The beginning of a new year is often the busiest time of the year for divorce lawyers. Many potential clients inquire about initiating a divorce after keeping a family together for one “last” Christmas. New Year’s resolutions often include ending an unhappy marriage. Deciding whether or not to leave your marriage is an agonizing process and, potentially, a life-altering event.
What to do? Stay or go? Leave what you know or remain in an unhappy but stable situation. Is it better to keep the devil you know instead of the venturing out into an unfamiliar world? I spent the better part of a decade asking myself this very same question. Here are some of the difficult questions I ask people to ponder:
- First and foremost: Do you still love your spouse? Are you still in love? If there is a shred of affection left in your heart, it is worth it to try and save your marriage. Divorce is miserable.
- Did one of you cheat on the other? Infidelity does not always happen in a vacuum and is often a symptom rather than the main problem. You might need to figure out whether an affair happened because one of you isn’t getting the emotional or physical affection you need in the relationship.
- Are you constantly fighting about money? Keep in mind that everyone fights about money. But, if one spouse is racking up debt and jeopardizing the family’s financial stability a divorce might be the only solution to save you from economic ruin.
- Is there abuse in your marriage? Physical abuse is far easier to quantify than emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is insidious and deprives people the self-confidence they need to find everyday joy. If you and/or the children are being physically or emotionally abused, you may have to get out.
- Has your home become a toxic environment? Festering unhappiness spreads like a noxious poison. It can affect children and even pets. A home without happiness and light is a terrible place in which to reside. It may be time to leave unless that unhappiness resides within your heart alone.
- Does your spouse have an issue with addiction? A disproportionate number of divorce cases involve addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling or pornography. If your spouse will not admit there is a problem or steadfastly refuses treatment, you might have to leave to save yourself and your children.
- Are you staying together just for the sake of the children? Upon learning of our divorce, my then teenage son sagely observed that we “needed” it. Surprisingly, children are remarkably resilient, and younger children tend to recover more quickly from the trauma of a parent’s split than the older children who carry memories of happier times together.
Oftentimes, several of these factors are present and essentially take the decision out of your hands. There are a myriad of reasons to keep your family together and the decision to break apart a family cannot be made impulsively.
Before you make an appointment with the lawyer, a meeting with a good therapist is critical. Remember: therapists don’t make money when you decide to file – but attorneys do. On the upside, therapists generally charge less per hour, too. And note that not all attorneys are honest enough to tell you that you might need to hang in there and try a little harder.
Trust your gut. Be honest with yourself and look inward to determine whether a divorce is what’s best for you and your kids. But don’t fool yourself into thinking divorce will cure all of your problems. It will certainly create new problems and cause trauma for everyone involved.