Divorcing the Person You Married

It seems obvious. Of course I’m divorcing the man/woman I married. Who else would I be divorcing?  But the trauma of divorce can often play tricks on us and frequently people adopt a somewhat irrational expectation that the person with whom they have been in conflict for the past several years is all of a sudden going to behave differently. 

If you are married to someone who tends to hold on tightly to the bank account and question every expense, or if you are married to the spouse who always puts his/her interests ahead of the children, then it would be unwise to assume that in a divorce a generous father/mother figure will appear at the settlement table to discuss how he/she can give you and the children everything you need.

Similarly, it would also be naïve to think that the bully will hire the gentle and kind lawyer who strives for equality in every settlement. It is more than likely that if you have a difficult spouse that they will hire someone to mirror their needs and wants. Don’t be surprised, or worse devastated.

If there are emotional stressors in the relationship, behavioral issues, hot buttons, triggers over specific issues, then accept that those will carry into the settlement discussion and that no professional will be able to fundamentally change who he/she is. It doesn’t make it ok, it doesn’t make it fair, but it absolutely confirms what you already know; this isn’t the person to whom you want to stay married.

This gives you the opportunity to be smart and creative and to structure a settlement that will be successful; it allows you to get out and move forward.

The power you have is the history and intimate knowledge of this person and what is important to them. This gives you the opportunity to be smart and creative and to structure a settlement that will be successful; it allows you to get out and move forward. Use this to your advantage. Some spouses absolutely need to know that they will receive a check every month for x years. Some spouses will never agree to have to write a check every month for x years. Other spouses will refuse to give up one dollar of their earned retirement, others will never agree to pay for children’s expenses that they deem unnecessary. Knowing how this person thinks and then expecting the system to fix it can lead to a protracted and expensive process. We are lucky to have the right to legally extract ourselves from unhappy and often unhealthy situations. Just don’t get caught in the illusion that this person will be different or that after living in an unfair marriage that he/she will now be fair, or worse, that the system will enforce fair.

Sometimes spouses believe that they put up with bad behavior and now they can turn to the legal system to stop their spouse from getting away with it any longer. If a spouse is a bully, or a spendthrift, or too frugal with the kids, or an absentee parent, or a bit too creative with tax returns or myriad other things, the legal system isn’t an authority figure who will step in and admonish your spouse and alter their behavior. This is the person you married and now this is the person you are divorcing.

Focus on getting out and not using the settlement to make-up for anything that you now realize you should never have put up with. You lived by these terms during the marriage and you will live by them as you extract, and then you can choose on what terms to live the rest of your life.


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