“Good” is probably not a word you typically associate with divorce. After all, no one grows up dreaming of divorce. Most of us dream of happily ever after.
But what happens when it becomes apparent that happily ever after is just not going to happen? You can hold on to the hope for awhile. You can go to marriage counseling. You can ‘take a break’ (though you should note that this, though it may include a physical separation, probably doesn’t count as a legal separation). You can, and you should do everything you can do to try to save your marriage before you throw in the towel.
But there may come a time when you realize that the towel throwing needs to happen now-ish. And though that’s a really sad realization, and you’re completely right to mourn the future that you used to dream about, there’s a lot of good that can come from divorce, too.
Wait, what? Divorce can be GOOD?
I don’t mean so much in the actual experience of divorce. It’s pretty harrowing for most people. There’s a lot of insecurity, especially as the details are getting worked out. There’s custody and visitation, there’s division of retirement accounts, there’s the marital residence to contend with – it’s a lot. Basically, everything you’ve spent your entire adulthood painstakingly accumulating.
It’s definitely a serious thing to consider, and something you should only undertake with an experienced attorney in your corner.
It’s hard. There’s no question it’s hard.
Specifically, though, there are two things I’d point out to anyone who doubts that divorce is an objectively ‘good’ thing.
1. The alternative to a divorce is a break up.
Marriage gives you an entitlement to the assets and liabilities earned during the course of the marriage. (Unless you’ve signed a prenuptial agreement, in which case – you may be out of luck.)
If you weren’t married, you’d have no status under the law. If things didn’t work out, you and your partner would each be free to go your own way. No divorce required.
From a paperwork standpoint, that probably sounds ideal. No separation agreement, no uncontested divorce, no annoying name change.
But that also means you don’t have an interest in the retirement. If you bought a house together, well, the water gets super muddy super quick. If he paid for it all separately – meaning, using his paycheck (which would not be considered ‘separate’ in a divorce context) – you may have no entitlement AT ALL to the home that the two of you built together.
It means you can’t ask for spousal support, even if you stayed at home and have no work experience.
In short, not being married means that you miss out on a whole host of protections under the law that are reserved for spouses. The laws surrounding divorce exist to protect spouses – but, mostly, to protect the lesser earning spouses.
Sure, you have to jump through some hoops to get the protections you might be entitled to by law, but the point is that, simply by virtue of your marriage, you are entitled to some protections.
Could you mess that up? Sure. You could sign a prenuptial agreement – which I hope you haven’t done. You could sign a separation agreement, without consulting your own independent attorney, which takes away your right to receive certain things. But, unless you’ve waived something somehow, your marriage gives you specific rights and entitlements under the law.
If you weren’t married, you’d have no such protection.
2. Divorce is an opportunity.
You know what divorce signals to me? It tells me, mostly, that women out there are looking at their lives, at their husbands, and are dissatisfied.
Instead of accepting it, and staying married, there’s a little voice inside their heads that tells them that it could be better.
As recently as the 70s, women couldn’t get their own mortgages or credit cards. It’s no surprise that, once women had a little more freedom, the divorce rate also started to climb. It’s not because we don’t value marriage and family anymore – it’s because women have access to the freedom that they need to call the shots in their own lives!
A family friend of mine – she’s in her late 80s – was raped as a teenager, and got pregnant. She was forced to marry her rapist. He was an alcoholic. She had four children with him. Eventually, his health became so poor that he was bedridden. She cared for him – her rapist – until he died.
What else could she have done? It was the 50s, and her options were way more limited than they are for women and young mothers today. She stayed – not because marriage is inherently so valuable – because she had no other options.
Divorce, it seems to me, is an act of optimism. It’s a woman refusing to accept being unhappy, unfulfilled, or abused and reaching for more.
Divorce isn’t a sign that you have failed; it’s a sign that your marriage has failed you. But there’s no reason to internalize that, to make it about you, or to allow those feelings to limit your future potential.
Reach for more! You deserve it!
For more information, to schedule a consultation with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, or to get a copy of one of our free books, give us a call at 757-425-5200.