I hear it all the time. From women in my office, from friends I haven’t seen since college who feel the need to comment on my Facebook page about it, and, sometimes, from strangers at parties when others ask me what I do.
The statement, put so boldly, is always off putting to me. When I say, for example, “I’m a divorce attorney,” I’m not asking for your opinion of the matter. I’m just telling you, and, usually, I don’t just put it out there; it’s an answer to a question that has been put to me directly. Sometimes, to avoid the whole kerfuffle, I just say that I’m an attorney. (But, of course, that answer is rife with it’s own risks; I’ve heard the entire world of lawyer-related humor.)
“I don’t believe in divorce,” they tell me. Well, that’s great, but, of course, I didn’t ask. Nor do I particularly care, because, believe it or not, I’m not out in public trying to convince otherwise happy people to get a divorce. Besides that, divorce isn’t contagious, so it’s not like, by talking to me, they risk infection and the only sure way of inoculating themselves against me is to say, loudly, that they aren’t buying what I’m selling.
I’m never sure what they’re going for, exactly, but it does make me cringe a little. Not for myself; I know who I am, and I’m comfortable with what I do. In fact, I’d even say I’m beyond comfortable; I’m entirely happy doing what I’m doing. I do, in fact, believe in divorce.
“Don’t you think it’s sad?” they sometimes say to me next, as if expecting me to agree. I don’t.
If you think of divorce as the ending of an otherwise happy marriage, then, yes, it would be sad. But that’s not what it is. I’ve never seen a divorce that popped up unexpectedly and wedged itself in between two perfectly happy partners. It’s not like violent crime; it doesn’t strike where it is unwanted or (usually) unexpected.
I do believe in marriage. I’m married. And my parents have been married for 35 years this August. My grandparents were married for nearly 60. My brother and sister are happily married, too. I know that marriage can be a wonderful thing.
But I also know, from firsthand experience, that marriage can be terrible. It can be a vehicle for physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. It can be unhappy, unrewarding, and unfulfilling. It can be devastating, hurtful, or violent. It can refuse to allow one (or both) spouse(s) to reach his or her potential; it can stunt (or just punish) growth and change.
For as many good things as marriage can bring into your life, in other cases, marriage can also be bad. Is it sad to think about a happy marriage ending? Absolutely. But I’ve never handled a case where the parties were happy and the marriage was a benefit. I’ve handled cases where my client was sad about (or didn’t necessarily want) the divorce but, even in most of those cases, the client recognized that she needed a divorce. In these types of cases, my clients usually say something like, “I love him, and I’m afraid I’ll always love him, but I just can’t stay if it’s going to be like this.”
The facts change; sometimes it’s lying or infidelity, other times it’s gambling, drug or alcohol addiction, overspending, or even just plain meanness. The reasons for divorce are complicated, but they usually have one thing in common: the people involved would be better off not married.
Since I only represent women in divorce and custody cases, I have a pretty interesting viewpoint, if I do say so myself.
The women that come in to my office are always upset. They’re always asking themselves (and me) whether there’s something else they should have done, some other way they could have saved their marriage. They worry about their kids and their options and their futures. It’s never a decision undertaken lightly.
You see, when you say you don’t “believe” in divorce, you’re perpetuating a stigma. It’s not fair because, obviously, you’ve never been there. And, if you have, more’s the pity for you, because there’s no prize at the end of your life for not getting divorced, just for the sake of staying married. If you’ve lived an unhappy, unfulfilling, and unsatisfying life, you haven’t proven anything to anyone, least of all yourself.
There’s less and less stigma associated with divorce all the time (thank goodness!), probably because so many people are doing it. Still, I’m up against people all the time who express disdain for me and what I do, so I know it isn’t entirely gone.
Anyone who is able to say that they don’t believe in divorce obviously hasn’t walked a mile in one of my client’s shoes. They also haven’t seen what I’ve seen. The women who come into our office on day 1 are plagued by anxiety, uncertainty, and unhappiness. Even if, technically speaking, they are the ones initiating the divorce, it isn’t an easy decision. They’re worried about the consequences in so many different ways—financially, as far as it relates to their children, their health insurance, whatever. Most of them cry at some point during the first appointment.
The women who walk out of our office after their divorce is complete are different from the women we saw on day 1. When I first started, I remember being completely awed by the transformation. The women at the end of the process seem at peace. They laugh easier, smile more, and speak with hope about the future. They seem as if a tremendously heavy weight has been lifted.
You see, whatever they imagine for the future, we help pave the way. We free them from something that wasn’t bringing them joy, happiness, or even contentment, and provide them with an opportunity to re-write the future. It’s a little bit like New Year’s Day in a lot of ways. Sure, they made some mistakes before (and paid for them), but it’s a new day, a new opportunity, to make your life more like what you always wanted it to be.
Is it sad? Sometimes. But do I believe in divorce? Absolutely. Because I see the transformation it allows, and I know that it doesn’t come easily. It’s hard fought and hard won. But there’s hope. Hope for the future, and for the life you always wanted.
If you’re here because you’re wondering what to do, if you’re struggling because you, too, have said before that you don’t believe in divorce, you’re not alone. Almost all of my clients say it, too. No one “believes” in divorce, you see, until happily ever after doesn’t turn out quite so happily. But there’s no shame in saying that enough is enough, or confidently asserting that you want more out of your life—for yourself, for your children, for your family.
There’s no question that divorce is a difficult, heart-wrenching decision to make, and certainly no one can make it but you. But there’s no prizes at the end of the day for sticking it out. No reward for being unhappy, unfulfilled, or unable to be yourself. If there’s abuse in your relationship, too, you’re not proving anything by sticking around, subjecting yourself to feelings of guilt, self-loathing, or inadequacy.
You deserve more.
Divorce is a way to start over. To start fresh. If you’re looking for a fresh start, you’re in the right place. You’ve probably got a lot of questions. What’s the divorce process like? What can you expect? What are the different types of divorce? How do you get the best divorce possible, under your circumstances? How much does it cost? How do you save money while you get divorced? What about mediation? Is divorce something you can handle yourself? What are your other options? Where can you talk to an attorney without paying a consultation fee? How can you schedule a consultation? What the heck happens in a consultation anyway? You’re asking the right questions, and you’re definitely in the right place. Use the links above to find answers to some of those initial questions.
For the rest (you know, whatever I didn’t think to ask up there), consider attending one of our women’s only divorce seminars. They’re taught twice a month, on the Second Saturday of the month in Virginia Beach and Newport News, and on the Third Tuesday of the month in Virginia Beach. Each seminar covers what you need to know about divorce. Each seminar is taught by an attorney who takes questions from the audience. It’s a great place to start, and costs just $40 if you pre-register online to attend.
For more information about our firm, to ask any other questions you have, or to schedule a consultation with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.