Want to Avoid a Long Divorce?
The 17-year long divorce proceedings of two law professors in Ohio have been highly publicized in the news recently. While their protracted case made headlines, most of us have heard a story or two about a horrible divorce that went on for years – and years.
Here are some of the issues a couple, embroiled in a lengthy divorce, typically fight about:
- He/She’s a jerk or irrational. He/She should pay for what they’ve done.
Many factors contribute to a high conflict, prolonged divorce and I don’t want to imply that there is a “simple” resolution. But I do want to emphasize something that divorcing couples are often slow to recognize: The longer you stay locked in conflict over the terms of your divorce, the longer you remain married. Perpetuating the fight means continuing to be intertwined financially and emotionally with your spouse – by choice. The two of you may no longer love one another, but you are, in effect, deciding that you cannot live without one another.
If you find yourself in a high conflict, ongoing fight over your divorce settlement – or preferably, if you want to avoid one in the first place – here is a technique to try. I have seen this used effectively in mediation cases where both – or even just one spouse – wants to choose to be divorced.
Take out a sheet of paper. Make a list of your goals. Put “Be divorced” at the top the list. If you have children, put “Protect my children from parental conflict” as number two. Then list “Move on with my life and create new possibilities for happiness” as number three. The first three goals are sacrosanct. Any goals listed below those are negotiable. With each goal you list after those, ask yourself how you would be willing to modify them in order to achieve the top three most important goals.
I once had mediation clients who struggled with the division of their assets after a 25-year marriage. The husband retired early and was already receiving monthly pension payments. The wife’s income was approximately equivalent to the husband’s pension income – but, of course, she had to continue working to earn hers.
The husband and wife disagreed on whether or not his pension would be shared in some way between them. Months of consulting with attorneys and arguing their relative positions did not produce an agreement. In mediation the parties agreed to make their list of goals.
The husband was not particularly interested in being divorced so for him “Be divorced” was not his top goal. But he did want to protect their children from conflict and continue to save for their college tuitions.
- Being divorced was the wife’s primary goal. When she acknowledged her list of priorities, she realized she needed to negotiate in a different way, and to take new steps toward resolution. She met with her financial planner to do her own retirement planning and figured out the minimum income she would be willing to live on. After that she was prepared to accept less of the marital assets in order to achieve her primary goals.
The two then were able to negotiate a settlement that gave the husband the majority of their shared marital assets – and they were both satisfied.
In the end, the wife believed that she actually came out ahead. Instead of paying divorce professionals to continue fighting over an equal division of assets, the couple actually had more of their marital money available to pay for their children’s college tuition. And she got her freedom.
She chose to get divorced.