My mother once asked me, “Thomas, do you know why divorces are so expensive?” I said, “no.” “Because they’re worth it!” she replied.
I was 4 years old when she got her first divorce and 20 when she got her second. I can say with confidence that mom’s divorces have not been worth it, at least not for me.
And it wasn’t for her, either. My stepfather, who I call “dad” and who did most of the heavy lifting to raise me, is remarried, but my mother often speaks of him. Sometimes she angrily berates his selfishness and rails against her continued financial dependence. After 30 years she still blames her lawyer and the divorce settlement for that. On balance my mother’s divorces didn’t solve the problems that she believed they would solve, and each divorce left a trail of ugly debris in its wake.
THE DIVORCE TRAP:
Have you ever felt that your spouse has simply killed all the love in your heart for him/her? Perhaps you feel unmotivated to give for the family any more, because all you get from him/her is criticism. Maybe he’s indecisive and you have to make all the important decisions. Or he spends the whole day with his nose stuck in his iPhone. Maybe she is spending you into oblivion, and whenever you try to talk about it she denies it and becomes defensive.
You may find refreshing that the young lady at the water cooler thinks you’re cute, and that she actually respects what you do. When you’re unhappy, life can seem unbearable and bleak. You may have already come to the conclusion that divorce is the answer to your family problems, or that the change will result in your personal happiness.
But I’ve seen over and over that divorce rarely solves any problems, and it creates some new ones along the way. When you divorce, here are some things you can look forward to:
- A divorce with children can result in hotly-contested litigation, even though California is a “no-fault” state. It is difficult to get through a whole case for less than $10,000, and a $20,000 attorney bill is not uncommon—for each party. Then, there are experts, evaluators, appraisers and the like. There are filing fees with the court that run about $450 per party.
- Every time you confront your spouse on an issue, you each get to write declarations saying the worst things about each other. Get ready to be extremely upset in the days leading up to the hearing, and then for about 72 hours afterward.
- You will have to divide retirements, your home, and other property acquired during the marriage equally.
- In the end, you will have an award of spousal support (also commonly known as spousal maintenance or alimony) and child support. Your family doesn’t go away; its members continue to need financial support. And, you are about to lose the financial benefit of living together, and will need two homes, and often two sets of everything the kids need.
- Divorce hurts children, plain and simple. You can look forward to shuttling the kids back and forth between homes. They do get used to it, but often the relationship between the kids and one parent will go south. And, if you can’t show respect to the other parent, your kids learn that they need not respect their future mates. The legacy you leave will likely be one of disrespect for authority, or women, or men, or all of the above.
- Most divorced people I know will tell you that the divorce didn’t solve the problem. They continue to have conflict over the kids or ongoing support obligations, and they have lost the support of that partner. Divorce leaves all of the negatives of the relationship without any of the positive.
In divorce mediation, I get an inside view of the end of marriage, and it’s not pretty. Usually, each party blames the other, seeing in them the root cause of the breakup. The body language is pointed fingers and rolled eyes.
But I see something else, almost every time: tears of regret at the thought of breakup. And, during the interaction I can almost always see what it was that made them “work” as a couple. I can see how their personalities complement each other, or how they have complementary strengths and weaknesses.
Most of the “mental health” approaches treat marital problems as illnesses to be cured. What I find is that I can often make much headway with a couple using standard mediation techniques. Often times she doesn’t understand how that gesture of pointing her index finger in his direction while talking puts him on the defensive. Or, he has never really understood that, despite his efforts, the relationship has not met her need for emotional intimacy or protection.
As a divorce mediator, it is my duty to direct the conversation back to business. But I can’t help thinking that these folks don’t know that their problems are solvable. And, I know for sure that divorce is not the solution.
You may question what good advice a divorce mediator and litigator can provide to help with marriage. Mine and Tammy’s personal journeys have led from divorce, through all the struggles of the parenting plan and financial problems of divorce, to a happy remarriage. And, we have had numerous couples come through our offices in need of help communicating, not help divorcing.
I’d like to take the next few weekly blogs to discuss some things you can do to save your marriage before you decide to end it. Stay tuned for next Tuesday’s blog post, which will discuss what every person is looking for from their life partners. Until then,
Love your family,
Protect your finances, and
Reach for your future!