Many couples experiencing marital problems question whether to divorce. Change can be frightening and there may be many practical and psychological reasons to stay together despite problems. On the other hand, sometimes emotions can be so strong in the moment that spouses rush to divorce without considering other options. There has been speculation that the COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions will lead to more divorce in the coming months because of the stress of spending too much time together coupled with financial and other concerns. Many of these spouses may be thinking now about what to do.
Huffington Post had a good article suggesting questions that spouses should ask themselves to help determine whether they are ready to divorce. In addition to these tips, it is a good idea to talk with a marriage counselor or therapist either individually or as a couple.
There are also some legal options that can help couples settle matters that may be part of the problem. For example, finances are one of the biggest causes of conflict in marriage. Too often, couples avoid discussing money out of fear, shame, or other reasons. That can affect other parts of the marriage as well. Bringing these issues to the forefront and working to find solutions together can help a couple stay together or realize that they are ready to divorce.
A good way to do this is to enter into a post-nuptial agreement. A post-nup is the same as a prenuptial agreement except it is signed during marriage instead of before marriage. In coming to an agreement, parties must have open and honest discussions about individual and joint assets, debts, values about money, and expectations in marriage. These answers are crucial to resolving financial disputes particularly when there is a big income, asset, or debt disparity between the couple. Contrary to public opinion, post-nups can save a marriage by addressing a big source of stress and encouraging conversations that will help in other areas of the marriage.
Another option for couples is a separation. The spouses can separate and live independent lives to help them decide whether they really want a divorce. However, separation allows them to still maintain certain legal and financial benefits of marriage, such as health insurance and tax advantages. With legal separation the parties may enter into an agreement that addresses spousal and child support, child custody, and property division. In the event the parties decide to divorce, the separation agreement can be incorporated into the divorce decree. If they decide to get back together, some of the terms could be included in a post-nuptial agreement.
The best way to effectuate a post-nuptial or separation agreement is to utilize a collaborative process which brings in various experts to assist the parties in resolving conflicts. Each party has a lawyer to advise regarding legal issues. A financial neutral helps the couple value assets and determine the parties’ financial needs and the impact of support payments. A licensed mental health professional is part of the team as a divorce coach. He or she facilitates communication, identifies impediments to the process, and/or raises certain emotional concerns that need to be addressed.
Deciding to divorce is a significant decision, but so is staying married when disputes cannot be resolved. The options discussed above can help individuals analyze their own situation, so they make a well-informed decision.
If you are thinking about divorce or are interested in a post-nuptial or separation agreement, contact me for a consultation.