By: Jaime Davis
Marriage definitely has its rewards, but any long-term, intimate relationship can also have its challenges. Financial burdens, conflicting parenting styles, poor communication, infidelity, boredom and differences in priorities are all examples of marital conflict that may lead to termination of the relationship.
These causes, as well as others, may seem insurmountable, but couples always have some degree of choice regarding whether or not they stay together or part ways. One main choice to consider is seeking outside assistance before deciding on a divorce, and that assistance may come in two forms: couples counseling and/or consultation with a divorce attorney.
When seeking counseling, it is important for the couple to both feel comfortable with the therapist, and to choose a therapist who has experience providing marital therapy. Both spouses need to be open to counseling as the process will involve each of them making changes in some of their respective behaviors. Counseling should help the couple first identify the main source of the problem; an examination of the behaviors that have contributed to the conflict should also occur. Assessment of the current level of trust, intimacy, willingness to change, and openness to improving the marriage is a part of the therapy process. There may be times when the counselor wishes to see the spouses separately as there may be a need for the therapist to more clearly ascertain and address individual concerns about the relationship. Counseling can be an emotionally painful process since present and past hurts will be discussed and difficult feelings may be shared and explored. However, processing and moving past those emotions, engaging in productive behaviors, and discovering how to strengthen the relationship are all rewards that can be found in therapy.
If one partner refuses to participate in marital counseling, the person who is open to therapy should still pursue it. One of the main characteristics of counseling is to have a safe, caring, nonjudgmental place where the client can explore his or her emotions and concerns. Any time a marriage is experiencing difficulty, support is needed and it is best to seek the support of a professional who can both empathize with the feelings experienced as well as provide guidance for how to manage the array of challenges encountered. Stress, grief, anger, confusion, depression and fear are all examples of what one can experience if there is strife in the marriage or even a possibility of divorce. Counseling will help the client process these emotions and learn coping skills to manage them. Therapy can also assist the client with seeing how his or her own behavior can change with the goal of either improving the marriage or deciding to end it. If divorce is the decision, the client can also benefit from talking with a counselor while going through the process of separation and divorce.
The other type of “counseling” a spouse can seek is that from a divorce attorney, which, of course, is vastly different from that of a therapist. In the event separation is imminent, speaking with a divorce lawyer can be helpful in determining the issues that may arise from a separation. These issues can include child custody; child support; spousal support; and equitable distribution which is the process of distributing the property acquired by the couple during the course of their marriage.
There are a number of documents that will be needed to determine family expenses for purposes of child support or spousal support. These include: five years of tax returns; three years of bank statements, including check registers or cancelled checks; three years of credit card statements; a recent credit report; current balances of all outstanding debt; and current pay stubs or other income information.
In addition, documents reflecting the current value of any marital asset should be obtained. These documents include: current statements for any brokerage, investment or other financial accounts; the most recent statement for retirement accounts, as well as a statement from the date of marriage if the retirement account existed before the date of marriage; appraisals of any real property or personal property; and a copy of any homeowner’s policy reflecting the insurable value on the contents of the home. Further, if one of the spouses owns a business, then five years of corporate tax returns, balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and shareholder agreements will also be needed.
Next, making an inventory of the marital property is a step that should be taken in advance of separation, especially if documents cannot be obtained which reflect the current value of the property. The inventory should contain all financial accounts in both parties’ names, including account numbers and financial institutions; all retirement accounts; and all insurance policies whether life, health, disability, or insurance on real and personal property. Finally, photograph or videotape the marital home and its contents, as well as and any secondary home and its contents in order to preserve a record of what personal property existed as of the date of separation.
If an affair is suspected, documentation evidencing the affair should be collected prior to separation, as evidence obtained after a physical separation occurs can only be used to corroborate evidence of marital misconduct that occurred prior to the separation. Frequently, this type of evidence includes: detailed cell phone records; credit card statements; investigation from a private detective; journals, diaries, or daily planners, and emails.
Planning and preparation go a long way in streamlining the process once separation occurs. Obtaining all of the financial information that will be needed can take several months. Consulting with a divorce attorney throughout this process can be beneficial to ensuring that you are aware of your rights and the possible outcomes if you proceed with a separation or ultimately a divorce.
Knowing options is important when dealing with marital issues. There are various types of assistance, guidance and support within both the therapeutic and legal communities. Understanding these can aid marital partners in the decisions they make and paths they choose when facing relationship challenges.
In our Podcast, host Jaime Davis and Caroline Landen, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in Couples and Sex therapy with the Awakenings Center for Intimacy and Sexuality, discuss the benefits of marriage counseling both before and after a decision to end the marriage has been made.