When someone walks into Adam Dodge’s law office and asks the attorney to begin drawing up divorce papers, the first thought that goes through his mind is “Why?”
“I’m wondering how did they get to this point?” the co-author of the book The Empowered Woman’s Guide to Divorce: A Therapist and a Lawyer Guide You Through Your Divorce Journey tells HealthyWay. “People can arrive at this decision in a variety of ways, and the path taken will often dictate the steps moving forward. Was there infidelity? Did they come to this decision yesterday? Or was it a long time coming? Every case is the same, but every case is different.”
“Basically, it wasn’t a partnership anymore, but I realized this in hindsight. At the time I just would have said, ‘I’m really lonely.’”
Divorce rates have been climbing steadily in the past 50 years, and no one knows that better than the divorce attorneys whose job it is to help dissolve a marriage. The way Dodge looks at it, it’s also a divorce attorney’s job to figure out what caused their clients’ marriages to fail, so they can help them along the path to divorce.
But knowing why people divorce doesn’t just help a lawyer help their clients. It also presents them with the opportunity to tell couples what not to do in their own relationships so they can avoid winding up in a courtroom.
As New Jersey divorce attorney (and sometimes matchmaker) Shlomo Bregman tells HealthyWay, knowing what causes divorce can help couples “reverse engineer” the problems before they crop up in their own marriages, preventing a trip to his office.
So what common marriage blow-ups should you be looking to avoid?
Candice Kilpatrick’s marriage didn’t end with a bang. It was more of a whimper.
“We weren’t fighting, but we didn’t have a relationship beyond logistics with the kids,” the New York mom says of the final years of her 11-year marriage. “Basically, it wasn’t a partnership anymore, but I realized this in hindsight. At the time I just would have said, ‘I’m really lonely.’”
“It’s like that old song, you’ve lost that loving feeling”
Her story is all too common and all too familiar for attorneys like Bregman. Many people walk into his office saying things like “I’m unhappy.”
“But if you probe, usually they say their spouse is giving them high doses of inattention,” Bregman explains. He chalks this one up to disconnection and a lack of communication between the two partners.
Sometimes it’s because the partners have gone in different directions, sometimes because one is taking the other for granted. Often, Bregman’s clients will use phrases like “we’ve grown apart” or “the romance is gone,” to describe their feelings of loneliness.
“It’s like that old song, you’ve lost that loving feeling,” he says. “They’ll say ‘He changed’ or ‘She changed.’ ‘That is not the person I married.'”
No one likes being ignored, but it’s particularly frustrating when the person doing the ignoring is the one you’ve pledged to be with in sickness and in health. If a couple can’t find a better way to communicate and show each other they care, Bregman says it can lead to at least half of the couple feeling like they’d be better off alone. And often, they make that happen with a trip to a divorce lawyer.
Bottom line: If your partner uses terms like “lonely,” or “unhappy,” start talking. Immediately!
Alaina Patterson (name changed) started squirreling money away before her then-husband was expected to be discharged from the military. The Colorado resident knew their family of four would need it to help them survive while she worked, but she would also need for her husband to claim unemployment and file for the GI Bill to return to school to keep them afloat.
But Patterson’s ex didn’t file for either the GI Bill or unemployment, nor did he look for a job. No matter how much she begged, he refused to move forward. By the time Patterson walked out of the couple’s nearly 10-year marriage, their joint bank account was empty and Patterson was depending on food stamps to feed their kids.
It doesn’t matter if a couple is struggling to pay their bills or they’re living it up like the Real Housewives. People in every income bracket can have financial squabbles that tear their marriages apart. In fact, some 35 percent of people who responded to a Harris Poll sponsored by SunTrust Bank blame the stress in their relationship on financial issues.
—Regina A. DeMeo
“People are much more aware of the instability created by staying in a marriage with someone that lacks financial responsibility.”
—Regina A. DeMeo
Regina A. DeMeo, an attorney who has been practicing law in the Bethesda, Maryland, area for the past 18 years, says she’s seen a sharp spike in “people wanting out because of financial differences or financial infidelity” since the recession of 2008.
“I find that people are much more aware of the instability created by staying in a marriage with someone that lacks financial responsibility, and there’s less tolerance of someone that isn’t doing his [or] her best to contribute and maintain financial security for the family unit,” DeMeo tells HealthyWay.
The money issues that send people into DeMeo’s office are always unique to the couple, but they tend to fall into two basic camps: The marriage where one person says the other is spending too much or the marriage where one spouse feels the other isn’t maximizing their earnings or savings. That can mean anything from someone who doesn’t save to the person who feels like their spouse should work harder or move up the ladder faster at their job.
“The fact is that marriage is more than just a partnership built on love,” DeMeo says. “You are presumably helping each other to build a life together, and in order to feel safe and secure in this endeavor, you need to be on the same page about spending prudently and saving. If you don’t respect your spouse’s choices and trust your partner with money, I don’t see how you can make it work in the long run.”
Somebody got (too) social.
Couple meets. Couple falls in love. One half of the couple cheats on their spouse.
Infidelity is a tale as old as time, and it’s one of the leading reasons people end up in North Carolina divorce lawyer Angela McIlven’s office.
But while affairs are responsible for about 40 percent of all the divorces she handles, McIlven tells HealthyWay she’s seeing a modern twist on the old story of late. “With the popularity of social media, we have seen an increase in people having affairs,” she notes. “Or perhaps, they just get caught more often!”
“I found a suspicious E-ZPass transaction.”
Amanda Warner (name changed) knows all too well that this can happen. Her 10-year marriage was undone by online connections seven years ago.
Unbeknownst to her, Warner’s toddler had shoved her credit card into the CD drive of a computer, leaving her scrambling to find the card. When she asked her credit card company to issue a new one, Warner did an account review that turned up something strange.
“We had just had a very sad and miserable 10th anniversary,” she recalls. “And I found a suspicious E-ZPass transaction.”
After Warner confronted her husband, he eventually admitted to meeting a woman online and breaking their marriage vows. The couple’s marriage never recovered, and if scientific research is any indication, the growth in social media use could only mean more divorces.
In one study published in 2014 in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, researchers from Boston University and Chile’s Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile noted a negative correlation between social media usage and “marriage quality and happiness.” Researchers also tied use of social media to “experiencing a troubled relationship and thinking about divorce.”
Social media may not be avoidable, but staying alert to the lures of infidelity offered by the internet may be wise.
Them’s fightin’ words.
When someone is contemplating divorce but isn’t quite sure if they’re ready to end a marriage, legal threats can be the thing that pushes them right over the edge, says Dodge.
“Clients must set about verifying the threat’s accuracy, and often the best place to do that is in the office of a divorce attorney.”
Dodge often hears from clients that their spouse said things like “You’ll have to get a job immediately!” or “You’ll never see the kids again.”
Another popular threat is “I’m going to take everything.”
“Legal threats require very little effort by the party making them but can intimidate an uniformed recipient into acting against their own best interests,” Dodge notes. “Clients must set about verifying the threat’s accuracy, and often the best place to do that is in the office of a divorce attorney.”
Threats may be blurted out in anger with no real intentions to carry through, but it turns out even empty threats can have very serious consequences for a marriage.
Feeling heated? Find a healthy way to blow off steam and choose your words wisely.