by: Jim Duzak, JD.
Dear Jim: My son is 34 and married to what I used to think was a lovely young woman. But three months ago she announced she wanted a divorce.
There apparently is no one else in her life — or in my son’s life, I should add, and no specific reason she’s unhappy. The only explanation she’s given my son is that she has “fallen out of love.” My son is heartbroken about this and my husband and I are, too. The case is moving forward in court, and my son’s lawyer says there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. My son is ready, willing, and able to get marriage counseling, but my daughter-in-law says it’s too late for that. It just doesn’t seem right that one person can end a marriage totally on her own, for no good reason.
Dear Distraught: You’re not the only one who thinks there’s something wrong with no-fault divorce, which does allow one spouse to obtain a divorce simply by claiming “irreconcilable differences.” (And “falling out of love” would be considered an irreconcilable difference.) Judges will almost always rule that there are irreconcilable differences as long as one spouse says there are, even when the other spouse is insistent that things can still be worked out. Because of that, critics of no-fault often refer to it as “unilateral” divorce, or “divorce on demand.”
Unfortunately for your son, and for you and your husband, there’s not much that can be done to stop the process unless your daughter-in-law voluntarily chooses to stop it. You don’t say where they live, but every state now has a no-fault divorce statute, and the vast majority of those statutes do not have a mandatory pre-divorce counseling requirement. (When there are kids involved, many states have mandatory pre-divorce parenting classes, but those classes are not designed to fix the underlying marital problems but rather to ensure that post-divorce child-related issues are addressed.)
Occasionally, you’ll get a divorce court judge who will go out of his or her way to urge couples to put the divorce on the backburner and give marriage counseling a try. But judges are ultimately limited by the language of the statutes they’re sworn to uphold. If there is no mandatory counseling requirement in a particular statute, there is nothing — beyond persuasion — that a judge can do about it.
I know this is a tough time for all of you. But I see, at least, a couple of reasons to be optimistic. For one thing, at thirty-four, your son is still young. I think it would be worse for a man in his fifties, sixties, or seventies to learn that his wife had “fallen out of love” with him, after what he thought was a happy, long-term marriage.
In addition, your son seems to have many of the qualities women would find desirable. Despite his shock and disappointment, he genuinely loves his wife. He cares about preserving his marriage. He welcomes marriage counseling (which many men won’t even consider). And, if your daughter-in-law is telling the truth, he didn’t do anything “wrong” in the marriage other than to be, perhaps, the wrong man for her.
There’s every reason to believe that your son will someday meet a woman who will value his good qualities more than his current wife did. For that reason, I think this story, while sad, will eventually have a happy ending. Good luck, and please let me know what happens.
Jim Duzak, JD., is a graduate of Boston College Law School, and practiced divorce law in Boston for over twenty years. After moving to Arizona, he became a full-time mediator for the family and divorce court in Phoenix. His experience in working with divorcing couples, plus his own life experiences---he was a 20 year-old husband and father and a single father for several years after his divorce---prompted Jim to write a book entitled, Mid-Life Divorce and the Rebirth of Commitment, that helps people avoid divorce by teaching better ways to communicate and resolve disputes.
Jim is currently an advice columnist, relationship writer, and personal coach. He is a contributing expert at HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com, and LAFamily.com. He also puts on workshops dealing with marriage, divorce, post-divorce dating, and other aspects of men-women relationships. His website is attorneyatlove.com.