Communication Is Key in Marriage, But Also in Divorce
When in law school, I didn’t aim specifically for a career representing parents and spouses in disputes over divorce terms, alimony, and child custody. I graduated in 2008, just as the Great Recession was starting, and was fortunate to find a job as a law clerk for a family court judge in my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. In 2011, I moved to Atlanta to work in private practice and, given my experience helping a judge decide these matters, focused on family law.
A decade into this field, I often am asked what seems to be the primary cause of divorce. While every relationship is unique, I’ve noticed how important open communication is to making marriages work best. And, even when marriages come to an end, communication plays an important role in moving forward.
Any couple should discuss their expectations for money and children before they ride into the sunset together. Disagreements over financial responsibilities and parenting are two common causes cited by divorcing spouses. One can see how more discussion on either topic at the beginning of the relationship would have helped the partners get on the same page or realize they aren’t a good fit.
While the idea of a prenuptial agreement can be off-putting to some, the process of communicating about each party’s expectations for the future and creating a plan for both parties’ security can help build the foundation for a strong and healthy marriage. And, of course, having a thorough and well-thought-out prenuptial (or postnuptial) agreement can lead to a much smoother divorce in the event that becomes necessary.
It is crucial for couples to discuss their respective roles regarding their finances, such as when one spouse is the sole breadwinner. Without communication, both the breadwinner and the stay-at-home spouse can end up feeling resentful and unappreciated. The same is true when it comes to parenting. Open communication and mutual understanding regarding each parent’s role, responsibilities, and expectations can help minimize disagreements that can lead to hostility and bitterness.
Even when couples are splitting up, open communication can reduce the time and financial costs of the divorce process.
It might surprise you that more than 80% of divorcing couples settle their affairs without asking a judge or jury to decide them. These results come from productive negotiations between the parties – with their lawyers’ guidance – over some of the same matters that may have broken their relationship. Issues involving money, and especially children, must be decided for the future. Parties who can put their egos aside and do the work of communicating about how to separate their assets and debts and provide stability for themselves and their children often will see a better outcome than those whose cases are resolved through a trial. Mediation can be a very helpful tool in facilitating this communication.
Occasionally, someone makes a demand that is so far from what the other side will consider that the issue must be decided by the court. But I’ve seen mediation succeed even when the parties seemed too far apart. In mediation, the risks that come with a judge determining divorcing spouses’ futures can become more apparent, encouraging them to communicate more about what they can accept. This allows them to decide matters for themselves and tailor any agreement to their family’s specific needs. Even when an agreement cannot be reached, the process of considering and communicating about the outcome each party wants generally is helpful in preparing for a trial.
Margaret Simpson is an associate at Boyd Collar Nolen Tuggle & Roddenbery, where she represents clients in divorce, alimony, asset division, child custody, child support, contempt and modification actions, as well as legitimation and grandparent visitation cases.