do not live together until after marriage.  The researchers came to this conclusion after studying data on thousands of married women in the U.S. from the National Survey of Family Growth from the years 1995, 2002 and 2006 to 2010.

Once the data is controlled for the “age” variable, we see that people who move-in together before marriage are no more likely to divorce than those who marry before beginning to live together. The critical age appears to be 23. People who live together (married or not) prior to that age, are the most likely to eventually divorce one another. Conversely, folks who begin living together after the age of 23 years are less likely to divorce. Whether they are married when they begin living together or not appears to have no effect on whether they eventually divorce. Their ages at the time of first moving-in together is the important factor.

The researchers hypothesize that factors such as the parties’ maturity, negotiating skills, life stability, and ability to choose suitable partners all play a role in allowing older people to maintain their relationships better. And, this makes sense, since we typically undergo substantial change in our early adult years. As we age and mature, our judgments become better as they are informed by our experiences; we relate to our partners in a more constructive way; and, our lives begin to settle down.

In another surprise finding in the research, the data suggests that living together before marriage can actually lessen the odds of divorce for women who are at a higher risk for divorce. These women are ones who:  had a premarital birth, were raised in single or stepparent families, and women who had more than the median number of sex partners. For those women, cohabiting prior to marriage seems to lessen the odds of divorce. Further research needs to be done to try to explain those results.

People may choose to cohabit, or not, for a variety of reasons. But, as this research makes clear, the decision to marry, or not, before cohabiting should not be based upon the faulty idea that a couple is more likely to divorce if they live together before marriage. Indeed, for some couples the exact opposite is true.

Additional research provides interesting information about the general types of people who are more or less likely to get divorced in America, and the reasons that they divorce. I have written previously about those things in this piece: “Who Gets Divorced in America and Why.” You are invited to check-out that information if you are interested in this topic, as well as the other information found in my various blog entries.

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Surprise, You’re Getting Divorced! Now What

Often, just when we think that we have things figured out, something unexpected occurs. And when it does, we find a way to deal with it.

That works fine when the surprise is an illness, traffic accident or job loss. In those instances, you can turn to your family and friends for support while you deal with the unanticipated event. If you are happily married then your spouse will listen to your surprise, anger, hurt and frustration. Your spouse, family and friends will typically all support you, and offer advice and encouragement as you work to manage what has happened. And with their support you might develop a plan for dealing with the unforeseen event, implement it, and make adjustments to your life plan, as it becomes necessary.

 

A New Situation

But, what if the unexpected surprise is a divorce? In that case, your spouse is “the enemy,” or at least, your adversary; therefore, they are not there to support you. When a divorce is underway, mutual friends often ally themselves with one spouse or the other; relatives align with their blood relative, over the in-law (their blood relative’s spouse). This is a different animal. Unlike those other surprises mentioned earlier, this surprise brings other changes with it. Dealing with this matter requires a different approach.

First Step

Once the initial shock and immediate reaction fades, try to regain your composure before you say or do anything in response to the surprise divorce. Many times a spouse’s initial reactions to being served with divorce papers has put the case moving in a certain direction, which is often different from the otherwise natural flow of the case.

Take, for example, the case of a wife having an extra-marital affair. She may eventually decide that she no longer wishes to remain married to her husband, and so she files for divorce and has her husband served with divorce papers. If the husband’s first reaction is to go on an angry rant—whether via text message, telephone call, or in-person—the case becomes about the husband’s anger, whether he needs counseling, whether he can be trusted to be alone with his own children, and, perhaps, whether the court should issue a Protective Order against the husband. This might show-up in his Background Check for the rest of his life. And guess what the case is not about: the wife’s adultery and betrayal. This is not what the husband wants the case to be about. So he would be wise to step back and compose himself before reacting to the case.

Second Step

Being, or becoming, organized is the first step in getting prepared for your case. And, as with so many other things in life, being prepared is 90% of the key to being successful. No matter how disorganized you might feel at this time, there are simple things that you can do to greatly increase your organization. In this article, there is a step-by-step guide to moving in this direction: “8 Steps to Take to Prepare for Divorce.”

Third Step

In all but the simplest cases, you would do well to at least consult with a skilled, experienced Family Lawyer. While there are online and offline guides to divorce available, representing yourself, and trying to spot all of the issues in a case by yourself, it is akin to trying to view architectural plans and build your own office building or home. Some can do that. Most of us would be better off allowing a professional to accomplish that feat. If you do not know of a trusted Family Lawyer, we suggest that you might want to look at these articles for guidance (“Tips for Selecting a Family Lawyer”) and (“How to Find a Divorce lawyer”).

Conclusion

Divorce is never easy. And when it comes as a surprise it can be even more startling and upsetting. Follow the pointers in this piece and you will be well on your way to successfully navigating potentially troubled waters.

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