Alternatives to Divorce
Part 5 of The High Net Worth Guide To Divorce
This is part 5 of a 7-part guide for affluent and high net worth individuals considering divorce. In this section, we cover alternatives to divorce
Jurnex is an independent registered investment advisor that specializes in supporting women going through divorce. If you’re ready to take the next step with your separation, contact us for a consultation today.
If you’re considering divorce, this could be one of the most important articles you read before finalizing your decision. Because once you DO make the decision, you should follow through with no second-guessing. One of the worst outcomes we’ve seen in divorce is the on-the-fence attitude where one spouse isn’t sure about leaving. This ends up confusing the other spouse and makes the situation worse for everyone.
When you ask for a divorce, you should be CERTAIN you want one. But to gain that kind of certainty, you have to think about all alternatives to divorce first. Eliminating all alternatives will give you the confidence that divorce is the right path for you.
Here are the five key alternatives to divorce you should first consider.
1. Fix the underlying cause of stress
How well do you understand the reason for wanting a divorce? It’s different for everyone, but there are some reasons that are more SOLVABLE than others.
1. Different Values or Lifestyles
According to AARP, 29% of mid-age couples file for divorce because of a divergence in personal values or lifestyles. Often, couples have no obvious reason for falling out of love. But in some cases, couples find that they have simply neglected to find joint activities. This is especially true for families with children. That’s because raising children creates a shared parental goal in a relationship. Once children grow up and leave the house, middle-aged couples often forget to find a new meaningful activity to share with their spouse.
Infidelity accounts for 27% of divorces between middle-aged couples. Yet the underlying reason for cheating usually has deeper roots. When questioned further, many individuals admit that they are simply looking for attention and excitement. Or that they have simply fallen out of love because of a relationship gone stale. Few people actually list sex as a reason. According to the same AARP study, sexual problems account for less than 7% of divorces. If you find the root cause of the infidelity, you might find a way to fix the underlying issue.
28% of couples list money as a significant reason for divorce. Poor financial planning is often a cause, but simple trust issues also cause long-term harm. Up to 41% of Americans have admitted to committing financial infidelity, or lying to their spouses about money. Spouses often feel a sense of shame in making financial mistakes. These are issues that you as a couple can potentially solve with the right advisor.
There is an exception to this, however. Some individuals use family finances to gain power over their spouses. Professionals consider this a form of direct abuse. And any form of abuse falls under the “Low Solvability” category, which we will now cover.
1. Domestic Violence or Abuse
34% of middle-aged couples list verbal, physical or emotional abuse as a top-3 reason for getting divorced. Abusive relationships tend to follow a long-term pattern: they usually build up over a period of months or years. Typically, an individual in this kind of relationship has been abused for more than five years. Relationships like these generally have little hope for salvation. If you feel you are part of this group, we suggest you go straight to our article on filing for divorce.
2. Substance Abuse
When it comes to alcohol and drug use, the addicted party must want to change. As much as you want, you cannot change their behavior for them. Change is sadly difficult, however. In fact, 21% of couples list substance abuse as a major factor in seeking divorce. If you are considering leaving your spouse because of substance abuse issues, make sure they have considered treatment options. But if they have refused treatment, then you are on highly reasonable grounds for getting a divorce.
2. Use marriage counseling
Fewer than 5% of divorcing couples seek marriage counseling. Why? Because many couples feel like they should be able to deal with problems “by themselves”. But such thinking is a misconception. Marriage counselors are professionals. Helping couples examine their relationship IS their job. And the best counselors will simply bring clarity to the table. It’s ultimately up to you and your spouse to decide whether divorce is right.
“Until you’ve investigated every potential avenue of rehabilitation … you’re not ready to be discussing divorce” – Dr. Phil McGraw
The average couple waits six years before seeking help for marital problems, according to Dr. John Gottman, a marriage and relationship expert. Waiting that long allows problems to worsen and grow. Yet much of the time, one spouse fails to realize the extent of their partner’s misery. People are incredibly good at ignoring negative feelings, even if unintentionally. So even if you feel like you’ve been screaming at the top of your lungs that you’re unhappy, it’s often worthwhile to talk to a marriage counselor first.
3. Spend time apart
A growing trend among couples is to spend time apart as an alternative to divorce. Often, couples simply need time to start missing each other!
Why should you spend time apart?
Over the millennia, humans have proven to be an extraordinarily adaptable species. But that also makes us susceptible to growing overly-accustomed to new situations. In academia, this is known as “Hedonic Adaptation“, or the process where things that seem special at first become stale or boring with time. This is the same bias that makes a shiny new car not so special after just a couple of weeks.
Relationships can follow the same arc. People can grow overly-accustomed to our spouses and start taking them for granted.
Spending time apart can help couples hit the “reset” button. This can range from simple (spending a weekend apart) or more complex (spending 4 months living in different locations). We suggest a 2-4 week separation period. In that time, break off all communication. Give yourselves time to miss each other.
What to do when spending time apart?
During your time apart, keep a diary or mental notes about how you feel. Do you feel less energy? Sadder and lonelier? Or are you happier and feel more outgoing? While many couples will miss their spouses, many couples will also find that they are happier apart. And that is fine too. If both of you are indeed happier living apart, then a separation could be the right answer. There’s no reason for either of you to stay in an unhappy relationship.
What about children?
If you have children, be open with them. Let them know that you and your partner are just taking a break from each other. And let them know why. Many parents feel obligated to “protect” their children by withholding the truth. But children are resilient. So with the exception of abusive relationships, it’s usually best to keep your children involved. Trying to hide your unhappy relationship from your children will simply teach them that unhappy relationships are acceptable.
To put it another way: think for a moment YOUR OWN childhood. Now focus your thoughts on your parent’s relationship during that time. Were they happy? Sad? Angry? Content? Even as a child, you knew full well what was going on.
4. Consider a limited divorce
This is also known as a legal separation. In a limited divorce, couples are still legally married. They may, however, split property, reside separately and live separate financial lives. You can even have child support or maintenance payments in a limited divorce.
There are several reasons to get a limited divorce.
- Religious reasons. Some religions and communities frown on divorce. A limited divorce can allow couples to live separate lives yet remain legally married.
- Shared insurance and other financial benefits. Although COBRA allows an ex-spouse to retain coverage for three years, an uninsurable spouse might be a future issue.
- Not wanting a divorce. Some couples can’t stand the idea of living together., yet they also cannot bear the idea of getting a divorce. A legal separation can fulfill both goals.
- Unsure about a divorce. A limited divorce allows couples to delay the decision of getting an official divorce. If the couple finally wants to separate, many of the details, such as property division, have already been worked out. And if a couple decides to get back together, there is less paperwork in refiling for marriage.
Note that the state of Texas does not recognize limited divorces.
5. Use a mediator
Instead of going through a court-based divorce, you might also consider mediation as an alternative. If you and your spouse agree to work together, mediation can be an excellent tool.
What is mediation?
In mediation, couples sit down with a neutral third party to work out their differences. Unlike arbitration, mediation is a non-binding process. This means that both parties must agree to the outcome. This gives couples a strong incentive to find a mutually acceptable solution. If either party refuses to follow mediation, the process reverts to a regular lawyer-driven divorce.
When to use mediation?
Mediation can happen at three points in a separation
- Before the decision to separate. Many mediators act as marriage counselors, bringing clarity to a couple’s relationship as a neutral third party. Mediators can help couples work out differences without going through a divorce.
- Before separation. Many couples will use mediation to draft and finalize a separation agreement in a highly collaborative process. The CDFA found that couples are far more likely to follow through with a collaborative agreement, rather than with a binding arbitration handed down by the courts.
- During/after a separation. Often, couples going through a legal divorce will reconsider their strategy. The average court-based divorce costs $15,500 but can exceed $100,000 in larger cases from expensive legal fees. Couples will often turn to a third-party mediator to come to an equitable solution rather than have lawyers continue fighting over assets.
What about children?
Did you know that 43% of couples list children as a reason for postponing divorce? Considering alternatives to divorce can help children cope too.
You will be surprised at how understanding your children are at divorce if you just explain things
Even if your marriage doesn’t work out, your children will understand that you have tried. Just make sure you communicate with them every step of the way. Children pick up habits from their parents, and trust is a major habit to pass on.
What about abusive relationships?
If your relationship with your spouse is abusive, consider getting a separation immediately. Abusive relationships are a primary cause of childhood trauma. Couples who try hiding the abuse from their children rarely succeed; children are highly observant and will pick up on nonverbal cues.
How can a financial advisor help?
If you’re not sure whether you want to file for divorce, a specialized financial advisor can help. At Jurnex, we are financial advisors who specialize in helping individuals and families considering divorce. We operate under a Certified Divorce Financial Advisor (CDFA) designation, which is a gold standard for financial advisors acting neutral third-party mediator in divorce cases.
Even if you are not yet sure whether you want to divorce, seeking good advice is the best place to start
Continue to Part 6: Choosing A Type of Divorce