Alternatives to Divorce

Sometimes you don't get along with your partner and the two of you decide to part ways. You don't always have to go through an expensive divorce that leaves psychological marks on the children. You can consider other options that are less stressful for everyone.

You can amicably separate from your partner by using one of the following procedures: legal separation, an annulment, or divorce mediation.

LEARN MORE

Getting a divorce or separating often turns out to be very expensive.

When National Center for Health Statistics analyzed the data regarding first marriages, they found that 53 percent of women who are under the age of 44 went through some kind of 'marriage disruption' in the first twenty years of their marriage. The research also found that if couples were separated for more than five years, there was 84% chance of those couples getting a divorce.

Nolo's estimate for the divorce cost is $15,000 (even more - $20,000 if the couple can't agree on some issue and go to trial). This cost is usually made up of legal fees, court costs, experts hired to determine the value of the real estate, child custody evaluators and other miscellaneous expenses.

However, the overall cost can be influenced by many factors, such as:

  • whether the divorce is contested or not,
  • simplicity of finances,
  • the state of residence,
  • the quality of the attorneys and et.

Depending on these factors, the real cost can be twice the amount mentioned before.

As we've seen, divorce is financially and emotionally draining, which is why a lot of unhappy couples today are considering alternatives to divorce.

Separation

Couples who are experiencing trouble should not go straight to divorce.

Most couples who are considering divorce don't get one right away. Instead, it is worthwhile to try physical separation first. This is the arrangement when one of the feuding parties moves out of the house. It is one of the least expensive methods of avoiding further conflict. From a legal perspective, the couple still jointly owns all of their financial assets.

If you want to register your separation and make it more binding legally, it is possible to receive a court order for legal separation. Contracts for legal separation include the terms for deciding the usual issues like alimony, assets, debt and other child-related concerns.

Legal separation only stipulates that the couple no longer live together. The marriage will remain valid in the eyes of the law. In the absolute majority of cases, getting legally separated doesn't give you the right to marry someone else. For that, you'll need to get officially divorced.

Some states do not offer legal separation as an option. In the states where legal separation is possible, the state might urge the couple to separate before starting the divorce procedures. Other states urge couples to begin divorce proceedings once they are separated. Legal separations are only practical if both parties are willing to participate in a healthy dialogue.

Some separating spouses sometimes are anxious to move out of the family home. They fear that leaving the home might be viewed as resigning their legal rights to the property or other acquired assets during the marriage. There is little reason to worry because in the eyes of most judges, the partner who moves out still has every right to marital property. If the marriage had turned sour or dangerous, the decision to leave the house might be viewed in a good light.

When children are involved, the couples who do not wish to stay together should come up with an initial custody agreement that lays out the division of caretaking responsibilities before an official custody agreement is hashed out during a divorce. The decision to leave the house might be viewed unfavorably in the court if the person who left tries to argue that the other parent is an 'unfit parent'. If that was, in fact, true, the person who left is admitting his/her own incompetence for leaving the children in the care of an 'unfit parent'.

Often couples commit to separation agreements instead of divorcing for insurance reasons. Some couples prefer to keep their family plan for financial reasons or a lack of options for one partner. In some cases, this decision might lead to bad results.

After realizing that couples are using this practice to retain their insurance, corporations have introduced policies stipulating that a legal separation will make family health coverage void.

If you're considering a legal separation and are concerned about health insurance coverage, check the terms of your policy.

Conscious uncoupling

Couples who want to stay friendly after parting their ways should consider an option of 'conscious uncoupling'.

This phrase was first used by a marriage counselor and therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas. It was popularized when Gwyneth Paltrow separated from famous British musician Chris Martin and publicly described the process. Conscious uncoupling lays out the steps that can lead to amicable breakups.

The process of conscious uncoupling does not legally change the status of your marriage. The main idea is to encourage cooperation and mutual respect. The ultimate goal is to eliminate any feud between the couples and emotional stress placed on children.

This concept might be useful for couples who are separated but want to support each other during the process. It can also be a comforting way to go through the stressful procedures of legal separation or even divorce.

Mediation

If a couple has decided to divorce but doesn't want to pay astronomical legal fees, they should consider divorce mediation. This is a process when a neutral party gets involved and assists both parties to reach an agreement about common issues like division of assets, time-sharing and child support payments.

Normally, at the end of the process, an attorney reviews the divorce agreement to confirm that it is mutually beneficial.

Once both parties have reviewed and signed the document, a divorce mediation agreement is considered legally binding.

In contrast to the prolonged divorce process, divorce mediation can be finished within few months. It can cost as little as $1,500 (plus the attorney fees).

According to Slowiaczek, both parties involved in mediation must conduct their own due diligence.

Annulment

One more divorce alternative that achieves the goal of ending your marriage is an annulment.

If a request for annulment is approved, the marriage will be legally regarded as if it never occurred. When you get a divorce, the defunct marriage is still acknowledged to have existed before.

Slowiaczek describes two different types of annulments, each one of them is practical in certain cases.

A civil annulment ends the marriage and, similarly to divorce, legally clears the way for both parties to marry again. This type of annulment must be granted by the courts. Depending on your place of residence, if the annulment is granted, it is impossible to demand spousal support because, after the civil annulment, a marriage is treated like it never happened.

It's not easy to convince the courts to grant you a civil annulment. The request is approved in outlier cases, for instance, when one of the parties hid a prior felony or didn't disclose a mental condition.

The civil annulment proceedings are usually complicated because one of the parties is accusing the other of fraud. It is highly recommended to have a legal expert represent you.

If you want to end the marriage in the 'eyes of God', a religious annulment might be a good option. Usually, people who intend to remarry within their faith turn to religious annulment as a solution.

However, religious annulment is legally meaningless and doesn't change the marriage status of the couple. In order to legally end their marriage, they must receive a divorce decree.

Redefining Marriage

Sometimes partners don't want to remain together, but even if that's the case, divorce is not always the solution. You don't have to lead a miserable life while feeling stuck in a marriage, either.

You can choose to remain married but come up with a different code of conduct for you and your partner. Normally, couples should stay faithful to each other. However, you can negotiate a new set of rules with your spouse and discard the traditional expectations. At first, the change might feel out of place, but we live in the age of an individualistic approach. Women's rights, especially education, are treated with serious attention. Technology has also changed how people live. We may soon experience the thrill of riding in a cab that doesn't have a driver. With all these changes, should we treat marriage rules like they are set in stone?

Couples who have trouble in their marriages usually explore three different options: open marriage, parenting marriage, and living apart together. Partners who are financially aware don't want to go through a costly divorce that could negatively impact close relatives, most importantly on children.

Open Marriage

Open marriage is one of the most common innovative solutions. You may have even encountered articles about open marriages online or in magazines. If you've read the articles, you probably have a pretty good idea of the advantages and disadvantages. After living together monogamously, trying an open marriage and inviting other people into your marriage might seem like a drastic step at first. It can be a great solution for people whose primary reason for being unhappy in marriage was one of the sexual kind. In an open marriage, both parties consent to exploring other options in the dating pool and neither one of them is considered to be a cheater.

Open marriage has its pitfalls. Not all partners can deal with a polygamous lifestyle. Also, the rules have to be perfectly explained and acceptable to both parties. You must decide on what type of exploration is and isn't allowed. Also, there needs to be a discussion regarding pregnancies that might occur due to an affair outside of marriage.

Parenting Marriage

If you don't feel connected with your partner but want to stay together to protect your children from emotional trauma, pursuing a parenting marriage system might be a good idea. As you can probably guess, a parenting marriage is concerned with providing your children with the best parental support. You cease to be in a romantic relationship with your partner and start over as mere friends. Parenting marriage might be hard to pull off, but it can free up some of your time which you can use to spend time with children. It is up to you and your ex to come up with the best way to continue parenting your children. In some cases, spouses keep spending time together with children, sometimes they spend time with children individually.

Living Apart Together

For couples who don't have kids, living apart together is an expensive but still a decent solution for conflicts in marriage. Even if you have children, it might turn out to be okay. In this arrangement, a couple remains married but starts each individual starts living separately. This option demands the couple to have at least two homes, which can be unattainable by some families. In some cases, spouses keep living together in their family home and move out only when things get rocky. It is a great way to avoid arguments and reflect on your situation.

Who can Benefit from an Alternative Marriage?

Alternative marriage is not practical for everyone. Both parties involved must have certain personality traits. First and foremost, both must be great communicators. If a couple has trouble talking, then trying alternative marriage is unlikely to solve any problems.

You need to make a choice together. If your wife wants an open marriage, but you do not, then she cannot just choose to sleep with other people. That will cause jealousy, mistrust and other issues.

The decision to try an alternative approach must be made with consent from both parties. For example, if one of the parties rejects the proposal of open marriage, one of the spouses should not proceed to date other people. This will further complicate the relationship.

It is also important to free yourself from other's expectations. People who aren't involved in your daily life probably won't understand the reasons behind your decision. If you come across serious pushback from some of your close friends, then you need to seriously consider your reaction to their stance.

Final Words

Divorce is a financially and emotionally draining process. It is wise to consider the alternative ways of starting a new life.

Separation, conscious uncoupling, mediation and annulments can reduce the stress for all parties involved and give you the opportunity to start over without any emotional baggage.