Saturday, March 23, 2013

The D Word -- Should I File for Divorce?

At the end of most interviews, the overwhelmed soul seated across the desk gazes back through dazed lids and asks "what d'you think I should do?"  The answer's rarely straightforward.  If there's abuse or addiction it's easier to advise that someone to proceed.  In most cases it's not.

From a purely business standpoint the decision to dissolve is hardly the best choice.  Supporting two households with the same budget just doesn't add up.  Dividing an already strained estate causes a sodden ship to sink lower.

Yet the one who's sought my advice on a life changing decision is usually caught up in the throes of grief, betrayal, confusion, or infatuation with another.

Thus the D word.  Divorce.  The decision is purely personal, No one can decide but the one whose life's about to change drastically. 

One lawyer begins by asking clients "If you take the children out of the equation, would you still be with this person?" That's a good place to start, but children cannot be easily taken out of the equation, because your life and, more importantly, their lives, are about to be altered forever.

There's no formula for an emotional decision.  It's surgery with a butter knife.

What causes a marriage to break down only complicates the process of breaking up.  The traits that set your teeth on edge are only exacerbated when a spouse has no further interest in containing them.  He'll now always wear his sunglasses indoors at night.  She'll leave the garage door open on purpose.

The purpose of this article is not to encourage nor discourage folks from the process.  No one goes through the agony of divorce without some hope that there's a better life waiting on the other side--eventually.  There often is, especially for the good spouse who didn't want in in the first place. 

From decades of experience, my best advice is to visualize:
  • Realistically picture what life would be like for you a year, and then five years ahead without your spouse in your daily life. Not so much in a monetary sense, but in a personal and pragmatic sense.  Waking up without the kids in the house for a significant period of time, or knowing that they will wake up some morning in a household which does not include you.  This goes for both parents.  Even the most basic visitation takes the little ones out of your home for ninety to one hundred days each year.   It is life altering for everyone.
  • Can you live with what you cannot change?  Chronic spenders don't ever become frugal.  Entitlement rarely transitions to gratitude.
  • Can you not live with what you cannot change?  This is more complicated.  Some people are just not easy to manage from afar.  Those with even slight personality disorders kick into higher gear when challenged.  If your spouse is basically stable and loving, those traits will resurface eventually and the two of you can co-parent once the dust settles. If not, it's gonna get worse.
  • Would a delay make it more likely that your children would be protected from the vehemence your spouse is capable of heaping upon everyone when challenged?  Clients have told me that they waited until their children were old enough to distinguish truth from embellishment in order to secure their relationship.  It sometimes is well worth the additional investment of time, but even teens approaching adulthood can be influenced by a toxic spouse.
It's not just a tough call, it's one decision, when made, which will change the course of several lives. 

It's never made lightly, it's never easy.

But, as my uncle used to say, "If it was easy, everyone would do it."

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