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Henry Gornbein

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What Is A Divorce?

Posted: 11/08/11 01:00 PM ET

Over my many years of specializing in family law I have handled thousands of divorces. These have run from very simple, uncontested matters to complicated cases. Many involve custody and other disputes regarding children. I have also had divorces where people have fought over millions of dollars in assets. The question that I am posing, and would like to answer, is as follows: What is a divorce?

A divorce can be many things. It is a legal proceeding to end a marriage. Divorce laws differ from state to state regarding the requirements and reasons or grounds for a divorce. The mechanisms and procedures for obtaining a divorce differ from state to state as well. In every state there is a legal requirement that a divorce proceeding be filed to end the legal marriage between a couple.

A divorce is a weapon. It can be a legal weapon. It can also be a verbal weapon which too frequently is used by an unhappy spouse who will hurl a threat: "If you do not do this, I will divorce you." This often is a means of control. It is also dirty fighting. Sometimes this threat of a divorce is a means of keeping someone in a marriage. To me, it is a statement that the marriage is in trouble and could perhaps end in a divorce unless the parties go into counseling.

I tell my divorce clients that a divorce is extremely painful. It is going to be one of the most horrible events that occurs in a lifetime. Psychologists say that the most traumatic event a person can experience is the death of a child. Second is the death of a spouse in an intact marriage. Third is a divorce. Never minimize the psychological impact of a divorce.

There is also a psychological divorce. This occurs when one or both spouses finally let go of the relationship and move on emotionally. I believe that a psychological divorce is just as important, if not more important, than a legal divorce. Emotionally it is much more devastating than the legal divorce. Until both people in a marriage let go, they will continue to battle through the Courts. This will create havoc and damage, often for years to come. Long after the legal divorce is over, people fight over custody, child support, and any other issue in order to continue the psychological battle through the Courts.

In addition to the legal divorce, there can be a religious divorce. In Catholicism, there is an annulment that is necessary in order to remarry in the church. In Judaism, there is a GET, or religious divorce, which is necessary before an Orthodox or Conservative Jew can remarry in the Jewish Faith. There is also a Muslim divorce. Other religions also have means of recognizing the end of the marriage through religious ceremonies or requirements before there can be a remarriage in a particular faith.

Divorce is not only painful, but it can be very costly. It can be damaging. Costs and damages in a divorce depend on the complexity of the case. They depend on how angry or inappropriate each spouse is going to act. The amount and complexity of the finances and whether custody is an issue, can increase the costs and attorney fees tremendously. These are things that you should think about as you decide whether or not, and how you want to have a divorce.

As you can see, a divorce can be many things. It is much more than a legal proceeding. A divorce encompasses many areas and will impact upon your life, your spouses', as well as your children's. If you have young children, they will be impacted and often scarred for many, many years. Think about this carefully. Filing for divorce should be a last resort, not your first impulse. These are some of my thoughts on the connotation of the word divorce. What are yours?

By: HENRY S. GORNBEIN
Family Law Attorney & Legal Correspondent
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