Many clients seek advice before making the decision to dissolve their marriage. Many want to know their rights in a divorce action while being simultaneously unsure if divorce is right for them. First and foremost, I am not a psychologist or a marriage counselor. As an attorney I am more of a “divorce counselor”. But knowing when to terminate or attempt to save a marriage is an important part of that role.
Divorce is an intensely personal decision. No one gets married to later divorce. It is a profound and life changing event affecting the parties, their children, if any, and their finances. No lawyer should tell a prospective client they should make this decision in a one-hour consultation. If a client is unsure I encourage marital counseling and reconciliation first. Essentially the client needs to be at least as deliberate in deciding to divorce as in entering the marriage in the first place.
In saving a marriage I believe in ultimatums. Here are the main “lines in the sand” to help determine whether to stay in the marriage:
- Infidelity – “Three’s a crowd” never rings truer than here. A marriage may survive an affair with hard work, contrition and forgiveness. But it cannot survive if the affair does not end. All third parties are banished or the marriage is doomed.
- Abuse – Physical and emotional abuse from a spouse are never acceptable. Like infidelity, a marriage can survive an isolated episode or time period but no one should endure a lifetime of abuse or threat of injury or death. The abuser must stop and both parties need help changing their unhealthy patterns.
- Addiction – Addiction is a terrible disease. Abuse of drugs, alcoholism and gambling addictions are all destructive elements in a marriage. Addiction can devastate families in multiple ways including financial stress, abuse and health crises. Recovery from addiction is mandatory for a marriage to work.
- Commitment to the marriage – Not all marriages have the acute problems listed above. But a party may stonewall the other, lose interest in the union, emotionally check out, deny intimacy to the other partner, create financial problems or not be generally attentive to the spouse or children — to name just a few. Whatever the issue both parties must be committed to the partnership to succeed. If a party is unwilling or unable to address the marital problems in a healthy, collaborative way then the marriage will surely fail.
Every marriage is unique. Likewise, every divorce case will be different. As a family lawyer my first task is to listen and see where I can help. Divorce lawyers see failed marriages every day. That experience hopefully converts into the wisdom to save a few as well.