According to a 2018 study on America's declining divorce rate, the downturn is attributed to Millennials wanting to wait until they're financially solvent and a bit older (and perhaps wiser) before taking the plunge—breakthroughs that Baby Boomers didn't consider as much. But despite today's promising statistics, divorce is still very much a thing and a complicated one at that. If your marriage is on the rocks, you'd do well to consider the pros and cons of filing for divorce vs. staying married before making such a life-changing decision.
"If you are considering divorce, ultimately it’s your happiness and well-being that is most important, but there are some critical things to consider before calling it quits," says marriage and family therapist Rebecca Hendrix. Whenever we experience significant difficulties in our marriages, we may immediately jump to the idea of getting a divorce. While divorce does have its advantages, it isn't a cure-all for every one of a marriage's shortcomings.
Meet the Expert
Rebecca Hendrix, LMFT is a New York City-based integrative holistic psychotherapist and writer with more than 15 years of experience.
"Deciding to divorce is a huge decision that will have ripple effects on all areas of your life for years to come," says Hendrix, so you shouldn't take the decision lightly. That said, while some struggling marriages can be repaired through therapy, improved resolution conflict, better sex, and otherwise, others simply aren't salvageable, leaving divorce as the best option. "With all crossroads in life, it’s best to take your time and weigh the pros and cons."
So, if you're thinking about ending your marriage full-stop, consider the following advantages and disadvantages of getting divorced vs. staying married before jumping head-first into the family court system.
Pros of Staying Married
Your Kids Won't Have to Split Time Between Parents
Although "staying together for the kids" isn't always a viable option, it's definitely a big consideration for most couples. "When parents split, children have to adjust to new living arrangements: having clothes at mom and dad’s, rooms at each house. In some cases, one parent moves to a different or nearby town, where visiting with them means the child is no longer near their friends," says Hendrix. She adds that holidays often become a point of stress for children as they try to see both parents and feel guilty for choosing one over the other. If you can salvage your marriage, it will likely make life easier for your kids, given there isn't constant fighting or infidelity present in the household—all factors to consider.
Your Income Flow Will Remain Intact
When you got married, you likely merged assets, like bank accounts and cards, 401ks, a house, cars, etc. If you split, so will those assets, and the lifestyle you've become accustomed to may get turned upside down. You may have to sell your home and both find a smaller home or apartment, which can be a huge adjustment. "Sometimes, once all assets are divided and settlement agreements are reached, one [person] has little money left to buy/rent a new home, so it can create financial hardship," says Hendrix. Similarly, if you are in a partnership where only one person works, reentering the workforce and earning money will be difficult for the non-working person. Financial security is a huge pro when deciding on whether or not to stay married.
You Won't Have to Start Over and Find Someone New
Finding "the one" isn't easy the first time around, so starting over on your own after a divorce can be a challenge. Depending on how long you've been married, it could have been decades since you've dated, and if you have kids, that makes it even more difficult. "It’s not impossible to find a new partner, people do it all the time, but there are usually competing intentions—work, kids, self-care, me time," says Hendrix. "If you are co-parenting, there might be little time to date, because children have so many activities and needs." If you love your partner but your marriage is struggling, it may be worth it to try different ways to make it work, especially if you are raising children. Plus, adds Hendrix, some people come to regret their decision to get divorced and find themselves wanting to rekindle their relationship after the fact.
You Won't Have to Deal With Friends and Family Picking Sides
As much as you'd like to believe that your friends and family would never side with your ex, unfortunately, it can happen, especially in the case of mutual friends. If you were super close with your sister-in-law, for example, divorce might sever that relationship, or at least make it awkward. "If you have a solid friend network and get divorced, friends often consciously or unconsciously take sides," says Hendrix. "Even if they don’t take sides, they are not likely to invite both of you to the BBQ, unless you have an amazing amicable split, which is rare." If keeping your in-laws close or maintaining your shared social circle is especially important to you, this can be a huge pro toward staying married.
Pros of Getting a Divorce
You Can Put an End to Abuse
If your partner is abusive, whether emotionally or physically, turn to the family court, which will be your easiest out. No one should endure domestic abuse. After enduring abuse for an extended period of time, you may felt bound to your abuser, which is natural but not okay. You may have trouble imagining your life without the person you once loved, but try to see the bigger picture: Someone who hits you, screams at you, or threatens you does not love you. Your life will undoubtedly be better once you feel safe and secure.
If you are a victim of abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline or give therapy a try. Talking to someone unbiased who has your best interests and safety at heart is always a good idea.
You Will Enjoy Newfound Freedom
If you're married, you are probably familiar with the concepts of compromise and sacrifice. For instance, perhaps you felt the need to put your career on hold so that you could be more present in your kids' lives. On the other hand, maybe you felt pressure to support your family financially, so you accepted a high-paying job with grueling hours. Now that you are no longer a part of a couple, you are free to do the things you couldn't do when you were married. Go ahead, book that solo weekend getaway. You deserve it.
You Can Date New People
Whether you got married young and eventually fell out of love or you waited a while before tying the not and feel like you settled, there are infinite reasons for getting a divorce. One big reason is feeling like the love between you and your spouse just isn't there. An amicable divorce is a pretty good option that allows you to rebuild a healthy, rewarding life with someone new.
You Can Reconnect With Your Kids
Even though the initial shock of divorce may hurt your kids in the immediate, they may come to see it as a breath of fresh air—especially if you and your ex were constantly arguing and the kids always ended up in the middle. Once the split is official, the kids may let out a sigh of relief that they finally have two happy parents again.
Cons of Staying Married
You Might Be Giving Up the Chance of a Better Fit
This is one of the biggest cons to staying in a loveless marriage for practical reasons. It may be worth it to face some struggles if it means having another chance to find true love. "If you are not in love with your partner and are only staying for other reasons, you may be giving up on having fulfillment in the love and relationship area of your life," says Hendrix. Further, staying in a monogamous marriage that is sexless will not allow you to experience that very important aspect of life. If you stay, says Hendrix, you will deprive yourself of the opportunity to find a better fit that will increase your happiness and satisfy your needs.
You Might Remain Unfulfilled in Your Relationship
If you decide to stay with your partner, you're taking a chance knowing that things might not work out, despite your best efforts. You may never feel fulfilled in the relationship area of your life, which can have detrimental effects on your well-being. "It’s stressful to be happy in other areas of your life (i.e. career) but have your relationship be your Achilles heel," says Hendrix. "If you have taken your relationship as far as it can go, and you still have little to no fulfillment, it can be hard to accept that this is as good as it gets in that area of your life." This can ultimately be very depressing.
You May Live With Resentment
A common problem with staying married when both you and your partner are unhappy is that you may live with resentment for one another. You may consciously or unconsciously do things that bother the other person or ignore their requests simply because you feel slighted and blame the other person for your unhappiness. "Being angry and holding resentment for a long period of time is unhealthy," says Hendrix. "It can lead to depression, anxiety, or manifest physically with stomach problems, insomnia, migraines, or worse." It also has a detrimental effect on children. Young kids, says Hendrix, feel and absorb all that anger, and it doesn't matter that it's directed at your partner and not them. This can lead to your kids having anxiety and attachment issues later in life.
It May Be Harder to Find Yourself
Although starting over is hard, it can also be refreshing. Many people who get divorced will seek help in the form of therapy, self-help books, or support groups, which allows people to develop emotionally and understand themselves on a deeper level. If you stay married unhappily, you may never have the chance to do so. "Many go inwards to understand what got them to this point and use divorce as a catalyst for creating a better life," says Hendrix. "They use the pain of the divorce to grow, to focus on themselves, and often become healthier, stronger, and eventually use what they have learned to have a more fulfilling partnership the next time around with a partner who is a better fit for who they have become." Staying married may deprive you of this growth.
Cons of Getting a Divorce
You Will Drain Your Finances
Divorce isn't cheap: Both parties will incur attorney and legal fees—and they only add up when children are involved. The primary parent will often be entitled to child support, and in some cases, spousal support, and even the most robust household income will, in essence, be halved. Possessions, earnings, real estate holdings, and sometimes even debt gets divided between you and your soon-to-be-ex.
It Will Confuse Your Kids
Make no mistake: Divorce is as hard, if not harder, on children as it is on their parents. Even if your kids are older, they probably won't be able to fully grasp the complex reasons their parents feel compelled to end their relationship. Some kids tend to blame themselves, which only makes everything that much more challenging. You and your spouse can lessen the burden on your children by making their needs your number-one priority both during and after your divorce. Although a divorce that's devoid of outward animosity isn't always easy to promise, acting civil during the process will help your kids navigate the changes your family is about to undergo.
You Will Deal With Adverse Emotional Ramifications
Even if a divorce is civil, that doesn't mean you are immune to negative, even devastating, feelings that may follow the split. It's also impossible to know beforehand when and how hard they'll hit you. Some people don't emotionally divorce their partners until after the legal process is over. And regardless of the problems you two had, you'll probably still harbor psychological attachments that can be difficult to shake. Loneliness, sadness, self-blame, and worry, albeit normal, can be notoriously tough to bear, too.
You Will Have to Explain the Situation
Like your kids, your coworkers, friends, and family will also be impacted by your divorce: The duo that they once knew and loved will morph into two separate units and, whether they're forced to or not, they might take sides. It's essential to recognize that cracks in third-party relationships can also develop once the divorce is final. In addition to your spouse, you may lose other important people in your life, too. One thing to keep in mind, though: Anyone who willingly walks away from your friendship and love is not someone worth having in your life anyway. Real friends will stick by your side and support you.
Cohen PN. The Coming Divorce Decline. Socius. 2019 Jan-Dec;5:10.1177/2378023119873497. doi: 10.1177/2378023119873497