If you’ve been separated from your ex, but haven’t yet filed for divorce: this article is for you. You’re living in limbo right now, waiting for what’s next – and it’s not that great, is it?
I know there are a lot of excuses: Divorce will cost so much. Everything is relatively smooth going right now, I don’t want us to start fighting. What will it do to the kids? The divorce process will take forever, won’t it? Will I have to go to court? Hire a lawyer?
All valid questions. But answer me honestly: how many times each day or week do you think about what your life could be like if you just moved forward?
The truth is, there are some real reasons why you should move forward with divorce, now:
Emotional Baggage Gets (Very) Heavy
The stress of staying in a marriage that isn’t working can take its toll on your mental and physical health. Research has shown that couples enduring marital stress are more likely to experience psychiatric disorders, like major depression. Marital stress has also been shown to increase the risk of heart problems.
Therapist and divorce coach Emily Heird makes an important point that staying in limbo robs you of being able to live a meaningful present life and create the future life you want. “It’s as though you have an anchor that is constantly dragging you down,” she says, adding, “You may have been in this state for so long, you don’t realize how heavy that anchor is anymore. But it is causing undue stress and anxiety. We like to have clearly defined roles and boundaries. And words to label and give meaning to what is – this provides reassurance and security.”
She compares the uncertainty of being in transition to the beginning of a relationship, when we’re trying to determine relationship status – which also causes anxiety and uncertainty.
“The divorce itself can be scary, and yes, it is the final admission of the end of this relationship, which is difficult and sad. But with the right support you can do it relatively quickly and well, and still preserve a relationship afterwards,” says Emily. “You will get out of limbo, have clearly defined rules and boundaries, and finally have the ability to jump into the next chapter with both feet, rather than having one foot in the past and one foot in the future.”
Not Ending a Bad Marriage Could Put You at Financial Risk
Even if you have moved out or are just “taking a break” from your ex, as long as you’re still married, you could still be liable on their debts. In the eyes of the government and creditors, until you file for divorce and debts are assigned to one spouse or the other, you are still legally married and considered a joint entity. So, if your spouse owes money on a debt they acquired, even if it was after you separated, you could still be liable – especially if s/he is an “authorized user” of your credit card or you cosigned on a loan. You could be sued by creditors or have your wages garnished.
Worse, what if you’re separated from your spouse and they do something stupid in a property where your name is still on the lease or property title, like having a party with minors where someone gets hurt? You could be liable, and you could get sued. It’s an extreme example, but that’s just one way you could find yourself at risk.
Bad credit brought on by your ex’s behavior can also prevent you from buying property, investing in something new or liquidating an account so you can buy something you need, like a car or a house. Alternatively, if you buy that new car or new house on your own, while still legally married, who’s to say your ex won’t claim rights to some part or interest in it once you do actually file for divorce, since it was acquired during your legal marriage?
You can – and should – take steps to protect your finances and maintain a strong credit history before, during and after divorce. Consumer rights lawyer Ian Lyngklip lays out several ways you can protect yourself in this article for Hello Divorce. But, while you can take steps to protect yourself, it’s important to remember that until the divorce judgment is signed, you’ll still be attached to your ex in the eyes of the law
Another example – let’s say that (God forbid) you die unexpectedly. Your ex could stand to inherit everything you own. It doesn’t matter that you’re separated – s/he is still your spouse in the eyes of the law. There are things you can do to try and prevent your ex from inheriting everything in your unlikely demise, such as laying out your wishes in an updated will. But even that is still not a guarantee that everything is sorted, and there are lots of assets that pass outside of a will (such as joint accounts, the named beneficiary of retirement account ,etc.).
Waiting Could Also Mean You Lose Access to Funds You Truly Need
The longer you wait to file for divorce, especially if you’ve already separated, the harder it may get to recoup spousal support or reimbursements you plan to request. Sure, sometimes divorce is simple: you take yours; I’ll take mine. But if your situation is even a tad bit more complicated than that, the math can get tricky when it comes to accounting for joint vs separate assets. The longer the period of accounting grows, the harder it is to unwind who paid what with which funds.
If you plan to request a credit or reimbursement for funds – let’s say for your share of a down payment on the marital home – you’ll have to prove what you paid. Banks will typically keep financial records for 7 years. If you need a bank statement for 7 years or even slightly less, it could be a hassle to get the bank to pull this information for you. You don’t want to miss out on reimbursement or credit owed because you waited too long to divorce.
Additionally, if you used your separate funds to pay your health insurance premium and/or another bill on your ex’s behalf, that would be another type of reimbursement that could get tricky and harder to collect as time goes on.
And finally, if you sacrificed your earnings in order to support your spouse in their professional endeavors, you might have a claim for spousal support. However, the longer you remain separated and not divorced, the harder it sometimes becomes to get alimony. If you were separated for a year and were able to live without spousal support during that time, why should the court suddenly rule in your favor now?
On the flip side: if you’re the spouse more likely to pay alimony, the longer you delay legal separation and divorce, the more you might end up paying your ex. A couple reasons why: date of separation could become blurry. The longer the marriage, the higher the likelihood you’ll have to pay (more) spousal support. And, if you’ve been informally paying your spouse a lot more than they’d have received under ‘the law’, you could end up having to continue to pay a higher amount.
The Kids Are Going to be Fine (Really and Truly)
It’s not the divorce itself that you need to be concerned with when it comes to your kids. What matters most is how you separate. If your kids are exposed to a lot of conflict, fighting and feeling uncertain about their own future, they will have more difficulty processing this change in the family status. But if you and your ex can keep things as amiable as possible and demonstrate to your kids that even though your relationship is changing, your relationship with your child(ren) is not. They’re still your #1.
Do that, and I think you’ll be surprised by their resiliency and ability to adapt. Not that it’s easy. But they will be okay.
And if you need a little more reinforcement, I highly recommend checking out this resource, 3 Ways Your Kid(s) Will Thrive in a Co-Parenting Relationship.
Cost, Time and Conflict are Only Factors if You Let Them Be
Odds are, you’ve heard horror stories about divorcing couples fighting, hiring pit-bull attorneys and running up exorbitant tallies when it comes to legal fees. But that’s their divorce story, not yours. Plus, when’s the last time you heard a juicy, gossipy update about someone’s amicable, low-conflict divorce? (Never, right?)
Just like no two relationships are the same, no two divorces are the same. You and your ex will decide how your story is written. In more than 15 years as a divorce lawyer, I can honestly share that most couples going through divorce want to get through the process as quickly, as smoothly and as affordably as possible. And.. most couples who’ve been separated for a long time without “incident” or court filings – end up having a smooth divorce. That’s a big reason I created Hello Divorce, a DIY divorce platform that helps people complete their divorce paperwork with our guidance and advice, with on-demand, flat-rate access to our team of vetted attorneys, if and when they need a little extra help. Regardless of whether you want to handle the divorce primarily on your own – or, with the help of our non-lawyer (but super awesome legal document assistants), fees are FLAT (no expensive retainer) and, on your instruction, our team works with both of you – making the divorce process transparent, affordable and convenient. Really.
92% of our paid users get through their divorce start to finish without incident, without having to go to court. All at the average price tag of $1,500 – as compared to the national average of $20,000 per person.
Divorce is the unwinding of the most complicated contract any of us have ever entered. Our platform is intentionally designed to help our users move through the divorce process efficiently, with as much information and access to help as a person needs.
My point being: divorce does not have to take forever, and it doesn’t have to cost you everything. You can find a process that works for your situation, whether that’s divorce by mediation or through an online divorce platform like Hello Divorce. And if you (and ideally, your ex) arm yourselves with information and an understanding of the process, you’ll both feel empowered and in control – which will keep conflict and costs low.
So, it’s time to move forward. Do the research, start the paperwork and start your next chapter so you can finally live the life you keep envisioning for yourself.