Is it time to divorce?

By Pieter van Zyl
27 March 2017

Holiday stresses push many relationships to the brink. But read these experts’ advice before you decide to call it quits.

It’s a new year but instead of having a spring in your step you just feel tired. Sick and tired. You were looking forward to taking time out over the holiday season to relax and unwind but instead all you and your partner did was bicker – about whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher, household expenses and the never-ending demands of family members.

Surely there must be more to life than this?

There’s a reason divorce lawyers don’t take leave in January – it’s their busiest time. For many people trapped in unhappy marriages the stresses of the holidays can be the last nail in the coffin, and often the start of a new year is seen as a chance to make a clean break and start afresh.

But before you set the legal ball rolling, know what you’re letting yourself in for, Cape Town family law attorney Bertus Preller warns.

Divorce can be an expensive and emotionally scarring process so it should really be a last resort, preceded by months or even years of trying to make the marriage work and weighing up its pros and cons, Preller says.

But how can you know for sure if it’s time to call it quits?

“Generally, there are no lightning bolts or magical signs,” celebrity divorce lawyer Laura Wasser writes in her book It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way: How To Divorce Without Destroying Your Family Or Bankrupting Yourself.

“When the bad starts outweighing the good on a consistent basis, you may feel that taking the next step is appropriate,” advises Wasser, whose celebrity clients have included actors Angelina Jolie, Ryan Reynolds, Ashton Kutcher and Johnny Depp.

Divorce is a minefield. Here a therapist, lawyer, financial adviser, relationship counsellor and divorce mediator weigh in on all the things to consider before heading for the courts.

Read more: Divorced dad’s epic post about treating his ex-wife with kindness goes viral – for all the right reasons

THE THERAPIST

Much of the suffering and trauma that accompanies marital strife is caused by each spouse’s interpretation of what happened, rather than the events themselves, says Dr Johan Cilliers, a psychologist from Johannesburg.

He recommends you examine your beliefs about your marriage and ask yourself these key questions.

  • Do you evaluate your marriage based on the all-or-nothing principle? If you’re unhappy with one aspect of it, does it make you question the entire union?
  • Do you think your relationship should be perfect? If you do, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
  • Do you focus only on the negative aspects of your relationship and ignore the positive things? Can you acknowledge good times with your partner?
  • Do you reach conclusions without any proof?
  • Do you really believe there’s no hope left for the two of you? Are you reacting because you believe your relationship is headed for the scrapheap, even if it isn’t necessarily the case?
  • Do you try to read your partner’s mind then base your decisions on your conclusions rather than communicating to seek clarity?
  •  Do phrases such as “I must”, “you should” or “I’m supposed to” often creep into your conversations? This suggests you’re constantly criticising yourself and/or your partner and may have unreasonable expectations.

These questions, answered honestly, are a good starting point to help you figure out if divorce really is your only option, Cilliers says.

THE RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLOR

The grass is always greener on the other side. People who initiate a divorce often have unrealistic expectations of what their new life will be like.

Durban psychologist and relationship therapist Carol Dixon advises you ask yourself these questions before you contact a divorce lawyer.

  • Why did you fall in love with your partner in the first place?
  •  Why aren’t you going for counselling? Have you considered all the options?
  • How do you expect your life to be after the divorce? Do you think you’ll be happier?
  • Are you hoping for a better partner?
  •  Are you expecting more freedom?
  • Can you envisage the possibility that your life may be worse after the divorce, and can you cope with that possibility?
  • Will you be able to say goodbye to your partner in a dignified way?

Read more: This couple called it quits after 24 years together – and threw a divorce PARTY

THE DIVORCE LAWYER

Regardless of whose actions led to the breakdown of the marriage, the decision to proceed with a divorce is never easy, says Bertus Preller, a lawyer from Cape Town who’s written books on the subject. He says you should consider these questions.

Are you really prepared to go through with the divorce? Don’t use divorce as a threat to intimidate your partner. You have to be sure you have no interest in saving the marriage and are ready to live on your own, says Adam Kielich, an American divorce lawyer. Accept the finality of the divorce because it’s extremely hard to rebuild a healthy marriage after telling your spouse it’s over.

Will you be able to keep your emotions out of the divorce process? If you’re using it as an emotional weapon, you should prepare for your divorce to be a miserable and expensive experience. If you can’t let the law take its course without becoming emotionally involved, you aren’t ready to get divorced.

How will you conduct the divorce? If possible, try your level best to conclude it in an uncontested manner, without having to go to trial.

How will the divorce affect your children? The welfare of the children must be paramount throughout the process. Many parents believe conflict is inevitable in divorce and that things have to be fought out in court. This isn’t necessarily the case.

Read more: Halle Berry opens up about ‘pain and anguish’ of divorce

THE FINANCIAL ADVISER

Before you initiate proceedings you need to know you’ll be able to support yourself during and after the divorce, Joburg financial adviser Barbara Mundell says.

Many families rely on both partners’ incomes to survive but if you split, one of you will probably move out, so there will be additional monthly accommodation expenses. If one partner is on the other’s medical aid, they now have to get their own.

During the divorce period you have to be able to fund yourself completely until the court judgment.

These are some of the other issues to consider.

How will your debts be affected? If you’re married in community of property or have signed jointly for a loan or other repayment plan, you’ll be held responsible if your partner doesn’t pay the instalments.

How will divorce affect your retirement? You may have saved for your retirement but your spouse may not have. The divorce settlement might determine that you pay some of it to your partner, which could reduce your retirement fund.

How will you fund your divorce? Do you have the money? A basic divorce can cost anything between R800 and R20 000 but if your partner contests the divorce and you have to go to court, your costs could run into hundreds of thousands of rands. Most legal firms offer pro bono services, but there are strict qualifying criteria.

Consult a registered financial adviser before you initiate divorce proceedings so you can see how the split will affect you, and figure out how you’re going to pay for it.

THE DIVORCE MEDIATOR

Increasingly the courts aim to have both parents jointly take care of their children.

During a divorce the children’s circumstances should stay largely unchanged as far as possible, says Hester Bosman-Sadie, a Cape Town forensic social worker. If their father, for example, used to drop them off at school and their grandma helped them with their schoolwork in the afternoons, it would be best for this to continue.

It’s likely to be a difficult time but parents should control their natural emotions of anger and disappointment for the sake of their kids.

EXTRA SOURCES: DRPHIL.COM, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

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