In a recent post we opened up the topic of divorce and what some of the reasons might be to consider it. In this post we’ll consider what the consequences of divorce could be.
As before, the point here is neither to dissuade you from nor to encourage you towards divorce; it is simply to help you think through the considerations you want to have in mind. I am pro-marriage – I think long-term relationships are an important vehicle for happiness – but that does not mean that divorce is always the wrong choice. Sometimes it is the better one. (See the post on reasons to divorce for information on which problems are more resolvable than others.)
The bottom line is that there are many ramifications to the decision to divorce, some positive, some negative. It is worth considering these thoroughly before making a decision. Here we will look at some of the main considerations: impact on kids and childrearing, financial costs, social costs, and personal issues.
The impact on the children
If you have children, it is likely that they are foremost on your mind as far as making a decision about whether or not to divorce. (If you don’t have children, you have a significantly easier situation, although of course it may certainly still be very difficult.)
Many parents worry about the impact on their children of growing up in a “broken home.” Here is the most important thing to know about children and divorce: children are better off with divorced parents who are happy and calm than they are with parents who are married and in constant conflict.
Of course, dragging kids through a hateful, drawn-out divorce process isn’t very good for them either. But if you can split with decency and composure, your kids will not be forever ruined by their parents splitting up.
Yes, they will likely hate it. (However, if you and your spouse are constantly fighting, they may actually welcome a divorce and the relief it brings.) Yes, they will be sad, and perhaps wonder if it’s their fault. (It’s a good idea to be very clear with them that it is not.)
Kids are resilient. With the proper support, they can make it through a divorce in one piece. It is definitely a good idea to consult with a professional yourself on how to offer that support, and, even if everything appears to be going smoothly, to consider setting your kids up with a therapist of their own to process their feelings.
It is important to bring your best self to the road ahead after the divorce as well. There are certain key rules concerning how to behave with your ex and your kids. How the kids fare in the wake of the divorce will depend a lot more on the choices you make before, during, and after the divorce than on whether you divorce at all.
The impact on you
The kids’ reaction to the divorce is only one piece of the puzzle. You also need to think about how this will affect you as a parent.
Let’s be frank: single parenting is hard. It can be done. People do it all the time. But on balance, it is a lot harder to raise kids when there’s nobody else to help.
(You may be in a marriage in which your spouse doesn’t help with the kids at all as it is, in which case this might not be a major consideration for you. Or perhaps you have family members who can fully devote themselves to helping you with childcare. It is rare, however, for someone who is not the parent to truly be able to step in as a full understudy.)
Being a single parent means waking up the kids and getting them ready for school every day by yourself, going to work, then coming home and preparing dinner, feeding them, bathing them, and putting them to bed by yourself. If you’re tired or not feeling well, you’re still on duty. There may be no one else besides you to drive them to their friends, to soccer, to the mall, etc.
Being a single parent means having to arrange childcare any time you need to be out of the house. It means struggling with guilt whenever you do go out for some personal time. It means a lot of things, and it is worth thinking through all the small ways your spouse makes your life easier, even if they also make your life harder in some ways. You may still find the costs of staying outweigh the benefits, but at least you will have your eyes open. Many people who did not have encountered a number of unexpected nasty surprises after a divorce.
Another important thing to realize is that if your spouse intends to stay in your children’s lives (which is usually better for them unless your spouse is abusive, mentally ill, addicted, or otherwise compromised as a parent), you will necessarily have less time with your kids.
If your spouse is a relatively functional human being, they are likely to get 50% physical custody, which means you are going to be with your kids only half as much as you are now. And that doesn’t take into account the fact that you may be working longer hours as well (see section 2), dealing with more household duties, and generally more exhausted.
On the other hand, you may find that being out of the stressful setting of your failing marriage frees you up mentally and emotionally to be more present for the kids. You may be a happier, healthier parent once you are free of what might have been a toxic relationship, and that is certainly a plus for both you and your kids.
Getting out a relationship that makes it hard for you to be the parent you really want to be can be wonderfully liberating. (That said, couples counseling also has the potential to turn things around so that your spouse is a help and not a hindrance.)
None of these are guaranteed outcomes – just ones you should take into account as you think about your options.
The divorce process
This is the second major issue you have to contend with when considering divorce. The obvious first point is the cost of the divorce itself. The average cost of a divorce is around $15,000-$20,000, although it can certainly be less in some cases, and, in really messy situations, a whole lot more.
That is not small change; at the same time, if your life is miserable in a disastrous marriage, then that amount of money probably isn’t a major deterrent (if you have it).
After the divorce
There is, however, a good deal more to consider in the way of finances. It is much cheaper for two people to live together than it is to live apart: one mortgage/rent payment instead of two, one insurance policy, one internet bill, etc. Virtually all the expenses you’ve been paying will go up – down the to simple grocery purchases you make, since it’s cheaper to buy and cook for a larger group than for individuals on their own.
The harsh reality is that nearly a third of single parents are living below the poverty line (with women affected more severely than men). This is even more critical if your spouse has been the main (or only) breadwinner for the household (again, something that is more frequently the case for women).
For those who have been out of the workforce, or working part-time, this means finding a full-time job to support yourself. If you owe child support, you will have to account for that as well, and if you will receive child support, don’t count on that being nearly enough. And if you’ve been out of the labor force for a while, then unless you used to have a great career and can pop right back into it, you may find yourself stuck with relatively low-paying options.
The possible other side of the coin is that if your spouse was financially irresponsible, getting away from that problem may well improve and stabilize your life rather than the opposite. You may find yourself with more financial freedom and less stress around money, even if you will likely have less of it. Generally though, financial stress does tend to increase after divorce.
Again, none of these results are certain – perhaps you have a really excellent job you can support yourself with, or your parents are wealthy, or any number of circumstances that might mitigate the financial strain. Regardless, the financial aspect is something crucial to think through in this process.
3. Social Life
Many people have discovered to their chagrin that their social landscape changes quite a bit after a divorce. People who have been “friends of the couple” often don’t know how to handle the divorce in a constructive way. Not knowing what to say or how to help, they may quietly drift away.
Perhaps more painfully, some friends take sides. When there’s been infidelity, people often side with the person who’s been hurt – but not always. It’s hard for anyone outside the marriage to know what was happening on the inside; so regardless of how right or wrong someone has been, you may find yourself dumped by people you counted as friends.
If your social circle previously included a chunk of single friends, or friends from when you were single, you may not see a big change in your social life. On the other hand, if most of your activities involved going out with other couples, you are likely facing a big adjustment. It can be hard to make new friends as an adult (although it’s certainly not impossible; perhaps a good topic for a future post).
Another way you might find your social life altered is in how much time you have to devote to it. On one hand, your life may have been tied up with endless arguments, stress, and household tasks; once you are single again, you may find yourself with a lot of extra time on your hands, especially if you don’t have kids, or are the noncustodial parent.
Conversely, if you do have custody of kids for any significant portion of the time, you may find yourself with markedly less free time than before. As we noted in section 1, single parenting is a very time-consuming endeavor. You might be holding down a full-time job, and also be in charge of keeping the kids fed, buying new clothes, taking them to extracurriculars, etc. – all by yourself, instead of having someone to share at least part of those responsibilities with.
(You might be scoffing, “my partner never did any of those things anyway!” If that is the case, then your workload may not change at all. But for most people, their spouse did contribute at least minimally to the running of the household.)
When you must put the time and effort into keeping life going, you may find that you don’t have enough of either left over for socializing.
4. Personal Issues
More of the same
People usually get divorced to get away from a difficult and painful situation. Unfortunately, divorce doesn’t always achieve that. Certainly if you have children together, you may be stuck in each others’ lives for some time to come. (The truth is, if you both intend to remain in your children’s lives, you will probably be in each other’s lives as well pretty much forever, to some extent.) So now instead of having a difficult spouse, you have a difficult coparent.
That could be a better situation in some ways, if living together is just too stressful; but it could also be worse. There is also a good deal of stress to be had in negotiating and renegotiating custody schedules, constantly passing back and forth information, and all the other challenges that go along with coparenting. For couples where poor communication contributed to the demise of the marriage, that same problem will likely characterize and strain the coparenting relationship as well. Divorce won’t fix that.
Divorce also won’t wash away your problems if you are the cause of them. If the marriage failed because of choices you made, ways you behaved, things you said – well, as they say, you can’t divorce yourself. You’re coming with you wherever you go. So consider seriously the possibility that you have contributed to the problems in the relationship and that if you leave this relationship, they are coming along for the ride in your next relationship too. The best solution may be working on yourself before abandoning ship and asserting that it wasn’t seaworthy.
On the other hand, divorce does open up some new opportunities in your personal life. Especially if you don’t have kids, you have the chance for a new beginning and the possibility of leaving a toxic relationship entirely behind you. You may find yourself with less stress once you’re out of that relationship and better self-esteem.
You also open yourself up to the chance for a new relationship that actually contributes positively to your life instead of being a drag on it. Hopefully you can discover that a relationship can be a source of joy and strength in a way this past one was not, whether because you are with someone who can offer, that, or because you’ve learned some lessons that make you a better partner as well, or likely some combination of both.
The long and the short of it is that there are often no easy answers. If you are struggling with whether to get a divorce, you will have to think long and hard about the pros and cons. It can certainly be helpful to consult with trusted family and friends, or a coach or therapist who can be an objective third party. We are certainly here to help with that. Whatever you decide, we hope it will lead to positive results for you and your family!