It’s that time of year again when droves of people like yourself come out of the unhappily married closet and file for divorce. One more miserable holiday season has passed and you’ll be damned if you’ll go through that again. No, this will be the year you become emancipated. Nothing—not even the kids—can stop you from following through with it.
As determined as you are, part of you knows that divorce can be messy and disruptive (even under the best of circumstances). There are the finances—you’ll have twice the expenses and half the resources. And on top of that, you’ll have to pay attorneys upwards of $300 per hour (times 2); there’s the move—one or both of you will have to find new living quarters; and then there’s the impact on the kids—the physical aspect of going back and forth between homes schlepping clothes and belongings, the mental burden of having to track where uniforms and schoolbooks are, and the emotional loss of a home base and intact family unit.
So, while dissolving your marriage is certainly an option, there are good reasons you’ve been avoiding it!
For some people, what I’m about to propose is the equivalent of blasphemy due to the bending of marital rules and norms. People have responded with declarations like, “that’s not right,” or “that’s not marriage. For those who tend to be black and white thinkers, these “shades of gray” alternatives simply bring them too far out of their dichromatic comfort zone to take seriously.
I think it’s a shame when couples shoot down possible solutions just because they are not “traditional” or mainstream ideas. Some of the world’s most innovative inventions have come from out-of-the-box thinking. Besides, we made marriage up several millennia ago and there’s no reason we can’t remake the rules now to fit more of who we have become—a higher functioning, complex culture. So, I’ll lay these alternatives out and ask that you keep reading and keep an open mind, even if your initial reaction is to shut these ideas down.
Alternative #1: Get a post-nuptial agreement.
Most people have heard of pre-nuptial agreements (or pre-nups) but relatively few folks know what a post-nup is. Like a pre-nup, a post-nup is a legal agreement between spouses that lays out the terms of the relationship.
In his recent book, “The Post-Nup Solution,” attorney Tom Gardiner states that there are several benefits and ways to use pos-nuptial agreements. For none thing, a post-nup can be drawn up as a wake-up call to your spouse about a particular behavior that is not working in the marriage. For example, if one spouse spends too much, doesn’t earn enough, has had an affair or has an active addiction, a post-nup can say, “right this behavior, or else.”
A second way a post-nup can help the relationship is that is can be the platform from which to have difficult conversations. A post-nup can be especially helpful when you’ve tried to talk about the emotionally-charged issue and didn’t get too far because you got bullied or shut down. Presenting your spouse with this legal document shows you mean business. As Gardiner says, “A post-nup…is like a fist in a velvet glove—it might not seem intimidating outwardly, but it possesses sufficient force to gain everyone’s attention.”
A third benefit of a post-nup is that it holds both spouses to the terms of the agreement. Without it, a spouse can make any number of promises to the other and then promptly break them with no repercussions. A post-nup puts teeth into the agreements by setting up legal consequences which then calls both people to the union in a really different way. (I know it’s not sounding like what marriage should be about but if you’re thinking about divorce, you’re not dealing with a normal marital situation).
Post-nups can be the reason spouses turn bad behavior around and, rather than being a step closer to divorce (as some might view this act), signing a post-nup can actually make one or both people feel more secure in the relationship.
Although the idea behind a post-nup in many cases is to strengthen the marriage, if the couple does end up getting a divorce, a post-nup will have laid out many, if not all, of the terms, thereby making the divorce process much faster and easier.
If taking this legal action isn’t appealing, this next marriage hack might be for you.
Alternative #2: Change the terms of the marriage in one of these three ways.
* Open your marriage. We live in a time when many people are tweaking the “traditional” terms of marriage to meet their needs. We are hearing more and more these days about open marriages and polyamory (being in love with more than one person at a time). Given that we are living longer, and we have more choice than ever before, monogamy’s viability is understandably being challenged.
Supporters of the concept say that it enriches each person and breathes new life into the marriage. Opponents say it invites complications, jealousy and sometimes even betrayal.
Whether you’re for it or against it, it’s worth doing some research to see if it might be a workable option for you. Unfortunately, there’s no way to explore this option without actually crossing the line into opening up your marriage and once you cross that line, you can’t uncross it (with one couple I saw, trust levels got very shaky for a while because he didn’t honour the terms of having safe sex). There is no shortage of books on the matter and I recently even heard of an open relationship coach (sumat. Getting more information and support may be a crucial element in making this option work.
* Live apart together. Sometimes couples do this out of necessity. An common example of this arrangement is when one spouse is in the military and has been stationed overseas and the other spouse is at home with their own career, or perhaps the kids, or both.
During the recession, many people had to travel great distances to find work. Extreme measures were called for in these extreme times but many found that having the space from their mate was refreshing and they have chosen to continue living this way.
Rather than dealing with the humdrum realities of residing together, like whose turn it is to do the dishes or watching mindless TV shows together, LAT couples (as they are called) look forward to spending time with their spouse and often use that time differently than they might if they saw each other every day.
Because the overhead is doubled, this option is not always doable for couples without additional roommates but it is an option that can be explored first before completely committing to it.
* Try a Parenting Marriage. Although a Parenting Marriage can work for any couple, it is an ideal solution for spouses who are no longer in love with each other yet don’t want to divorce because they have kids they want to raise together.
A Parenting Marriage is based on a purpose—to raise healthy, happy children—rather than an emotion. Traditional marriages are formed around the emotion of love. From that place, couples build lives together that include having children and starting a family together. The problem with the love-centric model is that when the love dies, most couples feel the marriage must end. These little beings get caught in the crossfire through no fault of their own and then have a much more complicated existence which for some kids is no problem yet for others it can be quite disruptive.
Ironically, this concept is not new. Humans in the West have only been coupling for love for the past 150-200 years (with the Industrial Revolution). Prior to life and work getting more automated, romantic notions were impractical, if not downright dangerous.
But even as present-day marriages start out with love, couples have been slipping into sexless co-parenting, arrangements for decades. The difference here is that, by giving this model a structure and some agreements, this option can be implemented by design rather than by default, thus eliminating the shame couples often feel.
Research by sociologist Paul Amato and others shows that kids do just fine when their parents are not married, or even when their parents are not in love. Kids don’t do well, however, when they are subjected to tension and fighting. So as long as their parents get along, there’s no reason they can’t co-exist and raise happy, healthy offspring. For those who can handle this transition (it takes a certain level of maturity and patience), it’s a very viable option.
Alternative #3: Change the terms of your marriage AND get a post-nup.
Changing the terms of the marriage to suit you and making legal agreements that protect you and your spouse makes good sense.
I’m often surprised by how many people don’t realize that marriage is by definition a legal agreement (it’s called a marriage contract, after all!). That’s why you have to go to court to get out of the contract and why a judge has to sign off on your dissolution paperwork.
Without a pre-nup or a post-nup, couples are subject to the laws of the state in which they reside. As Erik W. Newton wrote in his article, “You Already Have a Prenup,” “the laws covering marriage and divorce in every state are nothing more and nothing less than premarital agreements. So the question is not whether you should have a pre-nup, but whether you want your state’s default version of one.”
Unfortunately, marriage laws are slow to change. As of this writing, there is nothing to indicate that any new laws are even in the works to accommodate more personalized marriage contracts. Given that fact, and given that your marriage as it is isn’t working for you, you should know that you can look at alternatives of your own making that might allow you to keep your family unit intact in a way that works for you.
Divorce is always an option so from a practical perspective, you have little to lose by trying one of these alternatives first. Start the year out with an open mind and see if that brings about enough relief.