There is never a perfect time to tell your spouse that you want out. I have had cases where the parties decided to divorce right after the honeymoon, and at the other extreme I have helped people end their marriage after over 35 years together– that is almost my entire lifetime! Some people do their best to keep it together until the kids go off to college; meanwhile others have parted ways while their spouse is pregnant. Countless people have cried in my office as they recount the moment when they learned their spouse was leaving them– sometimes while they are in the middle of cancer treatment, or grieving the loss of a parent, or recovering from a miscarriage. The best thing I can say is that they are not alone, this happens a lot, and it is unfortunate.
Dr. Robert Emery shared this beautiful analogy in a lecture I once attended, and I believe it is also in his book, The Truth About Children and Divorce: He states that if you imagine 2 people paddling along a river, you will see that there is one about a mile or so ahead of the other– the one that opted to leave the relationship is the one in the lead because s/he had a head-start; meanwhile the one that was caught by surprise about the decision to end things is the one behind, struggling to catch up. What the person left behind needs is time, time to process what has happened, so s/he can catch up to the other.
Unfortunately, time is not always on my side. By the time someone has unilaterally moved out and raided joint accounts, a lot of damage has been done. If people could just exert a little more impulse control and check in with an attorney before they make rash decisions, a lot of unnecessary heart-ache can be avoided. It is still going to be painful, I just mean it may hurt less.
Regardless of when the news is delivered, the key point for parents to remember is that it is their job to protect their children. Kids do not need to hear the details of what their parents are arguing about or what is going on in court. They just need to have reassurance of 3 key points: 1) this is not the children’s fault; 2) mommy and daddy will both still love them & be a part of their lives; and 3) the parents are going to try their best to minimize the disruptions for the children. To the extent that this message can be delivered simultaneously by both parents, that would be ideal.
After all these years, I truly have not found the perfect time to tell someone a marriage is over, but I will say the manner in which the message is delivered can make all the difference in the world.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.