This question might be the biggest factor you can use to evaluate if your divorce is likely to be contested or uncontested. You don’t have to be a psychologist, marriage counselor or divorce attorney to know that in many marriages one spouse determines the marriage is over long before the other. Accepting the reality of divorce happens when one spouse imagines life after divorce and thinks from that perspective. If you are ready for a divorce but you don’t know if your spouse is, getting them to imagine and think about life after divorce is a crucial step in getting an uncontested divorce. It might sound manipulative to try and get your spouse to think this way, but there’s no way around it, if you want an uncontested divorce. Both spouses have to be on the same page and agree on everything to end a marriage amicably and this requires both spouses to accept the reality of divorce.
Getting your spouse to this point is kind of like a salesman getting a prospective buyer to “think past the sale.” For instance, when you go to buy a car, if the car salesman can get you to imagine your daily life from the position of driving in that car, they are more than 50% of the way to closing the deal. This applies to divorce as well as other things in life. People tend to expect, accept, and even embrace the reality of divorce once they’ve had the opportunity to mentally imagine their life as a divorced person. Of course, this doesn’t mean they will like the idea but they probably won’t fight the process as much once they’ve accepted its going to happen unless someone is being unreasonable. That’s a discussion for another day. For this post, the only goal is to get your spouse thinking past the divorce.
Being a salesman isn’t easy, and make no mistake about it, if your spouse hasn’t accepted the idea of a divorce you are going to have to sell them on the idea or you’ll be fighting it out in court. In selling divorce, one of the best tools you can have is getting your spouse to think about life after divorce before you even mention it. I don’t mean for this to sound callous or manipulative. You will need to empathize with your spouse’s situation if they haven’t given divorce much thought. How would you feel if one day, seemingly out of the blue, your spouse asked for a divorce? This gets worse with children. You would naturally start thinking “what went wrong,” “why didn’t I see this coming,” “are they cheating on me,” “how can this be fixed,” “what about the kids” and so on. If you are ready for the divorce, but your spouse isn’t, these thoughts and more will race through their mind. So, don’t just come home spring the idea on them and show them divorce papers. Timing is very important. Even though you are ready to move on as fast as possible, you must have patience and allow them time to process everything. Rushing them will often buy you a costly, painful, and sometimes embarrassing legal battle.
So, what should you do? Well, I am not going to give you advice on that. I’m not qualified. Nor is anyone else for that matter. However, I have helped many clients through the uncontested and contested divorce processes in Texas, and a common trait I’ve observed in the uncontested cases is that the spouses in those matters spent months, if not years, thinking about life after divorce. before they even filed. So, by the time they hired me, the spouses emotionally and, sometimes, physically left the marriage long ago.
But, don’t worry, you already know what to do. Give yourself some persuasion credit. Think about it, did you ever have a boyfriend or girlfriend that you no longer wanted be with but you didn’t want to be the jerk that asked for the break-up? What did you do? Yeah, that’s right. You were kind of shady and manipulative. I’ve done it and I’ve had it done to me too. It’s not nice and it really hurts to be on the receiving end. The point is, it works. Think back at what you did or what your significant other did. They probably started to complain about things, become less emotionally available, argued more frequently, cut you off from the physical benefits of a relationship, and always had other things to do, and etc. It’s of course harder and more complicated in a marriage, but it’s the same idea. And, if you do it effectively, they may even bring up the idea of a divorce before you do, maybe they’ll even think it was their idea.
So in case you’re a bit rusty or can’t remember how it was done to you, I’m going to imagine how I would attempt the process. This of course isn’t legal advice, and I’m really not looking forward to my wife reading this post. You’re all welcome in advance.
First, I wouldn’t just come home, throw open the front door and start chewing my spouse out for everything that has ever gone wrong in the marriage. That’s like throwing a frog in boiling water, they’ll jump right back out. But, if you turn the heat up slowly, well things change. So, I would start by complaining about a few things here and there and increase the frequency as the days and weeks past. As annoying things or circumstances here and there about my spouse manifest, I would draw attention to them and voice frustration. Again, I wouldn’t overwhelm them, but as the days and weeks past I would be “turning up the heat” slowly. I imagine I would be a little more quiet and preoccupied with things like tv, friends, sports, or even work. Probably start noticeably working out more. By the way when your spouse out of the blue starts working out again, there may be something going on, just FYI. Anyways, I would expect a few tiffs and arguments here and there, but that’s okay. Its all part of the process and necessary for my spouse to start accepting that the marriage isn’t going well and get their minds thinking. Perhaps, I would make sure I was seen, occasionally, watching movies, news reports, entertainment news, or other forms of media that touch on the subject of divorce. It doesn’t need to be dramatic, in fact its better if the chosen media is light hearted or comedic. So, please don’t purchase Kramer vs. Kramer (Meryl Streep & Dustin Hoffman, 1979) on Itunes. Its a good movie but a bit over the top for our purposes. However, watching Ms. Doubtfire ( Robin Williams , 1993), Something to Talk About (Julia Roberts & Dennis Quaid 1995), or It’s Complicated (Meryl Streep & Alec Baldwin 2009) are all excellent and entertaining choices. Either way, you get the point, I would subtly (perhaps subconsciously) getting the divorce idea into their brain.
After laying the ground work for a few weeks or months (depending upon the reception), I would anticipate a few more arguments but during these arguments (or hopefully more like “serious discussions”) I would hope to start seeing some progress in the discussions and I wouldn’t be surprised if my spouse brought up the options of divorce, or marriage counseling. I would show some interest in these options but try to avoid a full blow divorce conversation at this time. However, if my spouse confronted me by flat out asking “do you want a divorce,” I would probably respond with something like “well, I’m not happy with things right now, and I know you aren’t either but I don’t know what I want right now.” Then let them vent. I would probably wait a few days to let this sink in before attempting the bigger conversation. Again, my goal is to give my spouse enough time to think about the problems in the marriage and perhaps imagine “what would happen if we got divorced.” Ultimately, I don’t think you know for sure when enough time has passed but eventually a real divorce conversation must occur.
When the inevitable conversation presents itself, I would engage it and brain storm options, as my spouse listened, of how the divorce could work. Reaffirming that we’ve both changed and that we’ve both been unhappy for a while may prevent a finger pointing argument. I would be prepared to answer some questions but keep my responses general and broad, I doubt I would go into too much detail. My goal would be to get them talking to see what they say. I would expect lots of frustration and I would do my best to not place excessive blame for the divorce on my spouse in response to any questions they might ask. Constantly, I would redirect the conversation to questions like “how do we move forward from here?” In short, I wouldn’t throw around a lot of blame.
Above all, I would avoid answering any questions about affairs, if possible. It’s a difficult call, but it almost always ends badly if you admit to one. However, I must say, this isn’t a big concern of mine, since I’ve been in this business for so long, I know that its simply not worth having an affair prior to a divorce. It complicates things way too much, your kids end up angry with you, and it encourages “pay back” thinking on the part of your spouse. But, if for some unlikely reason I completely lost my mind, forgot all I’d learned in the past 8 years of divorce practice, and I had an affair, I would try to dodge that question as much as possible, but I wouldn’t lie. Perhaps responding to this question, deserve more thought and a blog post all to its self.
At all times, during the divorce talk, I would recognize the importance of letting my spouse communicate as well and explore options, fears and other things aloud so I could reassure them that it will work out. I wouldn’t get heated or stuck on issues that I disagreed with, even if they really made me angry. I would simply steer the conversation to things like splitting assets, debts, and possession times with the kids. The goal here is to gauge how far apart we are on the important issues.
I wouldn’t try to hammer out the whole divorce agreement in one night, unless my spouse was surprisingly very agreeable about everything. On a side note, if they were too agreeable, ironically, I might start wondering if 1) I had done an amazing job of influencing my spouse or 2) if they were having an affair, and ironically be upset that I missed that. Nevertheless, regardless of the issues discussed, I would seek to end the initial conversation with us having a general road map of what the agreed divorce might look like. I would be prepared for a few more conversations to iron everything out, but in each conversation I would frequently indicate that I knew above all else our goals were to remain amicable and avoid giving away tens of thousands to expensive lawyers and wasting a year or more of our lives.
Once I felt we agreed on all divorce issues (asset splits, debt assumption, child possession, child support, and health insurance), I would prepare the agreed Texas divorce forms on this site and let my spouse read them over. If they asked for copies of bank statements, retirement accounts, or anything else, I would immediately give it to them. I wouldn’t hide the ball. I would tell them I would take care of filing everything and finalizing the divorce to make their obligations nothing more than reviewing and signing the forms.
If at any point during this process my spouse seemed to get out of control and become irrational, I would probably start interviewing local divorce attorneys, just in case. If it became clear, after several conversations, possibly spanning weeks, that there was no way to reach an agreement, I would hire a Texas Divorce Lawyer and initiate the process for a contested case. Sometimes there’s no way around it. But, I would at least know I tried. Also, during this process, I would probably have stock piled evidence to use in the case, just on off chance my persuasion skills failed. Stock piling evidence is another process that deserves its on post, so stay tuned for that.
Okay, so after all that, I feel a little bad about thinking through that process, but I have to admit, saving tens of thousands of dollars, avoiding court, maintaining an amicable relationship with my spouse post-divorce and sparing my kids, if I had any, from any undue stress or hardship would make it all worth it.