DECIDING TO DIVORCE: THE FOUR QUESTIONS
The decision to get a divorce is among the most difficult in life. Alongside death, it is recognized as one of the most stressful life events people face. Deciding to get divorced morphs into even more decisions, and after a while, the overwhelming stress of it can leave you unwilling or unable to make that decision. If you are at the “breaking point,” here are the questions you need to ask yourself:
1. Do I want to live “like this” for the rest of my life?
There is a huge difference between asking yourself whether you can live with something versus whether you want to live with something. If you have been living in a terrible marriage for years or even decades, that itself is testament that you “can” live with the situation. The more important question to ask yourself is whether you want to continue to live this way. If this is how you feel, make a list of all the reasons why you don’t want to live “like this” anymore. Also be sure to describe, in detail, what “like this” means. I find that for most clients, once they start detailing the explicit instances of unhappiness or abuse, seeing it on paper solidifies what they already know.
2. What am I afraid of?
Many clients come into my office with a list of questions about their rights. However, the better consultation to have is one where you outright tell your lawyer your fears. Yes, it’s important to understand your obligations and rights, but expressing your fears helps your lawyer identify the issues in your case and prepare you and him/herself for what is to come. In other instances, your fear may be something that is so improbable that your lawyer can reassure or lessen your worries. It is okay to say, “I am afraid my wife is going to leave the State and keep me from seeing my children” or “I am afraid my husband is going to quit his job and I will get nothing.” Expressing your fears is much more effective than asking questions that may or may not even apply to you or your case.
3. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Once you know what you are afraid of and can address them with your lawyer, you can now begin the very real process of laying out what the worst possible thing is that could happen if you pursue divorce. More importantly, you want to think about what you would do, and how you would handle that situation if it arose. More often than not, your “worst nightmare” scenario is not likely to happen.
4. What’s the best thing that could happen?
Most people going through a divorce don’t think of the best thing or things that could happen, and surprisingly, there are many. Some clients have discovered assets they never knew existed or came to have more access to money than they had when married. Other clients became better parents or even friends to their spouses. The point is that often people focus on the negative, but change can also be positive.