Debunking Divorce Myths: The Top 5 Misconceptions I Most Commonly Hear as a Divorce Coach
One of my driving missions (and, indeed, what led me to start When It’s Knot Forever) is to increase people’s knowledge and understanding of both marriage and divorce.
When I found myself navigating the divorce process in my 20s, I was embarrassed to discover how little I truly knew about the legal implications of marriage and what the divorce process actually entailed. And now, as a divorce coach, I regularly encounter others who ascribe to common misconceptions surrounding the topic of divorce.
Accordingly, today I’d like to address and debunk 5 of the biggest myths I hear people cite when it comes to divorce:
MYTH #1: You can’t divorce your spouse if they don’t agree to it.
I frequently hear the concern, “what if my husband/wife refuses to get divorced?”
Historically, it was possible for one spouse to basically say “no” to getting a divorce and effectively hold their partner hostage in the marriage. However, this is no longer the case (and hasn’t been since about the 1970s, when no-fault divorce became common).
If one person wants out of their marriage and their spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers, it’s still usually possible for the divorce-seeker to end the marriage by requesting a “default divorce” from the court.
That said, there are cons to going this route. For instance, the default judgment can sometimes be subject to appeal, your spouse may be less likely to follow the judge’s order (for instance, with respect to alimony or child support, if applicable) than if the two of you negotiated an agreement, and this method may prove to be more drawn-out than divorcing a cooperative spouse would be.
In sum, while a spouse who is either reluctant or full-out against ending their marriage can often find ways to stall or protract the divorce process, they cannot stop it from happening. But ideally, I’d recommend doing what you can to get your spouse to participate in the divorce process.
MYTH #2: You need to get divorced in the state where you were married.
Sometimes clients of mine fear that they will need to get divorced in the state in which they were married, even though they no longer live in that state. However, this is a misconception.
The U.S. is a large country, and people obviously move all the time for personal or professional reasons. You do not have to get divorced in the same state where you were married.
You can usually file for divorce in the state in which you live, as long as you satisfy the residency requirements. Typically only one spouse needs to be legal resident of a given state in order to be able to proceed with the divorce there. (The requirements to establish legal residency in each state vary, so look to your state’s laws on that topic to determine the applicable stipulations).
If you and your spouse have established legal residency in two different states, since each state’s laws can differ, it can may be wise to take a look at each of those states’ respective divorce statutes to get a sense of where it might be more favorable to proceed with the divorce process (i.e., cheaper or more expedient based on those states’ mandatory statutory waiting periods, etc.).
MYTH #3: Most divorce cases go to court.
Although you’ll need to file documents with the court in order to complete the divorce process, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have to go to trial or endure a court battle. Provided that you and your spouse can come to an agreement on all of the relevant issues, your divorce may be able to be granted simply by completing the necessary paperwork.
It’s possible that your case may end up having to go to trial if you can’t come to a negotiated agreement with your partner, but the vast majority of divorce cases settle out of court.
Although litigation is often what first comes to mind when people think of divorce, there are many alternative means of navigating the process - including collaborative divorce, mediation, arbitration, filing the documentation yourself, divorce attorneys who focus on conflict resolution, etc. - all of which can aid you in reaching a settlement with your spouse as opposed to instigating a legal battle.
MYTH #4: If your spouse commits adultery, you’ll get a bigger settlement in your divorce.
Not to in any way condone adultery, but I’d like to slay the misconception that if you cheat on your spouse, you’ll lose everything in your divorce (your house, kids, assets, rights, etc.).
People often presume that if one spouse commits adultery, there will be repercussions for their actions in the divorce process. However, adultery rarely plays a role in the ultimate distribution of assets.
So what does committing adultery mean from a divorce standpoint?
In and of itself, typically nothing. The court is not so much interested in why the marriage is ending as much as it is concerned with the resources in question and how they should be distributed.
That said, there is one caveat to this general rule: if the adultery is accompanied by a “wasteful dissipation of marital assets” (i.e., if a cheating spouse spends a lot of money as part of their adultery), that can be a factor the judge considers when it comes to the equitable distribution process.
MYTH #5: To best protect yourself and your interests, you should hire an aggressive litigator to represent you in your divorce.
We’ve all seen this scenario portrayed in the media at one time or another. It’s frequently the fodder of tabloid headlines: one divorcing spouse hires a bulldog of an attorney to go after their partner and win them as much as possible in their divorce action.
When you find yourself going through a divorce, you tend to feel vulnerable. So it make sense that you’d want to retain the best possible representation - a powerful advocate to fight on your behalf and protect your best interests. And yes, an attorney is legally supposed to provide you with exactly that.
Yet, when getting divorced, people frequently conflate the concept of the “best possible attorney” with an “aggressive litigator” when the two can be very different things.
It’s true that an aggressive litigator may do the very best job of working to get you as much as legally possible in your divorce case. But depending on your situation, this may not actually be in your best interest.
That’s because when you hire an aggressive litigator to represent you, they will have the tendency to fan the flames of your divorce, increasing conflict, inciting more argument, and leading to a more drawn-out and expensive legal process - one that will have greater potential to land you in court. This translates to a much longer and painful divorce process, meaning more money for the attorneys involved and less money left for you post-divorce.
Particularly if you’re angry with your spouse or deeply hurt, those emotions may make you feel as if you want to go this route. However, I’d highly recommend against doing so. Although it might make you feel better in the short-term, it’s likely to be a decision you regret down the road.
Again, these are some of the biggest misconceptions I tend to hear surrounding the topic of divorce, but there are many others out there as well.
If you have a question about the divorce process ever find yourself in doubt, please feel free to reach out by commenting on this post or shooting me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those who have a number of questions about the divorce process, I also offer free initial coaching consultations that you can book at https://www.whenitsknotforever.com. I’d love to help clear any confusion you might have and address your concerns.
Finally, if you’ve heard one or more of these myths before, please share this post and assist me in getting the truth out there. Going through a divorce can be one of the most difficult times of a person’s life. Let’s do what we can to dispel false rumors and help our friends and loved ones get through it.