Divorce or Stay Together?
What steps can I take to save my troubled marriage or civil union?
Many have found marital counseling, with either clerical or lay therapists, quite beneficial. While no therapist can solve every marital problem, many have succeeded in changing the course of their rocky relationships through counseling.
On the other hand, there are the unfortunate many who fail to save their marriage or civil unions through conventional marriage or civil union counselling. One of the necessary elements for most forms of marriage or civil union counseling to work is that both parties earnestly want the marriage or civil union to succeed. Often, one party wants the marriage or civil union to succeed, while the other wants out. Another ill-fated approach to training to save a marriage or civil union through counseling happens when one or both of the parties attend the sessions because they feel that it is expected of them.
When a divorcing person announces his or her plans for ending a marriage or civil union to friends or family members, the classical response is the question: “Have you tried marriage or civil union counseling?” Many people, in anticipation of this question, see to it that they can respond: “Yes, we’ve tried marriage or civil union counseling, and it didn’t work. Some couples are turned off by the idea of marriage or civil union counseling, and so never attend. Others get turned off once the process is initiated. An unskilled or clumsy counselor can actually contribute to the problems dividing the couple. Our approach to helping couples reconcile their issues is discussed on our “Reconciliation” page. The approach does not rely on psychology, but on understanding the realities of divorce, the needs and issues of the parties, and the best approach for communicating, arguing and solving problems.
We are constantly arguing. It there anything we can do to stay out of divorce court?
As a matter of fact, some conflict and disagreements are important for long-term success in marriage or civil union. The key is really how argument is conducted. In other words, does argument usually escalate tension, or does it typically lead to a feeling of resolution.
Sometimes, the problem is basically a lack of some interpersonal skills or understanding of the other’s point of view, values, personality or temperament. Sometimes, the problem is not lack of skill or understanding, but rather the noxious byproduct of the negativity that has dominated the marriage or civil union.
Couples in this toxic environment can benefit greatly by learning how to break the cycle of negativity and pattern arguments, in order to give certain repair mechanisms a chance to work. Before and during potentially touchy discussions, troubled couples should make an agreement to limit discussions of contentious issues to 15 or 20 minutes (tops) at a single sitting.
Learning to calm down after arguments is the first step to a constructive resolution. Arguing spouses need to recognize when they are feeling overwhelmed and at the point of saying things they would soon live to regret.
Once accustomed to recognizing these threshold points, individuals can begin deliberate efforts to calm down. If you must call for a time-out to cool off, then do it. A very important skill or discipline that can benefit everyone is the ability to listen or speak without becoming defensive or promoting defensiveness.
Non-defensive listening helps ease the couple’s defensive style of speaking to one another. Defensiveness is very dangerous and encourages the cycle of negativity. By finding the courage not to be defensive, or by minimizing it as much as possible, many troubled marriages or civil unionss can begin to improve.
Another key to living well together is validation; letting the other know with little clues that his or her point of view is understood. This can be one of the most powerful tools for healing in a relationship, marital or otherwise. Instead of attacking or ignoring each other’s views, the partners try to see the problem from each other’s perspective. Validation is simply putting oneself in the other’s shoes and vividly imagining how they must feel and believe. This very effective technique is also known as the “first position perceptual shift.” To reinforce this learning, it is important – once some success has been experienced – continue to practice these lessons until they become automatic.
If we can’t work things out, should we stay together for the sake of our children?
Divorces occur for different reasons. Some people have just grown apart. Others can’t argue or make important joint decisions constructively. Many people who are unhappy or unfulfilled in their marriages or civil unionss do stay together until the their children are a certain age, or until they have all left the nest.
There is a lot of controversy in the research about whether the decision to divorce or to stay married in a loveless marriage or civil union effects the children one way or the other. Writers in this area have even contradicted themselves over time. Many people become better parents and better friends with each other following a divorce.
One thing is for certain, however. If the divorce is being contemplated because of Domestic Violence, things only get worse for all involved if the abuse is permitted to continue. While offenders can be rehabilitated, it is not in the children’s best interests for cohabitation to continue in the presence of continuing violence. Please visit our “Domestic Violence” page for more information on this subject.
Staying together or divorcing for the sake of the children depends upon the nature and extent of the marital discord. The key question to ask is whether the unhappy couple could cooperate on parenting issues when staying together. In other words, if the decision to stay is premised upon what’s best for the children, there has to be a conscious decision by both parents to the effect that their needs to be happy in a marital relationship are being subordinated by the needs of the children to have their parents stay together.
That being the case, if the couple cannot realistically expect to function as a unit in parenting their children, the decision to stay together for the sake of the children should be rejected as a “lose-lose” proposition.
If we do decide to stay together until the children are older “for their sake” when would be the least damaging time to go ahead with our divorce?
All children, regardless of age and gender, feel a short term impact resulting from their parents’ divorce. Please consider the following general observations (they are ONLY general observations), often reported as descriptive behaviors or symptoms, by age:
Preschoolers: These children sometimes suffer sleep disturbances. They may have problems with toilet training and eating with utensils, and may forget skills they had earlier mastered.
5-6 years old: These children may throw temper tantrums and show other signs of increased aggression. They sometimes harbor feelings of self-blame and intense sadness.
6-8 years old: These children long for their parents’ reconciliation. Like the preschoolers, they sometimes experience sleep disturbances. They also want to appear and be loyal to both parents.
9-12 years old: Conversely, these children feel and direct anger at both parents, but often side with one. They experience extreme feelings of embarrassment and mortification.
13-18 years old: These children experience more extremes than the 9-12 years old group, including extremely angry and blameful reactions. Interestingly, many of them worry about their personal finances and assets, and whether they would have to directly suffer the economic effects of the divorce.
Loyalty conflicts are also observed to exist. Some of these youngsters are engaged in increasing sexual exploration. Others go into social withdrawal and may experience anxiety about their relationships. The bottom line is that children experience short-term adjustments to separation and divorce at every age. There is no “right age,” as far as the children are concerned, to divorce.
One phenomenon I have observed rather often is the brooding contempt that many adult children have expressed “and I’m talking people in their thirties and forties” toward their elder parents, who waited until all the children were all married-off to announce their plans for not going into retirement together. Many of them believe that they were made to live a lie, and that their positive recollections of childhood were, in large part, orchestrated illusions.
Does gender play a role in how children react to divorce?
Gender comes into play as well. Males usually react differently from the way females do. Males often become aggressive, with females frequently becoming withdrawn. For most children “as long as the battling stops between the parents” life becomes more stable after the first year of divorce. This is particularly true where they are transferred from a hostile home to a calm one.
But whether their parents stay married or divorce, if there is constant conflict, children will suffer long-term consequences either way. I believe that children can and do survive divorce, as long as their parents declare a truce with each and go on to provide a relatively predictable lifestyle for their children to feel secure about sharing.
Is there “Legal Separation” in New Jersey?
No. If a marriage or civil union is irretrievably broken, a separation only succeeds in postponing the inevitable. In New Jersey, a separation cannot compel an unwilling spouse to provide financial information, divide assets, allocate debts or pay support.
Can I leave the marital home?
Either party can choose to leave the marital residence. However, an attorney should be consulted before making this or any other major change in circumstances. In some situations, physical separation is advisable.
However, in many cases, leaving the home may have serious negative consequences to the person doing the leaving. This is particularly true if the person leaving is seeking custody of the children, but chooses to allow the children to remain in the residence with the other parent. Departure from the home may also create an otherwise avoidable financial burden for both parties.
Can I make my spouse leave the marital home?
The court will rarely compel either party to leave the marital home until the divorce is final, except in the event of domestic violence.
Only in unique circumstances would a party be compelled to leave the home in the absence of domestic violence. Victims of physical abuse or verbal harassment should consider call the police or applying directly to the Courts for protection.
An emergent order may be entered by either a Municipal or Family Court judge to immediately exclude the allegedly abusive spouse from the marital home. A hearing is supposed to be held within ten days to determine whether there is enough evidence to keep the allegedly violent spouse from returning to the home on a permanent basis. If such an order is granted, the violent spouse will not be permitted to return to the home, except to retrieve personal belongings, and then, only with a police escort. If unsupervised parenting time with the other spouse is ordered, transfers are often accomplished “curb-side.
What are the grounds for divorce and does fault make a difference in determining the outcome?
In New Jersey, there are several “fault-based” grounds and one “no fault” cause of action for divorce. In most cases, fault has no bearing on how marital assets will be divided or on how support and alimony issues will be decided.
Many lawyers and judges consider the concept of marital fault to be dead in New Jersey absent truly bizarre circumstances. In rare cases, the Court may consider the grounds for divorce as a factor in determining alimony. Again, this is the exception as opposed to the rule.
Without digressing from the realities, the provable claim would have to be something along the lines of the spouse at fault visiting the other, sickly spouse “while in the hospital and in guarded condition” to share the existence of a continuing affair with a dear friend of the ailing spouse, with the friend having already moved into the marital home, wearing the hospitalized spouse’s pajamas to bed.
Fault is an emotional factor in a divorce, but it typically has little or no influence on the terms of a final settlement.
The phrase “Extreme Cruelty” sounds quite harsh. What does it really mean?
Extreme Cruelty is the most commonly used ground for divorce. More than one-half of the divorces in New Jersey are based on extreme cruelty.
Common factors can include allegations that the other spouse: is too tight or too loose with money; denies necessities; uses too much or not enough credit; neglects monthly payments; spends unreasonably; is overly controlling; has an erratic employment history; causes embarrassment or humiliating experiences; abuses alcohol or drugs; gambles compulsively or unacceptably; is sexually inconsideration; refuses to have sexual intercourse; is sexually excessive; makes unreasonable sexual demands; engages in perversions; is impotent; is homosexual or bi-sexual; plays mind games; dates other people, short of adultery or deviant sexual conduct; refuses to do chores; doesn’t fulfill the role as parent, spouse or supporter; lies; commits fraudulent acts; conceals information; insists upon not enough or too many social activities out of the home; uses offensive language; perpetrates acts of domestic violence; lacks personal hygiene; lacks initiative; exhibits noxious or distancing interpersonal behaviors; uses the cold shoulder treatment; employs domineering behaviors; engages in non-productive or aggravating arguments; launches threats; displays unwarranted jealousy; has a rotten temper; is mentally ill; acts neurotic; is emotionally unstable; commits crimes; has conflicting religious beliefs or practices; drives badly or dangerously; harbors unreasonable obsessions; incites provocation; engages in inappropriate acts of retaliation; displays indifference (the true opposite of love); lacks affection; nags incessantly; refuses to have children.
Many have accurately observed that allegations sufficient to sustain a divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty involve shortcomings, problems or disappointments common to even healthy, thriving marriages or civil unionss. The unspoken policy of the State of New Jersey is not to force anyone to stay married who does not wish to continue in that relationship.
The allegations can be rather light and there is no necessity to recite every repugnant act ever committed by the other party in a Complaint for Divorce. In fact, in the event a Trial is ever actually convened, most Judges are not interested in hearing any testimony or reviewing any evidence that is not relevant to economic, parenting, credibility or safety issues, or to proving the existence of acts amounting to domestic torts or civil offenses occurring within the relationship.
What if my spouse won’t agree to the divorce?
This question, which has to be asked of divorce lawyers thousands of times in any given year, is quite possibly the result of watching too many old movies on TV.
There were times, dating back to before the American Revolution, when couples who mutually wanted to end their marriage or civil unions would actually hire actors to stage adulterous liaisons with one or the other of them, as well as private detectives to document and testify to the performance they observed.
Much more recently, but still a good many years ago, boudoir photos were often part of the divorce trial. Practically speaking, if one of a married pair wants out of the marriage or civil union, the marriage or civil union will end, with or without the others’ consent or objection.
Can I apply for an Annulment instead of a divorce?
In a divorce, the court declares the marriage or civil union contract broken; in an annulment, the court says that there never was a marriage or civil union.
Annulment is more difficult to prove – and much rarer – than divorce. To go this route, it is strongly advised that an attorney be consulted. Out of the great many people who have consulted with our offices on the possibility of obtaining an annulment over the years, only three had sustainable grounds.
If an annulment is sought for religious reasons, consult with a priest, minister, or rabbi as well. Just because a New Jersey Court grants your Compliant for Annulment ( Nullity ), does not mean your religious faith will recognize the Annulment.