The Agony of Waiting vs. the Fear of Going Too Fast

The process of getting a divorce can be fraught with intense, sometimes conflicting emotions. It becomes further complicated when two different perspectives are represented — one spouse desires the divorce and initiates the process, while the other is reluctant, perhaps deeply hurt, and possibly dragging his/her feet.

Often the thought of divorce has been brewing in the mind of a husband or wife for months or even years, so when the decision is finally made and the die is cast, s/he wants to move forward quickly and just get it over with. Meanwhile, this all may be new to the other spouse, who is reeling from being caught off guard and suddenly grappling with difficult emotions.

It takes two people to make a marriage, and if one party decides s/he does not want to be in it anymore, the marriage is over. The challenge at that point is to keep the process of legalizing the divorce moving forward at a pace with which everyone feels comfortable.

What Can Slow the Process?

While the goal may be to navigate through the divorce process as quickly as possible so everyone can move on, there are a number of reasons it can get delayed. If the matter enters the court system, proceedings inevitably get bogged down. Even if the couple uses Mediation or Collaborative Practice (CP), certain preparations will need to be made, and information gathered, that may take some time. For example, all assets and liabilities will need to be identified, and properties will need to be assessed.

A parenting plan may need to be tested for a few months to find out if it is really practical. Or the non-initiating spouse may try to hold up the process because s/he is not ready to accept it or wants to punish the other spouse. While ultimately this spouse cannot prevent the divorce from happening, the process only moves as quickly as the slowest person in the room.

Going through a divorce means almost everything in your life is in a state of upheaval and change. The transition can be hard enough as it is without throwing in the challenge of being in limbo for an undetermined period of time. Often the couple is still living together during the process, either due to financial concerns or out of a fear of losing access to their children, so this time period can be quite awkward, hostile, or all-around uncomfortable for everyone involved.

What Do You Really Want?

Interestingly, some couples going through a divorce become enlightened as to what they really think or feel along the way. Spouses initiating the divorce may realize they do not want to hurt their partners. Spouses who do not want the divorce may realize that as much as they do not want to go through with this, they hate the state of being in limbo even more, and so they begin cooperating — which sometimes causes the initiating spouses to unexpectedly wonder if this is what they really want.

Spouses may also realize that while they do not want to live with each other anymore, they still do care for each other. Or they may not want to be married anymore, but suddenly the alternative of being alone and having to deal with household maintenance, poor health, or old age on their own does not seem worth it. As a couple watches their lifelong dream of a comfortable retirement go up in smoke, they may decide they want to try a little harder to make their marriage work before giving up.

Counselor or Advocate?

As couples go through this soul-searching process, my role sometimes shifts from that of advocate to sounding board. Contrary to what some may think, I do not push couples into getting a divorce, nor am I a “home-wrecker”. By the time couples come to me, the marriage is already over; I simply help them negotiate with a goal of avoiding additional damage. When I sense ambivalence, I do suggest couples think about staying together and working on their marriage, possibly through Marital Mediation (see more about that in the next blog post).

Occasionally, once parties realize how the divorce will affect their lives and possibly, their children’s; or what their alimony or child support payments would look like if they get a divorce; or what would happen to their house or shared assets, the light begins to dawn. They realize, through the information-gathering process, that this is not what they really want to do. But if, after consideration, the parties determine that divorce is the option they want to pursue, my job is to assist them in determining the outcome of the negotiations.

I also try to dispel common myths about divorce, such as these:

  1. If Mediation or CP is taking too long, litigation will speed things up. Sometimes one spouse gets tired of waiting for the divorce to be negotiated through Mediation or CP and files for divorce in court, thinking this will expedite the process. Usually the opposite is true; obtaining a divorce through the courts generally takes much longer.
  2. Divorce will solve all my problems. It’s understandable that if you are going through a trying time in your life (feeling stress over starting a business, taking care of aging parents, or experiencing an empty nest once your kids leave home), you may think that ending your marriage will somehow make your life more bearable. It is not usually that simple. Any relationship worth holding on to takes work. If you decide to invest time and emotion into making your marriage better, you may be amazed to see the results!
  3. Once I start divorce proceedings, I can’t change my mind. There is no obligation to go through with a divorce. Some couples take a year or more between sessions to be as comfortable as possible with the outcome, while others have a few meetings then decide not to go ahead with the divorce after all.

Ultimately, my job is to enable spouses to know their own minds, rather than influencing them one way or another. I help couples do their homework so they can make informed decisions about what is best for their family. Sometimes going through the hard stuff helps a couple to appreciate each other more, while other times it confirms that divorce is the best option.