Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ending a Long-Term Marriage -- 5 Fallacies

Many couples, later in life, are facing the end of their marriages.  It seems to be more and more common for Baby Boomers to decide to divorce in their 50s and 60s and later.  That decision creates many new challenges for both parties, but especially for one party if she or he was not the initiating party.  Divorcing is not too difficult if both parties are emotionally ready for it and want to be divorced.  The biggest problem comes when one party is surprised by the other party's decision to start a divorce.

When one party reaches the point of committing to a divorce, and the other party doesn't know it's coming, there can be some big problems for both parties.  Sometimes the signs are there, but a spouse just doesn't want to acknowledge them.  Hiding one's head in the sand will only work for so long.  Eventually, everyone has to face the situation and start making difficult decisions.  Acceptance doesn't come easily for many people.  They deny that the divorce is going to take place, or that it should, and then later will fight to punish their departing spouse.

The spouse initiating a divorce, when the other spouse is surprised, often has some very wrong ideas about what to expect.  The initiator often has spent a lot of time reviewing the situation and has some up with some very logical plans for ending the marriage.  Sometimes, the plans are very selfish, which makes them a hard sell.  Other times, the plans are generous, but even those may be hard to promote.  Unfortunately, logic usually doesn't work, at least initially, when dealing with a very emotional spouse.

Here are some false expectations that are common at the outset of a Baby Boomer divorce later in life.

1.  This can be quick.  It almost never is, and it won't be if the other spouse isn't ready emotionally.  Unless there have been a lot of productive discussions in advance, it will probably take quite a while -- a year or so in litigation; probably less in Collaborative Law.  Aside from the emotions, there's a lot to unravel after a long marriage.  Quite often there are children, some minor and some adult, and provisions are usually made for them.  In addition, planning for employment and retirement for the spouses can be very challenging, especially if one has been a stay-at-home parent.

2.  It can be cheap.  That partly depends on how much fighting is going on, which is affected by the emotional readiness of each spouse. In addition, the parties will be dividing up assets and suddenly will be facing the "golden" years without half the gold they accumulated and planned with over the years.  Retirement plans and housing get drastically changed.  In addition, the costs of a divorce can be substantial if there is a lot of fighting or there are a number of assets that require expert valuations.

3.  It's easy.  After a long-term marriage, there are many, many connections and dependencies which have to be undone or compensated for.  Over the years, parties make a lot of assumptions about their future, and now new plans have to be made.  Complications come from age, health, unemployment, outdated job skills, shrinking  retirement funds and insurance issues.  It will not be simple.

4.  It can be painless.  Sure, if everyone agrees to get the divorce and instantly agrees on the terms.  Of course, that never happens.  Most often, the "leavee" is angry and out for revenge, or at least a lopsidedly-favorable settlement.  Usually, the initiator pays for the break-up, even if the the other party is partly or wholly at fault.  Remember, logic has little or no place in divorces.

5.  A party can just walk away.  It's never that easy.  There will always be ties -- financial connections, family relationships, children, and friends, among other ways.  Unless both parties are emotionally on the same page, expect trouble!

Suggestion:  Consider using Collaborative Law to help deal with the emotions and the varied financial issues that Baby Boomers face when they divorce later in life.  That's smarter than trying to handle this by yourself or going through litigation.


Uncle Kevin said...

Keep writing, Dick. I am enjoying checking in on your posts. I am part of the Seattle collaborative community and will be in Chicago presenting at the Forum for the first time on the Anatomy of the Elevator Speech. Hoping to see you and everyone else in Chicago!!

Uncle Kevin said...

Keep posting, Dick. I am enjoying your posts from up here in Seattle. We have a vibrant collaborative community here and I enjoy seeing what other communities are writing and thinking about. I will be presenting for the first time at the Forum in Chicago on the Anatomy of the Elevator Speech. Hope to see you and everyone else there.