In Part 1 of this blog series, I discussed the basic issues my clients need to consider before a divorce goes to court, such as living arrangements and monthly expenses. For Part 2 of the series, I will discuss some equally important issues related to the emotional side of divorce – issues that can be just as challenging as the financial aspects.
In my experience as a family law attorney, I’ve learned that one spouse is usually ready to end the marriage before the other spouse is. The spouse who wants to preserve the marriage often responds by ignoring the proceedings altogether, hoping that the marriage can be saved. The spouse who wants to preserve the marriage often enters the proceedings grudgingly.
Michigan is a no-fault divorce state; the initiation of divorce is a matter-of-fact process that cannot be stopped by a spouse who wants to continue the marriage. To begin the process, the plaintiff files a complaint for divorce with the family division of circuit court. The complaint contains basic factual information such as names, addresses, a jurisdictional statement, and a request for divorce as legal remedy. The complaint usually does not contain the facts of the case that led to divorce. Those facts, and the legal arguments supporting a final determination regarding custody, parenting, and property division, will be presented to the court later in the proceedings.
Once filed, the complaint and court summons is then served on the defendant – either by personal service or by certified mail. The defendant has 21 days to file an answer if served personally and 28 days to file an answer if served by mail. If the defendant does not answer by these deadlines, the circuit court judge can enter a default and allow the divorce to proceed.
When I represent a defendant in a divorce, I explain this somewhat mechanical process, then lend support, helping my clients through the stages of shock, denial and – finally – acceptance.
A divorce involving minor children generally is more complex and emotionally charged than a divorce with no minor children. Because of these added emotional elements, it is critical that spouses with minor children try to communicate appropriately with their children about the divorce to lessen the emotional impact.
If at all possible, both parents should meet with their children at the same time to discuss the impending divorce. I counsel my clients to try to set aside their personal differences for this meeting and to think entirely about the welfare of their children. Neither spouse should try to undermine the other or lay blame.
A simple, direct message that relays the news but doesn’t get into the reasons behind the impending divorce generally works better with minor children, who will be frightened and saddened by the announcement. Children are sensitive to friction in the household, and they often have an inkling that things are amiss due to frequent arguing or the sudden absence of one parent. A common response by children when they hear about impending divorce is to blame themselves or to think that they can help save the marriage.
Because of this, children need to hear from both parents: “We love you, and the divorce is our fault, not yours.” Children need to be reassured that they weren’t the cause of the friction, that divorce is an unfortunate event that sometimes happens between adults, and that both spouses will continue to love and care for them, but that the family relationship will change.
Divorce is a wrenching experience for parents and children, but the trauma of the experience can be lessened with good forethought and planning.