You’ve probably heard the statistics that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. While I have my opinions on it and shared last week the 4 strongest predictors of divorce (and their antidotes), I thought it would be interesting to get another perspective on it. So I asked my friend (and family law attorney) Katherine Holmes to share 5 Things a Divorce Attorney Wishes You Knew About Marriage.
1. Know where you stand financially.
I have had the unfortunate time of explaining to many clients that they are not in the financial situation that they thought they were. If your spouse handles a majority of the finances, keep yourself aware and ask to be copied on emails and important statements. Review the state of affairs, and clarify any issues you have with spending habits. Check your own credit score often and take responsibility. If you work from home with the children, have a backup plan and a few thousand dollars available just in case. If you are considering separation, have a six- to twelve-month plan.
2. When you marry your spouse, you marry their family.
Harkening back to item number 1, you would be surprised at how many clients have cited a breaking point of conflict between their spouse and their family of origin. One client’s wife berated him at a family get-together. Although she had insulted him privately before, it was simply not acceptable in front of his family, including nieces and nephews to whom he was a role model. He saw himself from their eyes, and realized that he could not share his life any more with someone who treated him that way. If you have a nice, solid relationship with your in-laws, remember that boundaries and open communication can alleviate tension before they become full-blown problems.
3. Fault doesn’t matter.
In Illinois, the judge cannot take into consideration the infidelity of a spouse. One partner cannot be punished in the property settlement because “she’s the one who wants to leave!” Illinois is a no-fault state, which means that the only way to divorce is citing irreconcilable differences. Addiction, name-calling, withholding sex, etc., are not behaviors for the court to consider, generally speaking. Do note that the judge can look at whether the offending spouse has spent marital money on said indiscretions.
4. Privacy goes out the window.
In a standard divorce, the parties exchange years worth of tax returns, income statements, credit and debit, plus bank statements. Your soon- to – be – ex will have access to these and most other financial statements. Most documents in your life will become discoverable by the other side, which means that they can request and you will most likely have to oblige, in producing these documents. My clients have been shocked: “Why does she want a history of my 401k contribution?” “Why do I have to tell him about my inheritance?” “What does it matter if I have a shopping habit?” It is a feeling of violation and exposure, and I am so sorry that it is the fact of many divorces.
5. Couples can stay together over big things, and break apart over small things.
With years of experience in divorce, I am still amazed at how many couples can stay together through some truly trying times. My clients have made their marriage work after infidelity (including children born outside the marriage as a result). They have fought and prevailed over drug addiction, gambling addiction, and alcoholism. One couple described feeling close despite their “ships in the night” schedules (two doctors) and through miscarriages, infertility, and more. Yet, the small things can tear them apart. For one couple I recently worked with, the wife began to out earn her husband and no longer felt that they had common interests. One couple stopped talking over coffee and crosswords, and then soon felt that they were bored with each other. Or, smaller still (some would say), the dishes. This and other emotional-labor issues are becoming a bigger point of contention and breakup than they have in the past.
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Katherine Holmes is a family law mediator and attorney in Chicago, Illinois. Her firm, Gipe Holmes PC, works in family law and estate planning. Her philosophy is that families should create their own futures, with an emphasis on mediation and collaboration wherever possible. She firmly believes that a lawyer should serve as a peacemaker, especially with personal relationships and family dynamics. After all, do you really want a judge deciding where your child spends their birthday? Reach her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org