When Divorce is Unexpected
Some painful life events are expected. Deep down, we expect to bury our parents. Everyone knows their spouse might be the first to pass on. Some, as their marriage remains in trouble, think about divorce. Others are shocked when their spouse decides to divorce. Part of what makes divorce so painful is that it’s unexpected, even at the deepest level. People expect to remain married for life.
When people first marry it takes time to adjust to the idea of spending their life with their spouse. Over time, the marital status becomes part of who they are. They are naturally half of an “and.”
Switching from “and” to single when you don’t want a divorce is more difficult when you must interact with your spouse. For most, it’s too much to suddenly be litigating against the person with whom they thought they would spend their life. The law ends marriages in the same forum and with the same rules used for business lawsuits and car wrecks, a courtroom. Court is fine for lawsuits between businesses or to determine the cause of an injury. It’s not great for ending a marriage.
Divorce is More Permanent than Marriage
An irony of the law is that divorce is easier than marriage. A marriage is intact as long as both want it. Two people must agree to remain married. One alone may seek a divorce. Even though one spouse may unilaterally end the marriage, the process is hard. Divorce is difficult.
No Reasonable Expectation of Reconciliation
Courts do not force people to remain married. A spouse who doesn’t want a divorce can delay it, but ultimately, if one wants a divorce, it will be granted. Texas Family Code 6.001 allows a divorce if the marriage is insupportable and there’s no reasonable expectation of reconciliation. If a spouse testifies there is no way to live together as a married couple, the divorce will be granted. Whether the other spouse agrees does not matter.
Sixty Day Waiting Period
A divorce may not be granted in Texas unless the case has been on file at least 60 days. This only matters with agreements. The only way to get a divorce decree ready in 60 days is if both spouses agree on everything. Even when both want a divorce, unless they agree about all the property, debts and children, the 60-day waiting period doesn’t matter. This short cooling off period is usually not enough for the spouse requesting the divorce to have a change of heart.
Court Ordered Counseling
Texas Family Code 6.505 allows a judge to order marriage counseling. The counselor must provide their opinion about whether there is a reasonable expectation of reconciliation and whether more counseling would be beneficial. The judge chooses the counselor. If more counseling is ordered, the divorce is put on hold for no more than 60 days. After that, the divorce continues.
Judges rarely order counseling. A person can be ordered to sit in a counselor’s office, but nobody can be forced to stay married or participate in therapy. Marriages fail even when both spouses want counseling; if one is there by force, it’s pointless. Remember, a Judge may only order counseling after a divorce has been filed. If it’s ordered by a Judge, then a spouse opposed it. This means a spouse paid a divorce lawyer and filed for divorce. The other requested counseling and it was refused, so a motion was filed. Now, both are in court for a hearing, paying lawyers. If the spouse seeking divorce is that adamant, counseling will be a waste of time and money.
Delaying the Divorce
Delaying a divorce on the belief that with time the spouse seeking to end the marriage will realize their mistake and reconcile is costly and ineffective. A lawyer may not simply delay litigation for the sake of delay. But a party cannot be forced to agree to anything. Without an agreement, the court will set a case for trial. Attorneys must prepare for trial throughout the case. That costs money. It depletes the marital estate and prolongs the stress of being in a divorce. Rarely does that stress and depletion of the estate lead to reconciliation. It usually increases resentment and anger.
Dealing with the Divorce
The best option when facing an unwanted divorce is to find a licensed counselor to help with the adjustment, and an experienced lawyer to help with the law. Religious people can benefit from regular conversations with a cleric. Explain to the lawyer you do not want the divorce, and discuss the legal and ethical options. Ask the lawyer about the increased costs of delay.
Make Notes of what your Lawyer Says
Make careful notes about what you must do and ask the lawyer to reiterate your tasks in email. There is much to remember and do in divorce litigation. The stress, fear and anger that goes with ending a marriage makes it hard to remember everything you must provide the lawyer. Writing it down helps.
Do Not Ignore the Divorce
Ignoring the divorce will increase the cost and lead to an unfavorable result. A therapist can help with the emotions so you can focus on the work. Everything the spouses own and owe must be listed. Children must be cared for. The court will impose a timeline (a “scheduling order”) including a trial date. Mediation must be conducted before trial. Being prepared is as essential as in any other lawsuit. The only way to do all these is to manage emotions with professional help.
In practical terms, the most important thing when facing divorce is to gather information about both parties’ finances and debt. List all accounts, including full names, account numbers and passwords. Compile statements of account for all financial accounts and debts.
Evidence about children is not going away and can be gathered later as necessary. Most evidence regarding children is held by schools, medical providers and the parents. If the other parent refuses to disclose evidence, they cannot use it in court so if they withhold photos, medical or educational records, they cannot use them.
A spouse might benefit by refusing to disclose financial information. Obtaining financial information from a spouse who won’t disclose it is expensive, stressful and time-consuming. It requires hearings with a judge and subpoenas to financial institutions and employers. When facing a divorce, whether wanted or not, gather account names, numbers, balances and passwords; and save statements.
Although divorce is painful and disrupts lives, people flourish afterward. Find a therapist and an experienced lawyer. If religious, speak with a cleric. Gather as much as possible about finances and debts; and move forward a day at a time.
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