Divorce and Timing

By Attorney Gregg Herman
May 23, 2014

My friend Randy Kessler from Atlanta posted a FB link to an article entitled “When is the worst time to get a divorce?  Splitting up at the wrong time could cost you big.”  The article discusses “typical” cases like Clippers owner Donald Sterling and the 2003 divorce of GE executive Jack Welch, which was termed one of the largest divorce settlements of all time.

Let’s get real.  Timing is a very important issue for many people.  But – big surprise here – few have the resources of the Sterlings or the Welches.  So when the article suggests that people do not divorce just before or during the sale of a business or if a company is about to go public, the advice applies to far less than 1% of people considering divorce.

For the other 99+%, the issue is really an emotional one.  It is not infrequent for people to ask me if they should wait until a child graduates, after a birthday, after an anniversary and, frequently, until after Christmas.

My answer is that there is no “good” time to get divorced – only bad times.  Yes, in certain instances, taking child custody off the table might save emotional and financial resources.  Yes, sometimes filing on December 24 may ruin holidays for that year.  Certainly, waiting an extra week, an extra month or even an extra year is not going to cause any harm.  If a marriage is saveable, then people need to take the necessary steps to try to do so, which is usually joint counseling.  But if a marriage is terminable, the sooner it is put to rest, the sooner the rest of life can start.  Dead marriages don’t come back to life.  Rather, they fester and the emotional toll gets worse.  Sometimes, far worse.

In most cases, the decision of “when” is really one of “if.”  Many people I meet with are wrestling with the decision of whether to terminate the marriage at all.  The “when” is really an excuse.

Absent extreme circumstances, such as abuse (both physical and mental) it is not my job to tell people whether to terminate their marriage.  Rather, to the extent they are wrestling with this decision, they should be discussing it with someone with mental health training, such as psychologist or psychotherapist.  My job is to explain the legal process and options available.  The fear and the guilt which frequently arise from  initiating divorce proceedings should be explored with someone who has training in the appropriate field.

So the advice in the article, which includes waiting until the real estate market improves so an underwater house can create equity, is good financial advice.  But in most cases, the difficult issues are not the finances, but the emotions.  And if the breakdown of the marriage is, indeed, not reversible, time is not going to work any magic. 

Attorney Gregg Herman is a founding partner of Loeb & Herman S.C. in Milwaukee, WI. He practices family law exclusively, and can be reached via e-mail or by calling (414) 272-5632.