Lately, I have had several clients in the middle of a divorce who paused to at least consider reconciling. Some of them were correct to consider it and some of them really shouldn’t have. Of those that should consider reconciliation, some of them will fail because they think that just wanting it is enough. If that was enough, they wouldn’t be in the middle of a divorce in the first place. They need a plan and almost always need professional guidance to succeed.
As a Rhode Island divorce lawyer practicing for over 30 years, I’ve learned a bit about what it takes to successfully reconcile.
Can a Couple Reconcile After Divorce Has Been Filed?
Couples often can and often do reconcile after a divorce has already been filed, but there are reasons to proceed with caution and with a plan. If you would like to consider reconciliation you can pause and even dismiss the divorce if you wish. But it’s important to examine what brought you or your spouse to file for divorce in the first place and to address, not bury those issues. It’s also important to at least think about the potential legal and practical considerations.
While it sounds like a cliché, and it often is, many couples “grow apart.” How does that happen? Usually, the couple assumes roles in work or at home that they prioritize above their marriage and one day there is nothing left of the marriage that one or more of the spouses particularly values. They grow apart because they don’t nurture the relationship.
People often go into marriages, or relationships in general, thinking that if it’s meant to be it will be easy and if they must make an effort to make it work than it’s not meant to be. Nothing could be further from the truth. Allowing yourselves to grow apart is like the boiling frog. The point is that if a frog is suddenly put into boiling water, it will jump out. But if the frog is put in warm water which is then slowly brought to a boil, it will not realize the threat and it will gradually cook to death.
It’s the same with “growing apart.” It happens so gradually that by the time it is complete the couple hadn’t even realized it was happening.
A Relationship is a Choice
A relationship is not magic. A relationship is a decision you make. You decide that the relationship is a good and a positive thing in your life and that it’s worth working to maintain. And when the challenges come, and they will, you remember how good the relationship was and make an effort to overcome those challenges. Loving someone is easy. Maintaining a relationship is work.
When you decide to have a business relationship you make the determination that the relationship is something you want because it is a positive thing in your life, and you work to keep the relationship functioning the way you intend it to function. Along the way you make adjustments as things change, but you don’t quit because there’s work involved. It should be no different in a personal relationship or marriage.
Everything Worth Having is Worth Working For
When you decide to be in a relationship with someone and especially in the case of a marriage, you have determined that this person AND this relationship are a positive force in your life and worth keeping. Why shouldn’t your marriage require work? Well, it does. And if you haven’t been putting the work in that may be why you find yourself in divorce court.
If you decide to reconcile, that will take a great deal of work, too. Loving the other person and beginning to appreciate the potential loss of that relationship is not enough to sustain a relationship. Both people have to work to nurture the relationship and even to protect the relationship from outside forces that might harm the relationship.
The Business of Raising Children
Often a couple stops being a couple when they start raising children. With the best intentions they put the children first in every instance, even before the relationship. They go into the business of raising children at the expense of their relationship. That’s a mistake.
The children are hurt the most when the relationship fails and the parents split. Most of the time the children eventually adjust to it and sometimes even thrive, but there is a cost to them and there is an even greater cost to the couple when there is a divorce. It’s important for a couple raising children to remember that their relationship is important, not only to them but to their children. Putting the relationship last all the time is not good for anyone.
It takes Work and a Plan to Reconcile
Often, when a case gets to the point where someone files for divorce it’s too late for the marriage to be saved, or the couple thinks it’s too late and won’t put in the effort to salvage it. Then there’s the other extreme where a couple starts the process, begins to feel the pain of divorce, and then decides it’s too much and they want to reconcile. But they don’t have a plan and they don’t get any professional help so they’re back to filing for divorce in 6 months.
The fact is that if your marriage is broken and you let it get that way, you as a couple don’t have the skills to fix it. Wanting to fix it isn’t enough. You need professional help to address what may be some serious problems, or to at least get you going in the right direction. There’s no shame in needing and getting help and it never means that your relationship is not worth saving.
In any case, a marriage/couples counsellor should certainly be employed if you’re in the middle of a divorce and decide you would like to try to reconcile. You need a plan and there’s not much time to waste. The desire the reconcile is not going to be enough to safe your marriage.
Must You Dismiss the Divorce First?
Usually, you don’t have to dismiss the case when you are reconciling. The courts tend to give you the space you need to attempt a reconciliation. In fact, at one time it was considered the ethical responsibility of the attorneys to make sure that divorce is right for you and to dissuade you from it if possible. Promoting and fostering marriages is something the Courts can and still should do.
However, if the case has already been on the judge’s calendar for a while, they may tell you that you need to go forward with your case or dismiss the case. If you dismiss and your efforts to reconcile fail, you may always refile for divorce.
Are There Risks to Dismissing the Case?
Yes, there are reasons you might not want to dismiss your case. If there was any kind of wrongdoing on the part of your spouse such as adultery, substance abuse, physical abuse, etc. if you dismiss the claim, you may lose your right to use those grounds to get a favorable distribution of the marital estate. That’s called condonation. Basically, if you “forgave” the conduct the court is not going to let you then come back to court and use it against the spouse.
What does this mean in practical terms? Normally, the marital estate is split 50/50. However, when one party is guilty of marital wrongdoing the court may award them less than 50% and as little as nothing. So, you have to think about whether your “wrongdoing” spouse really wants to reconcile or just wants a better split.
Of course, when there is wrongdoing in a marriage it is much harder to salvage it even through counselling, though plenty of couples have tried and succeeded where adultery has been committed. Trying to reconcile when there has been physical or substance abuse is much more challenging and much less justified in the case of physical abuse.
We Can Help
Of course, not every marriage can be saved. If you are at the point where you know your marriage is over, we can help put you through the process as painlessly as possible. If you would like a reference to a marriage counselor we can provide that, too.
Contact us if you would like more information.