There is an old saying about rushing into marriage: “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” In essence, if you rush into a marriage, you’ll have plenty of time afterward to regret it. There’s no analogous saying about getting a divorce, but there probably should be. Divorce is a life changing event—not just for you, but for your spouse and children (if you have them). In fact, rushing into a divorce may be even worse than entering into a marriage too quickly, because more lives may be changed by the divorce.
Clearly, if you are reading this blog post, you are divorced, in the midst of a divorce, or considering a divorce. As experienced divorce lawyers, we understand that getting a divorce might very well be the right option for you and your family. But, even if that point of view is accurate, the decision to divorce must stand up to some scrutiny—and that scrutiny is exactly what this article is designed to help you accomplish.
Ultimately, you will feel better about your decision whether to divorce if you are certain that you are making it for the right reasons, and you are prepared for what is involved. Consequently, if it turns out that your own questioning leads you not to end your marriage, you may have some clarity about what steps you should take instead. If you are considering ending your marriage, consider, and answer, the following questions:
This is a foundational question, and it is important because the answer will direct your next steps. People divorce for all kinds of reasons: divergent life goals, boredom, abuse, sexual incompatibility, financial disparity, mismatched values, or because one spouse committed an act of abuse or adultery. When you understand what problem you are trying to resolve, then you can begin to identify possible solution options, of which divorce may be only one.
Another way to ask this question is, “Is there a way to fix this problem short of divorce?” In some situations, such as domestic violence, the answer may be an unequivocal “no.” In others, marital counseling can help get spouses moving in the same direction again. Many divorces occur because spouses are in pain and they just want to stop hurting; if they could identify a way to end the pain without ending the marriage, they might reconsider divorce.
Most people reflexively answer “of course” to this question, but the real answer is usually more complex. You may think you have told your spouse what is wrong, but your spouse may not have processed what you said, either a) because they didn’t hear you; or b) because you might not have given your message clearly. If you communicated angrily, your husband or wife may have been too busy raising defenses to actually hear the truth of your words. Or, again consider if you communicated in anger; maybe you only conveyed the tenor of your emotion rather than the substance of a message. Spending time in a therapist’s office can help you clarify the problems in your marriage, determine whether they can be solved short of divorce, and decide if you want to put in the necessary work to do so.
The breakdown of a marriage is almost never exclusively one spouse’s fault. Even if your spouse’s actions are primarily to blame for the issues in your marriage, how you respond may escalate or de-escalate the situation. (This should not be interpreted to mean that survivors of domestic violence are in any way to blame for the abuse they endure.) The salient point is, it takes two to tango; it is important to consider how your own actions might have contributed to the unhappy dance you and your spouse are in. You should explore this issue in marital or individual counseling.
Unmet expectations are a major source of unhappiness in a marriage. If you and your spouse don’t have shared expectations about what a good marriage looks like, about your roles in the relationship and the family, about how to manage finances, and so on, at least one of you will be frustrated. The longer your expectations go unmet, the more resentful and dissatisfied you are likely to be in the marriage. Again, marriage counseling may help you understand each other and perhaps realign your expectations to be in sync. If that’s not possible, getting a divorce may be the correct option.
This comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis. Right now, in an unhappy marriage, you’re thinking about what you have to give up to remain in the marriage. Yet, it is also critical to think about what you would have to give up in order to leave the marriage. Financial security? Marital residence? Social status? Companionship? Daily access to your children? There is no single answer to this ever-evolving question; instead, you must consider what is right for you under your circumstances. No one else can decide this for you, but individual counseling may help you sort out your own answer. Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence; sometimes it’s not.
Sometimes, rather than pain driving people to seek divorce prematurely, fear of the future after divorce keeps people in a marriage long after they should have left. Are you worried you’ll be alone forever? Fearful that you won’t be able to manage financially? Concerned that your family and friends will think poorly of you? Frightened that you will not have regular access to your children? Understanding what is motivating you to stay is as important as understanding what is spurring you to leave.
Many people conclude that money is not a good enough reason to remain in an otherwise dysfunctional marriage. But it is important for everyone who considers getting a divorce to consider the impact that divorce will have on their personal finances. That means not just worrying about the financial toll divorce will take, but getting accurate data to help you make informed decisions. Talking to an experienced divorce attorney about the costs of divorce, and to a good financial adviser about how much money you will need to build a future after divorce are the places to start. Remember, knowledge is power.
If you and your spouse are truly unhappy together, and there is much conflict in the home, getting a divorce might be better for your children rather than forcing them to live in a household that is perpetually in conflict. But irrespective of that conflict, you will still need to co-parent with your soon-to-be ex, and it is important that you plan how to do that in a way that minimizes the stress and harm to your children. Minor children are completely dependent on their parents, and they will likely feel utterly powerless regarding your decision to divorce. So, remember that it is up to you and your spouse to provide a road to stability and safety for them.
The phrase “successful divorce” may seem like an oxymoron. But a successful divorce is one that helps you achieve the outcome you desire, with as little stress and unnecessary expense as is possible. You can’t make the decisions that will lead to a successful divorce unless you know what that looks like for you. Understanding your divorce process options is critically important.
At some point, you are going to have questions about getting a divorce that can only be answered by knowledgeable divorce attorneys. When that time comes, we invite you to contact Strickler, Platnick and Hatfield to schedule a consultation about divorce in Maryland or the District of Columbia.