You’re probably aware of reasons you’d like a divorce. If you’re religious, you’re probably also aware that most major world religions attempt to limit or ban the practice. But as a divorce attorney, I can confidently say most people don’t fully appreciate the emotional and financial impact. Hopefully this article will help you understand what you’re potentially getting into and provide some of the best resources for turning the marriage around while keeping you and your kids safe.
I. What Divorce Really Looks Like
Loss of a spouse ranks, far and away, as the most stressful event in life. The Rahe stress scale indicates the three most stressful events are, in order, 1) death of spouse, 2) divorce, and 3) marital separation.
Much of the stress probably derives from unanticipated financial consequences. The following are the most significant divorce-related costs we see as family law attorneys:
- Attorney Fees. Evidence suggests the US national average for divorce attorney fees exceeded $26,000 per party ($52,000 for both spouses combined) in 2015 (presumably higher now). This does not count post-divorce actions for custody and child support modifications, which can exceed the cost of the divorce. These fees often end up as debt, sometimes with interest rates at or above 12% per year if financed through credit cards or if paid to the law firm after due.
- Division of Assets. Typically in Washington State (where this author practices), each party receives approximately half of the property the parties accrued during their marriage. In other words, divorce usually means losing half your net worth. Worse, the court might order parties to sell assets. For real estate and business owners, the cost of selling the asset tends to be around 10% of the gross value and triggers deferred income taxes, greatly reducing equity in these high-value items.
- Supporting Two Households Rather than One. During and after divorce, the parties often support two households (one for each ex-spouse) with the same income as when they constituted one household. In essence, the former family’s expenses nearly double while income remains approximately the same. This often forces both parties to downsize their homes and lifestyles.
- Family Support (Child Support and Spousal Support or Maintenance). In the traditional divorce, the higher earning spouse ends up paying child support and/or alimony (spousal maintenance) to the other spouse. The amounts of child support and maintenance are often significantly higher than payor can comfortably afford, and he or she must pay, even when the timing is highly inconvenient, such as when thousands of dollars in attorney fees are due. This can be a bitter pill to swallow for a hardworking spouse who would have a difficult time handing over a large portion of his or her paycheck to an ex each month. Moreover, failure to pay can result in prison time.
- Requirement to Work. Divorce courts often require both spouses to work fulltime at their highest capacity, even if they perform childcare or attend college. At least in Washington State, failure to work fulltime and at one’s highest capacity can result in stiff financial consequences due to imputed income.
On average, the stress and financial implications of divorce negatively affect everyone in the former family – husband, wife, and kids. As the US CDC explained:
Counterintuitively, women file almost 70% of all divorces, yet the CDC reports divorce affects women especially badly, at least financially. “[T]he loss of the ex-husband’s income often results in a severe loss of income per capita.”
Our firm, Genesis Law Firm, sees these consequences on a near daily basis. Perhaps this is why no Genesis family law (divorce) practitioner has ever gotten a divorce or legal separation while working for our firm. That’s saying something. Our firm has been operating for over a decade, and we currently have thirteen family law practitioners. Our practitioners witness how destructive divorce can be and avoid it if possible.
II. Resources for Saving Your Relationship
Marriage therapists usually point to one, primary source for evidence-based information on saving marriages – the Gottman Institute. John Gottman (located in Seattle, Washington!) performed decades of research and can identify with 90% certainty which married couples will divorce. The key finding: happy, stable couples make at least five times as many positive comments as negative ones when talking with each other.
The Gottman Institute’s website contains numerous free articles, and for $30 you can sign up for the “Thirty-Day Challenge”, in which the research team feeds you daily practices for improving your relationship.
Christians – the largest religious group nationally – might prefer watching Fireproof, an entertaining faith-based movie that provides an easy example of Gottman’s core finding in practice. The movie’s gameplan is simple: say nothing negative and leave a flower every day for 40 days.
III. Staying Safe While Working on Marriage
You might be contemplating divorce because your spouse poses a physical or mental danger to you or your children. In that situation, you may need to extricate yourself or your children from the unsafe environment, at least until your spouse calms or seeks treatment. Options for creating safety often include leaving the family home, asking your spouse to leave, or even seeking a DV protection order.
If you’re unsure what treatment options would be appropriate, the spouse(s) with treatment needs should seek an evaluation from a professional, such as a chemical dependance evaluation, mental health evaluation, or DV evaluation. Just Google these terms to find a professional evaluator nearby. The other spouse should be listed as a “collateral contact” for the evaluator. A “collateral contact” is someone the evaluator is supposed to speak with when gathering factual information.
Please be aware, the status quo during an informal separation often determines the outcome of a custody battle if the separated spouses don’t reconcile. Before separating, please see our firm’s article on positioning yourself to win custody. Even if you don’t intend to file divorce, your spouse might. Protecting yourself and kids includes taking reasonable precautions against possible litigation.
That’s it! Hopefully this article was helpful. Our firm believes in making quality legal information available for free on the internet. For more free articles, guides, and videos, visit our website and click the resources tab in the upper right corner.
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