For some clients, there is a very real fear that they will never actually be able to get through the divorce process successfully. This article is for those clients.
Andy’s Story: It had been over a year since Andy moved out of the family home, but his wife, Erica, was adamant that she would not agree to a divorce. When Andy finally met with a divorce attorney, he told her that he had tried to get Erica to go to a counselor with him to discuss the divorce, but she refused. He had also proposed meeting with a neutral mediator, but she declined that avenue as well. Then, he had spoken with Erica’s parents and her sister, and while they felt that it would be healthy for both Erica and for the kids if the parties clarified their situation by moving forward with a divorce process, they couldn’t make any impact on Erica either.
Clare’s Situation: Clare had been unhappy in her marriage for many years, and had been thinking more and more concretely about separating since her youngest started college, but now her husband has been diagnosed with a debilitating neurological disease which is currently progressing rather rapidly. Clare doesn’t see how she can leave her husband under these circumstances and feels guilty that she is even continuing to consider it.
Both Andy and Clare are feeling that it is not possible to move towards a divorce given their circumstances. They are unable to see any light at the end of the tunnel that they are in. Is there any light?
Here are four suggestions for those who can’t see a way forward towards obtaining a divorce.
1. No Fault Divorce. Years ago, before our laws were modernized, it was possible for one party to refuse to give the other party a divorce and thereby “block” the divorce. Today, however, the laws in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia all set forth “no fault” grounds for divorce which require simply a separation for a specific period of time. Thus, for example, in the District of Columbia, if the parties have been separated for six months by mutual agreement or twelve months without mutual agreement, then grounds for divorce exist and either party is entitled to ask a court to grant a divorce. Although Erica didn’t agree to the separation, she and Andy have now been separated for the twelve months necessary where there was no agreement to separate, so Erica can’t prevent Andy from asking a court in the District of Columbia to grant a divorce.
2. The Emotional v. the Legal Divorce. Author Abigail Trafford states: “Most people become very disoriented when a marriage ends, and this crazy period lasts about a year, sometimes two years.” Yet, she says, most people can and do adjust to divorce and are able to reestablish themselves in a new and, hopefully, better life.
It may be too soon to tell whether Andy’s wife will be among the many who are able to acknowledge the failures of the past and put them behind them, and then focus on the possibilities that the future holds. It may be necessary for Andy to be patient for a while longer. He will also need to support any healthy steps forward that Erica is able to take, such as assuming greater financial responsibility or seeking psychological help. And it will be key for him to establish his own separate times and routines with the children while being respectful of Erica’s role with the children.
3. A Problem-Solving Approach. A divorce can be viewed as similar to many of the other significant challenges of life – as a problem to be solved through analysis, planning and action. Clare’s situation can be viewed as containing such a problem to be solved. She needs to feel confident that if she separates, her husband’s needs will be met. So Clare needs to be able to define what her husband’s psychological, medical and financial needs are. Then, she needs to be able to identify the resources available to address those needs and how they can best be utilized. In figuring out the best solutions for Clare’s husband and for Clare, the expertise of professionals such as financial planners and health care consultants along with an experienced divorce attorney will be invaluable.
4. Step-by-Step. Getting divorced is a process which requires careful planning yet flexibility as new developments or issues arise. Andy and Clare will each want to work closely with their divorce attorney to develop and put in place a step-by-step plan to achieve their unique goals. Should Andy tell Erica that he has retained an attorney, or should his attorney write Erica a letter informing her that Andy has retained counsel and is ready to move forward with a divorce process? Will it be necessary for Andy to file a lawsuit in order to get Erica’s attention? What information should both Andy and Clare be gathering? How can mental health expertise be brought into planning for Andy and Erica’s children? What should the timing of the different steps be?
Be assured that in the Unites States today, everyone who wants a divorce is able to get one. Work closely with your divorce attorney to reach that light at the end of the tunnel.