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The Reality of Divorce

Monday, January, 14, 2013

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:

  1. If it really  means that much to her, she can have it.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. I know our child  is better off with him, so I won’t contest custody.
  5. 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.
  6. She’s happier  with him, and I wish her well.
  7. He worked for it  and put his life on the line, so I won’t ask for any of the pension.
  8. Our son will  probably want to live with him in a few years.   I’ll let him.
  9. 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. 
  10. We’ll work out those issues regarding the kids  the same way we did before the separation.
  11. 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.
  12. She’ll never be  their mom.  You are.
  13. I’ve told the  children to be nice to her, and to listen to her.
  14. Her fiancé can pick  the children up from daycare on his way back from work, since he gets off  earliest.
  15. I want to do  what’s right.
  16. 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.