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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Some Common Causes of Divorce (Part 1)

In my practice of law since 1989, my firm has handled many divorce cases, and have spoken with various mental health experts. Between our experience, as a law firm handling divorce cases, as well as what we have discovered from our study of the subject with relationship experts, we have learned some common causes of divorce. Based on those experiences, we offer the following observations.

Once upon a time, divorce was rare and frowned-upon by American society. During the Twentieth Century, however, several societal changes occurred, which caused the divorce rate to spike. It became one of the highest in the world.[i] Among these changes were women’s ability to support themselves financially; an increased mobility of society, where the members of extended families lived apart from one another; and, the dawning of the Sexual Revolution, which led to  a change of view about  previously-married people (especially women).

One of the most important factors, though, was the shift in view of marriage from being a lifetime family obligation that one takes, to being a source of personal fulfillment and joy. With this shift in view, a marriage which did not bring such pleasant emotions became considered as not worthy of protecting and extending.[ii]Various stress factors can lead to that lack of fulfillment and lack of joy. We will begin exploring two (2) of those today. Later posts will discuss this topic further.

Research into the area by multiple studies shows, unsurprisingly, that frequent conflict leads to a breakdown in the marital relationship. Each argument, or harsh word uttered, pushes the parties apart, eventually leading to a devaluing of one’s partner, and the marriage itself, unless appropriate intimacy-building measures are taken. There are resources for doing this available on the web. But, when there is already negative energy within a marriage relationship, working with a good therapist or counselor can be invaluable.[iii]

Another common cause of divorce is a lack of commitment; or often more appropriately, a lack of sufficient commitment, of the right type, from each spouse. Let me explain. There are some marriages in which both spouses are committed to the marriage, but each to a different degree (“Asymmetrical Commitment.”).  This is unhealthy, and can cause deterioration of the marriage, as one spouse begins to feel devalued by the other.

In addition to needing a similarly strong commitment to the marriage, the right type of commitment is also important. A commitment to the marriage for moral reasons, such as for religious reasons; but, without a personal commitment to the marriage, is unlikely to result in a healthy relationship. The same is true when there is a structural commitment to stay in the marriage “for the kids,’ or for financial reasons. A personal commitment to stay in the marriage, because it is the most important thing in your life, however, is the type of commitment that leads to healthy, happy marriages. Spouses having this type of commitment stay in their marriage, because they want to do so; not because they feel like they should do so, or must do so.

Today, we have begun our study of the common causes of divorce. I hope that this has been helpful. More will follow, so please follow this site for updates. Until next time, I am the lawyer who says “I hope that you never have need to use our divorce services.”



[i] Wu Z. Schimmele C. M. 2007 Uncoupling in late life Generations 31 41–46

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] It is important that each spouse bring to the counseling, a commitment to working on oneself to improve the relationship. Merely showing-up to complain about the other spouse is very unlikely to be successful. Even if one spouse is primarily responsible for the breakdown of the marriage, each partner can improve as a spouse; even if that means simply not enabling the other spouse.

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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”).


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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