Can filing for divorce save your marriage?

In the past month alone I have spoken with three different people who were filing for divorce in the hopes of saving their marriage. The theme was the same: they were at the end of their rope. They felt as if they were the only participating member of the marriage and they couldn’t fix their marriage without the other spouse’s commitment to the marriage. They hoped and prayed that getting that divorce petition would be the wake-up call their spouse needed to start working on the marriage.

The first client had been asking her Husband to go to counseling with her for years. Things were bad and he wouldn’t participate. He was depressed and constantly angry with her. She could do nothing right. On one occasion he was angry with her for failing to tell him they were low on garbage bags. She truly hoped that once she presented him with the divorce petition, he would reconsider, go to counseling and work on the marriage.

The second person was in her mid-80s. She had been married over 30 years and she was tired of her husband being mean to her. She didn’t want a divorce. She wanted her husband to start respecting her and being kind. She had recently inherited money and for the first time ever, she had control over something in their marriage. (Inheritance is separate property, so she owned it wholly.) He wanted her to convert it to being jointly owned. The issue was that she had three adult children from her first husband and she wanted to gift some of the money to them. If she added him to the account, she was sure he would block her ability to gift to her children. Additionally, this power play had to stop. She spent the money on him and for them to do things together; why couldn’t he simply be happy for her? She had us draft the divorce petition but not file it. She showed it to him prior to going on vacation for him to consider. Is this what he wanted?

The third was a man who had been married 25 years. His wife was a severe alcoholic who needed to go to rehab. He had begged her to go. She promised she would, but never got around to it. She would go to a few AA meetings, only to begin drinking again the next day. The kids were out of the house now and she was a functioning alcoholic. He was concerned about liability. They had worked hard and saved a good amount of money in retirement. What if she was drunk and got in an accident? What if they were sued and he lost everything? He didn’t want a divorce. He wanted a sober wife.

Three clients in one month coming to Modern Law to file for divorce to save their marriage!?! What gives? Perhaps it’s the statement on our website — don’t call us if you are looking to sling mud at your ex and drive up attorney’s costs. We want you to stay married. We would like nothing more than to dismiss your divorce petition and send you off onto happily ever after.

So what happened? Client 1 and 2 both went through with their plans and, so far, it’s working. Both showed the petition to their spouse who agreed to work on it. The realities of divorce are not pretty. The third client decided not to do anything yet. He has information, but isn’t ready to try the nuclear option.

I’m not sure if filing for divorce can save your marriage. I’m sure a counselor would probably say this isn’t a good tactic. But it may work… I’ll let you know.