Lately I have been thinking about how people decide to divorce. As anyone who has gone through a divorce will tell you, it is one of the hardest, if not the hardest decision a person makes. The collaborative divorce team starts with an understanding that the history leading up to, and the decision to divorce, inform and guide the process from beginning to end.
Sometimes both individuals know it is time and they agree to part ways. This might seem like the best-case scenario, and it can be if two people who once loved each other have fallen out love and want to separate. They may or may not have children at home. Or the marriage was over long ago, but they decided to wait until their children went off to college. It can also be that one person is having an affair, wants to pursue that relationship, and the other person agrees that the marriage is over. In that instance the dynamic going forward will invariably be complicated since there has been a major breach of trust.
In many situations one individual decides that he or she wants a divorce and informs the other of the decision. Sometimes the other person has been waiting to hear this or to get up the courage to tell their spouse, and relatively quickly gets on board.
Then there are the all too common situations in which one person surprises the other with the news. This may set up a dynamic in which one person is perceived as the “leaver” and the other the “left.” In these cases, the spouse who has been informed of their partner’s intention may feel abandoned, powerless and even crazy because he or she did not see this coming and does not want the divorce. They and others may see the one who is “left” as the victim in the divorce, and shun the “leaver.” Children may also get on the bandwagon and side with the “good” parent, and view the one who chose the divorce as abandoning the family.
In many cases the person who initiated the divorce may feel some power, relief and hope at the prospect of starting a new life. They may also experience guilt about the decision and worry over how this will affect their spouse and children. It may also be that they felt they had to end the marriage because of an affair, financial mismanagement or mental illness on the part of the spouse. Children may also side with this parent and view the parent who was “left” as the “bad” one.
The trajectory of the divorce is likely to be affected by who initiated it and the circumstances surrounding the decision. In a litigated divorce, the court is uninterested in the subtleties of who commenced the action, how devastated the parties are, or how the children are faring. In a collaborative divorce, these factors are integral to the process. If one person needs to slow down and work with his or her coach to feel more accepting of the divorce, and ready to proceed, the process allows for it. If another individual wants to spend more time with the financial neutral, so as to gain a thorough understanding of the finances because that had not been their focus in the marital division of labor, the process allows for it. If the couple wants to resolve an issue from their past together that led to the decision to divorce, the process also allows for that. Simply put, the couple’s needs guides the pace and content of the process, with the team alongside to support them in their journey, from start to finish.