Family law attorney Rachel L. Virk is the author of The Four Ways of Divorce. She has been a practicing family law litigator since 1990, a certified mediator since 2001, and a trained collaborative law practitioner since 2005.
Your life is moving along, and WHAM. Out of the blue, your marriage is in trouble. Or perhaps even though you knew it was coming for quite some time, things have finally gotten to “that point.” You are heading for a divorce.
You may need to journey down the warpath to stand up for what you must.
Or, if you and your X2B don’t hate each other just because you are getting a divorce, you may work together to custom design your new, separate lives, or your new two-home family.
Whichever path you take, whether you work it out or fight it out, be sure to get informed as to the options available to you, so you can confidently take control of your future, and control of the legal costs, before divorce spins your life out of control.
If you are the one who wants out, be fair. Be honest. Come clean. Accept the consequences of your decision – all of the consequences. Stop trying to have one foot in each of two doors – either stay put or walk through the other door. Deal with it. If you keep turning your back on reality, eventually it will kick you in the butt.
Perhaps you want out, but only if everything can work out for you. You may want to know the light is still on for you at home with your spouse if you lose your job, or if the new love interest doesn’t marry you after all. If you have a financially comfortable married life, and are afraid you won’t have a fallback if you are divorced and then lose your job, welcome to the real world. There are no guarantees in life. Again, it isn’t fair to everyone to make them put their lives on hold, and to be hurt by you, while you see if you can make a go of it on your own. Either stay or leave.
If you are the one who is being left, you will probably journey through the stages of denial, bargaining, grief/shock/fear/confusion/turmoil, and anger, until finally reaching acceptance. You will then need to get informed, make a plan, get your thoughts sorted out, implement your plan and get your life back.
If you are in a relationship that brings you more pain than joy, start reading about co-dependency. Love is not real love if it is given “only if . . .” Real love is given even so and no matter what. If it’s not real, leave before you have shut down so much of yourself that you no longer have any ability to feel.
If your spouse is abusing you and you have children, explore the very real options for help that shelters and other groups can provide, so that you will stop teaching your children that abuse is acceptable. If you will not get out of a physically abusive relationship, thinking that you are staying together “for the good of the children,” stop deluding yourself. You are teaching your children all the wrong things, and they will most likely follow in both of their parents’ footsteps.
Your divorce will cost money to obtain. Spend some of that money on a mental health professional to help your children deal with the situation you and your spouse have created for them. They did not choose to be a part of a two-home family, and are the most important assets of your marriage. Help them to become assets to society, and not victims of your divorce. And don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.
If your spouse is telling you things like “I just need some space, no it’s not you, no there’s no one else, I just need space,” chances are there quite possibly is someone else. Either an extra-marital relationship has already started, or your spouse wants it to start, or it’s a fantasy relationship in your spouse’s head. Either way, the relationship is not with living breathing you, but is perhaps with someone else, real or imagined. Your spouse may just be breaking it to you slowly.
But do you really want your “day in court” to announce for the public record that your spouse found someone he or she would rather sleep with than you? The lawyers can and will embellish upon, and will bring out all the “justifications” on each side, for the deterioration of your marriage, as they conduct an analysis of your and your spouse’s respective degrees of fault. Do you really want to go there, and listen in court to your spouse describe all of your faults and inadequacies to the judge in detail, and listen as he or she tells the judge all about how much more attentive than you his or her new love is?
Once you have become informed, made a plan, and sorted out the mental and emotional turmoil in your mind, you need to get started. Work with the professionals you have selected to implement that plan. Stick to it. Don’t waiver. Reach out for support to stay strong, so you don’t get discouraged and give up. Form an image in your mind of what is important to you, and focus on that image until you achieve your goal. You can’t get there unless you know where you’re going.
What about the children?
Do two-home children have more problems than one-home children, or fewer? Do the rules have to be the same in each home? Just how vital or unimportant is it for the children to have “stability,” and a “home base?” How much stability is enough? How much “disruption” is too much? Does the school guidance counselor, or your place of worship, offer group or separate discussion sessions for children struggling with their parents’ divorces?
How much law do I need to know?
You may not like hearing that if your husband of thirty years, who is at the height of his earning potential, has left you for another woman, or for another man, the judge may consider that betrayal to be absolutely irrelevant to your requests for spousal support, and for the division of property, under state law. You may spend a whole lot of money on private investigator fees and on attorney’s fees, simply to obtain a piece of paper legally stating for the public record that your husband found someone he would rather sleep with than you.
You may also not want to hear that if your spouse walks out on you, a good and dutiful spouse, for no just cause or excuse, he or she is still likely to get half of everything, and that to pursue a desertion divorce, you may simply spend a lot of money to buy a piece of paper legally announcing for the public record that your spouse got tired of you before you got tired of him or her.
On the other hand, even though you know your spouse is entitled to half of your thirty year pension, you don’t have to just hand it to him or her on a silver platter, with a decorative little garnish, if you know he or she isn’t likely to spend the money to go to court and get it. But should you anyway? Maybe it’s the right thing to do. Maybe it’s also the right thing to do to help pay for college for your children, even though the judge may not be able to make you.
While it is important to know the law, it may also be important to consider why the marriage broke up, the fact that you may have brought children into the world, and the reasons for the destruction of and/or reorganization of your family. It is also important to consider principles of honor, integrity, dignity, fairness, and compassion. Stop deluding yourself. Actually listen to what your spouse is saying. There may be some real validity to his or her feelings. Even if you don’t believe the feelings are justified, you can’t deny that your spouse actually does have those feelings. Push aside the anger and desire for revenge, push aside thoughts of vindictiveness, and push aside selfishness and pettiness. Consider your spouse’s and children’s perspectives.
Try saying some of the following out loud:
- If it really means that much to her, she can have it.
- I know my children like his new girlfriend, and she will be their stepmother. I will be happy my daughter has a step-mom at her father’s house to do her hair.
- I know the baby is innocent in all this, and will be a half-brother to our children. I will welcome him into the family.
- I know our child is better off with him, so I won’t contest custody.
- I know she and the kids will be better off if they move away, and in with her parents for a few years, while she finishes her degree.
- She’s happier with him, and I wish her well.
- He worked for it and put his life on the line, so I won’t ask for any of the pension.
- Our son will probably want to live with him in a few years. I’ll let him.
- We’ve agreed to name each other as trustee in our estate plans, because we trust each other, and each of us knows the kids better than anyone else.
- We’ll work out those issues regarding the kids the same way we did before the separation.
- If she needs to move down there where the cost of living isn’t so high, I’ll look for a place down there too, so I can stay involved in my children’s lives.
- She’ll never be their mom. You are.
- I’ve told the children to be nice to her, and to listen to her.
- Her fiancé can pick the children up from daycare on his way back from work, since he gets off earliest.
- I want to do what’s right.
- I’m sorry.
The “issues” are real. The pain is real. So is the opportunity to be the best person you can, and to be the best parent you can. Say the above out loud until you no longer choke on the words. Then try saying them to your attorney or to your spouse.
Perhaps after the denial, bargaining, grief, anger, and acceptance stages described above, may come the final stages of forgiveness and closure. For those unfortunate souls who still prefer the final stage to be revenge, at least consider that it has been said that “living well is the best revenge.”
Would you act any differently if you felt your mother were watching you? Or some other person you greatly admire? What if God were actually sitting right next to you in the courtroom, seeing you testify and make your requests to the judge? If you are mediating, pull up an empty chair. If your child were sitting there watching the process, what would you be asking for, or fighting for? Are you bad-mouthing your spouse to your children? Using your children as messengers or as spies? Telling them about all the court and legal proceedings? Putting your wishes before their needs?
Then, do what you feel is right. Do what you can live with for the rest of your life. Do what you can be happy with when you look at yourself in the mirror every day. Do what you wouldn’t mind seeing on your headstone, or in print for the public, about your actions. Do what you feel is the right thing to have done through the eyes of your children.
When you look right into their eyes and see how you and your actions are reflected, are you pleased with yourself? You can be a wonderful and memorable example for your children, to others, and to yourself, if you act smartly, firmly, and graciously in the midst of the turmoil.
Understand that although your marriage is ending, you have every right to hold on to the memories of the good times and of the good years. They were good, and nothing can take that away. It is not that parts of you are being torn away or destroyed, but rather the divorce experience, and the self-knowledge you gain, will help to define and develop the whole person you are becoming.
Life is a journey and divorce is a pothole. Divorce should be an event in your life, but should not define who you are. Your divorce will provide you with an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. Take that opportunity to become a better person.
Your true colors will come out in adversity. So will your spouse’s. And how you each deal with the other will show you to be either selfish, petty, small hearted, mean-spirited, and cruel, or as respectful, dignified, compassionate, caring, and firm.
If you and your family opt for the latter, you’ll all be a lot happier. You owe it to yourself, and to the children you chose to bring into the world.
Family law attorney Rachel L. Virk’s book The Four Ways of Divorce reveals what had previously been known only to the divorce lawyers in control of the process. The back of the book contains a chart for the easy comparison of the litigation, negotiation, collaboration and mediation processes, along with many helpful financial worksheets. Readers will also find an explanation of the Informative Mediation Process, and an extremely useful General List of Topics to be Resolved.