Why do people get divorced?
Identifying the root cause of a divorce is more likely to happen in mediated cases because often times, the divorcing couple can’t pinpoint what truly got them there. The road leading to divorce is a bumpy one, riddled with stressful events and emotional turmoil. There is so much fear and confusion surrounding the decision to move forward with divorce, it’s no wonder it leaves many in a complete tail spin of devastation.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get as a divorce mediator is “what is the most common reason people get divorced.” This used to be a tough question to answer because the underlying cause is often clouded by a series of events that lead to what is best described as “rock bottom.” Whether it be constant arguing, abuse of some sort, an affair, loss of trust, falling out of love, etc., these are merely some of the resultsof the underlying cause.
After over 15 years of divorce mediation practice, I’ve come to learn that the catalyst for a divorce begins with seeds planted long before the “rock bottom” event ever takes place. Most typically, divorce comes about from some form of addiction ranging from gambling to pornography, to work/career, to sex, to alcohol and drugs, or any other repetitive negative behavior that affects the well-being of the spouse and/or the family unit. By the time couples reach my office, they’ve been riding the roller coaster for quite some time and typically there was some large-scale event that led to the divorce trigger being pulled. This event is often so damaging that it clouds the parties’ perception of the reality that has brought them to this point.
Let me demonstrate. Let’s say there was a huge family disagreement. Wife and son are arguing. The son is becoming very aggressive and Husband perceives son’s behavior as disrespectful and unacceptable. Husband lunges at son and the two engage in a scuffle. A week later, this couple is sitting across from me citing Husband’s erratic temper and parenting style as the reason for their decision to divorce. As mediation gets underway, we begin to peel back the layers by answering the important questions surrounding custody and visitation of minor children. Come to find out, Wife has major concerns about Husband’s ability to parent due to his alcohol use. As we further peel back the layers, the alcohol use is full blown active alcoholism and the scuffle was this couple’s rock bottom.
Another example, a couple presents for a consultation in dire financial straits. The marital estate is in the red, so much so that there is only debt left to divide. The couple is citing severe financial difficulties resulting from job loss as the cause of their decision to divorce. In calculating child support and alimony, Husband begins to look uncomfortable. He starts asking about ways to monitor how the money will be used. And out comes Wife’s gambling addiction that has led to their financial demise. The marital residence going into foreclosure as a result? Well, that was this couple’s rock bottom.
Or the couple who presented after one party discovered the other’s affair. The spouse who discovered the extra-marital relationship is documented as the “initiator” of the divorce. But when we rolled up our sleeves and began discussing the logistics of parenting time, the discussion turned to the initiator’s career addiction. How will they meet their co-parenting obligations when they can’t manage to make it home at a reasonable hour during the week? And even if they do make it home, they’ve usually had several drinks while entertaining clients. So how can they even share custody on the weekdays? Here we had a hybrid of issues that ultimately led to the extra-marital relationship, i.e., rock bottom for this couple.
The good news is, rather than participating in a system which pits family members against one another, mediation is a process that gets couples talking in a safe and constructive environment. By way of this process, a parent can decide whether their addiction/repetitive behavior will continue to impair their ability to parent moving forward. With the right safeguards in place, mediation gives clients the chance to make the necessary changes to their behavior and move forward with their lives in a positive way.
Although mediation is not appropriate for all situations involving active addiction, I have seen first-hand that it saves parent-child relationships and allows divorcing couples to reach a place of understanding of one other’s positions. Children need a relationship with both of their parents and mediation provides a forum to build a solid foundation for co-parenting, even when the events leading up to the decision to divorce make it seemingly impossible. Mediation at its finest can save families. Once a divorce is finalized the clients will no longer be a couple, but when children are involved, they will always be a family and by using mediation, they will actually stand a chance!