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Dealing With Differing Levels of Divorce Readiness

In many divorces, the husband and wife are out of sync on a great number of issues – including how quickly they’d like to get divorced. There’s a term we use in divorces – especially in collaborative law cases, where a mental health professional is part of the team – called “divorce readiness,” to describe how prepared a person is to get divorced, and how quickly that person would like for the divorce to proceed. This is all related to another concept called the grieving process.  There are many versions of this, but a simple one contains the following steps: denial, grief, anger, and acceptance. 

Typically, the spouse who initiates a divorce is the one who rates highest on the divorce readiness scale. People don’t typically wake up one morning and decide to get divorced – they’re usually unhappy for a substantial period of time, may initiate efforts to help save the marriage, but may also be deciding that those measures aren’t working. So, when these people decide to get divorced, they’ve already been planning and preparing for post-divorce life.  They have already completed some version of the grieving process.

There’s an exception to this rule – a person who learns of a spouse’s infidelity or some other transgression (like criminal activity), or a person who is the victim of abuse – can springboard to a higher level of divorce readiness out of pure emotion. In those cases, it doesn’t matter that these people haven’t been mentally preparing for divorce – they simply want out as soon as possible, because the situation is desperate.

But, in most cases, both parties will acknowledge problems, and will eventually come to an acceptance of the divorce – but it will take one person longer than the other to get there.

For clients who have a higher level of divorce readiness, I urge, above all else, patience. As much as someone might want the divorce to happen tomorrow, it won’t happen tomorrow if his or her spouse isn’t ready for it to happen. When someone in that situation tries to push forward and force things, it creates turmoil in the short term and makes a divorce proceeding more challenging in the long term. In those cases, nudging the less-ready person toward divorce, rather than pushing them there, is the more prudent course of action. The party wanting the divorce can help by being 100% clear, 100% of the time, that the relationship is over. Anything else will usually delay the other spouse’s progress in the grieving process.  Beyond that, gently showing the other spouse the benefits (to him/her) of cooperating with moving forward, can also help.  But still, patience will almost always be needed by the one further along on the divorce readiness scale.

For clients who are less ready for a divorce, I find that one thing that helps them get moving is to show them that cooperating can be to their advantage in negotiations. I advise those clients that it may very well lead to a better outcome in the settlement if they’re willing to come to the table. A spouse with a higher level of divorce readiness (aka, in a big hurry) is more likely to compromise on issues, or even give some things up if it means that a settlement can be readily reached.

Ultimately, of course, every divorce is different, and the route to getting there can take unexpected twists and turns. But divorce readiness plays a big role in how a couple gets to a settlement no matter what kind of divorce it is, and if you’re in the middle of divorce yourself, having a lawyer who is aware of how to best manage differing levels of divorce readiness can help you get to a better settlement.