Reconciliation: Getting back together but not giving up your rights

In the news, I’ve seen a couple reports that Arnold Schwarzenegger wants a reconciliation with his estranged wife, Maria Shriver. It’s kind of a sweet story, if you take out the part about the mistress and the now-grown illegitimate love child the Terminator fathered without his wife’s knowledge and kept secret for years and years. I’m the forever optimist,” he said to reporters. “So I do see that Maria and I get together eventually.”

It was a long-term marriage (26 years!), and together the pair had four children. Since March, reconciliation rumors have run rampant, including several discussions that the couple are now meeting with a marriage counselor to help recover their marriage. It is also rumored that Maria’s devoutly Catholic background is preventing her from seeking divorce.

Can a marriage be revived after such a traumatic blow? Apparently Arnold thinks it can, so I guess its true that hope does spring eternal. Ultimately, no matter what has gone on during a marriage, the only two people who know whether it can be saved are husband and wife. Whatever you may have endured, sometimes the love, the faith in each other, and the hope for your futures together can be enough to overcome even seemingly insurmountable obstacles. As a devout reader of “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” in the Ladies Home Journal since the age of nine, I can attest that where there’s a willingness to make it work, the marriage can sometimes be saved.

After a major indiscretion, it can be hard to recover. If your parents, siblings, or other close family and friends are aware of your marital troubles, it can be hard to explain that you want to try to reconcile. Ultimately, whether you decide to reconcile or end your marriage, it is no one’s business but yours, and there is no wrong decision. It’s an emotional decision.

The only wrong decision is choosing to blindly return to your marriage without protecting yourself in case things don’t work out permanently. Remember that, in Virginia, if you sleep with your husband after learning about his affair, you legally forgive him of the adultery. That’s the danger you risk in reconciling—that, because of your faith in the marriage and your willingness to forgive even the most serious transgressions, you’ll give up something that would have worked to your benefit later.

We often recommend, in cases like Arnold and Maria’s, that the couple execute what is called a “Marital Agreement.” A Marital Agreement sets up parameters for how the marriage will resume and can include things like date nights on Wednesdays and marriage counseling. It also includes your separation agreement, and specifically sets forth what you could expect to receive in spousal support and what your custody arrangement would be. That way, both of you return to the marriage knowing exactly what to expect. It protects you, because you can insist on receiving certain things in exchange for your good faith in returning to the marriage. It also means that, if things don’t work out, there is no obstacle to your divorce—aside from being separated for the statutory period. Often, merely knowing what the divorce would mean (and the inconveniences it brings) can help couples re-commit to each other and to their marriage.

I’m a big believer in marriage, but I’m also a divorce attorney. I believe in second chances, and I understand the need to reconcile a marriage when possible. But don’t forget to protect yourself, too.

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