"War is hell." -- William T. Sherman
It can happen to anybody
No matter how happy you might think that your marriage is; no matter how successful you and your spouse have been as parents; and no matter how long you have been married -- divorce can still happen. In our current family law, anybody can divorce their spouse at any time and no reason is required. It could be because of a midlife crisis, or "to pursue different interests", or to "find their own space", or minor disagreements or misunderstandings, or – most commonly – because one of the spouses wants to "upgrade" to somebody younger or wealthier than their current spouse. So nobody is ever immune from the prospect of coming home from work one day and finding that they have been divorced. The great majority (80%) of divorces are unilateral, and a large percentage of these are filed without any warning or previous discussions. Affairs are usually secret, so if you had complete faith and trust in your spouse and weren't looking for signs of an affair, it might come as a shock.
It is naive to think that marriage education alone can prevent divorce, or that a great sex life in your marriage can prevent infidelity. No matter who you are, there is always somebody else who is better looking or financially more successful. Look at movie stars and supermodels for example. And all of us get older, so at some point younger people will be sexually more desirable than we are. So temptation will always exist, and some of our spouses will give in to temptation in the right circumstances. The marriage education movement is definitely helping to reduce divorce but it is not the complete solution.
You come home from work one day, or perhaps from your son's baseball game, and find that your loved one has filed for divorce because he or she has met somebody else. You have spent years trying to do your best to be a good husband or wife to your spouse, and a good father or mother to your children, and you had no idea at all that this was coming.
The divorce legal documents might be asking you to move out of your home, or for your children to be separated from you to live with your spouse. Perhaps the divorce papers will have arrangements for your children to be able to visit you sometimes, even though you won't be allowed to live with them full time any more. Probably you will be ordered to pay your soon-to-be-ex a certain amount of money each month for alimony and child support. No mention will be made of your spouse's extramarital affair, because it isn't relevant in a No-Fault divorce.
Or, in certain states and if you are the father, the papers might contain false charges that you abused your wife or children, and the divorce papers might include a Restraining Order to keep you out of your home and away from your kids. Or maybe there can be an RO just out of anticipation that you might become violent.
No apology will be offered, because your spouse will have thoroughly rationalized everything and altered his/her memories and perceptions as necessary. Instead, your spouse will tell you that your marriage has been "broken for years” though you didn't realize it. Your spouse might say that he/she "loves you but is not in love with you.". There will be an "I don't love you any more" as if somehow that explains everything. You will be told that you have been lucky to have him/her for a spouse for as long as you did. Often, you will be told in detail of your sexual inadequacies as compared to his/her new partner. In some cases and some states, a divorcing wife might deliberately try to provoke a husband into loosing his temper and slapping her, so that Domestic Violence charges will make the divorce settlement much more favorable. (More about spousal abuse in another section).
If you are in this case – as many people experience every year -- what do you do?
Plaintiff and defendant
On this website, I'm using the legal terms "plaintiff" for the person who initiated the divorce and "defendant" for the person being divorced, though some states prefer to use euphemisms and others prefer to just say "divorcing couple" without making this crucial distinction at all. In some cases the plaintiff is not truly at fault for the divorce – for example if the defendant had an affair rather than the plaintiff – but to simplify the discussion let's assume that your spouse is the plaintiff who had an affair and then decided to divorce you because of preference for his/her new partner; and that you had no choice in the matter.
(Note: I am not a lawyer and nothing on my website should be considered as professional legal advice.)
First reaction – anger and revenge vs justice
Very commonly, people in this situation fall into one of two traps – either anger and desire for revenge on the one hand; or despair on the other. A third option is needed – gaining understanding and strength from the tests. Yes, it will be difficult and painful, but in the end you will be a better person because of it; and your ex-spouse is the true victim of this social disease. Always remember the your most important goal is protection of your children. As a faithful parent, you know what is best for your children and somehow you need to make it happen as much as possible despite your spouse and the family law system.
You might well feel angry, but you must distinguish between revenge and justice. You must have faith that in the end justice will come from God. It will not come from the family courts – see my other sections about No-Fault divorce and a more just society. Nor will it come from you.
Justice is a virtue for social institutions (though it doesn't exist yet in the case of family law); mercy and forgiveness are virtues for individuals. Getting revenge on your ex might be tempting, but in the long run it is not going to benefit your children or your own future. Always think about long term goals and always remain rational.
Expressions of anger
Psychologists say that if you were cheated on by your spouse, it is natural and "OK" to feel angry. But a good divorce lawyer will tell you differently. Any public expression of anger about adultery is most definitely not "OK", nor is being angry with your spouse, nor is letting your kids see you angry. It is natural to feel hurt and angry if your spouse had an affair and is now divorcing you – but be very careful to find a proper outlet to express the hurt and anger.
Domestic violence – real or imaginary – is a very big concern in adultery situations. If you are a man who was cheated on and then divorced by your wife, you must be very careful not to touch your wife in any way, and in some states you must be careful not to "verbally abuse" her either. States have varying requirements for actually proving domestic violence and varying laws about whether or not false accusations of domestic violence will have any negative repercussions for either side. But anyway it is best to try not to start down that path, and try to remain emotionless whenever you communicate with your divorcing spouse. Whenever you want to tell him or her something, try to sleep on it and consider the pros and cons before actually saying it, and consider that anything you say can be used against you. Legally, your spouse did nothing wrong, and if you do anything wrong such as abusive language, your spouse will have a big advantage over you.
Your kids also should not see you angry; the divorce is difficult enough for them already. To a lesser extent, that would also apply your family and in-laws. Supportive friends would be helpful.
Any expression of anger in court will be considered against you. Even if there is no "Domestic violence", people with anger management issues might be considered to be less fit parents despite having been faithful spouses and parents, and may be ordered into anger-management classes before they are considered fit to have visitation rights to see their children.
How to reply to “I don't love you any more and I want a divorce”
If you are not angry, another possible first reaction would be to beg your partner to not divorce you and to come back to the marriage. But that would be a mistake as well. Not only will it hurt your own self-esteem, but also it is not an effective strategy for avoiding divorce. As Michelle Weiner-Davis discusses in Divorce Busting, it makes you seem “needy” and therefore more work and responsibility for your spouse who wants to leave.
The Smart Marriages website & mailing list reported a story of a great reply – “I don't buy it”. The woman who responded this way to her husband and remained firm in rejecting the divorce was able to save her marriage in that case. “I don't believe you” or a simple “No” would be along the same lines and would also be an appropriate reply.
Or, simply ignore the comment for now and give yourself some time to think. But do NOT feel obligated to agree to a divorce which your spouse wants and you don't, especially if it is because your spouse was unfaithful. You have no moral obligation to a divorcing spouse. Your kids must come first.
Another answer to “I don't love you any more and I want a divorce” would be to suggest a new car instead of a divorce. A new car might bring as much happiness as a new spouse; the car will probably last longer than the second marriage under these circumstances, and it will be cheaper than a divorce with contested child custody. The offer won't be accepted but it makes clear the stupidity of divorcing ones' spouse in order to marry somebody else.
You cannot save your marriage by legal means -- that can only be done by making your spouse want to come back to you. (See the "Rescue a troubled marriage" section.) But you should still learn the laws and protect yourself legally even if you do still want to try to rescue your marriage.
Need for investigation of laws before doing anything
If you first learn about your divorce by being served a divorce notice, you need to be aware that it is only expressing what your spouse wants in terms of money, custody, etc. You will have a chance to hire your own lawyer and reply to it. Even if there was a Restraining Order based on false domestic violence changes, this will only be temporary and you will get a day in court to fight it.
Ideally you should have known a bit about the marriage and divorce laws of your state before getting married, or sometime during your marriage. But if, like me, you never thought about divorce much until one was initiated against you, the very first thing to do is go online and learn a little about how it works in your state. A website such as www.divorcesupport.com has a section about state divorce laws and is a good place to start. Laws differ greatly from state to state within the USA, to say nothing of other countries. Though all 50 states have some form of No-Fault, the details vary greatly. You don't need to read books to become a lawyer yourself, but you do need to find out a few basic facts before you start to select a lawyer. You should know whether or not there is a time limit for contested or uncontested divorce, what factors affect child custody, when spousal support (alimony) might apply, and the basic definitions of these things. For example, in Pennsylvania, a No-Fault divorce requires 90 days of separation if the two parties agree, or two years if the defendant does not agree. But many defendants are not aware of this time requirement, and don't make full use of the two years which Pennsylvania law allows them. The required time period gives at least a little bit of power to the defendant in a unilateral No-Fault divorce, if the defendant knows about it and is willing to use it as a bargaining chip. A couple of hours on the Internet might save $100s in legal fees, will help you find a good lawyer, and will give you confidence to face the coming storm.
Be aware that most divorce lawyers will offer an initial consultation for free. Do some homework first and ask friends if you have any who can help, then have initial meetings with a few lawyers. You won't necessarily have to continue with a fully litigated divorce, just get some facts first.
Accept the divorce and "move on with your life", or resist it?
After you learn the legal facts and calm down, you will need to make a major decision about how to handle the divorce which was filed against you. The conventional wisdom is that you cannot win a No-Fault divorce against you, so you might as well just accept it and "move on with your life". It is true that in the end, the plaintiff will win if he/she is sufficiently committed to getting the divorce; you cannot stop a divorce by legal means alone. Many defendants will try to get the unpleasantness over with as quickly as possible, and jump into new romantic relationships as quickly as possible. Certainly, that will be the easiest way to handle it.
Resisting the divorce could take a few forms, which are not mutually exclusive. One way is still trying to recover your marriage even after your spouse had an affair and filed for divorce – this is not as stupid and hopeless as it might sound. Another way is using the law to delay the divorce for awhile. Also, you might legally contest some aspects of the divorce such as custody, support money, and property division.
Here are few reasons why delay of the divorce might be in the interests of your children, and not just an act of revenge:
- Delay of the divorce could give your spouse time to end the adultery relationship with his/her new partner, so that your kids can avoid having to go through a quick second marriage and second divorce of the parent who ended the first marriage. Second marriages in general have a higher rate of failure than first marriages, but a second marriage between people who cheated on their former spouses is nearly certain to fail. As Maggie Gallagher pointed out in Abolition of Marriage, "re-divorce" of their new 'blended family' is one of the worst things that can happen to kids. In general, many children don't get along very well with stepparents, but that would be especially true when the stepparent was the one who destroyed the child's real family. You, the defendant, need to provide stability to your children's lives though without trashing the parent who left. It will be better for your kids if the adultery relationship fails by itself during a prolonged first divorce rather rather than as a second divorce.
- Delay of the divorce can allow you to do the property settlement at a time of your choosing -- the plaintiff already filed, but the defendant might have two years or more to accept it.
Likewise, it might be in the interests of your children, and not just matching your ex's selfishness, for you to hire a lawyer to try to get more custody and a better financial settlement:
- Child abuse most often happens at the hands of stepparents and boyfriends of divorced mothers. Statistics prove that the presence of biological fathers in the lives of the children provides protection and safety for the children. If you as a responsible parent can get a greater share of child custody, you can help to protect your kids.
- Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a very real and growing problem. A father must fight hard – perhaps in court – to be able to stay involved with his children and avoid the children being alienated against him by a mother who initiated the divorce.
- Children of divorce will be much less likely to have money for college -- so if you can get more money you can help your kids with college.
- Parents (especially fathers) who loose custody often find themselves “punished” by so-called “Child Support” collection agencies. These are composed of greedy bureaucrats and lawyers who force you to pay to money to the custodial parent (usually the mother), who might be an irresponsible person who an affair and then divorced for her own selfish reasons. A custodial mother like this might spend the child support money on luxuries for herself rather than the children. By avoiding “child support” paid to the divorcing parent, you can save money which you can use for really, directly helping your children such as health care and college. See the section on Unfair Child Support for more about this. If you fight for at least 50% custody, perhaps you can avoid this nightmare and provide genuine financial support for your children.
Advice for defense in particular cares:
Here are sub-sections for situations which might or might not be applicable in your case and in your state. (If you are not in the USA or Canada, probably it won't apply at all.)
Mediation or Litigation? -- The ugly truth about mediation
Your marital home -- stay or go?
Child custody Co-parenting
I don't know any other books or websites dealing with defence against unilateral divorce – it is one of the reasons why I made this website.