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.
"Deciding to divorce is a huge decision that will have ripple effects on all areas of your life for years to come," says marriage and family therapist Rebecca Hendrix. 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. "If a couple believes that divorce is critical to both individuals living healthier lives, there is definitely hope on the other side," says Kim Hoertz, president and founder of The Graceful Exit.
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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. 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.
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. "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. If you are in a partnership where only one person works, staying married means the non-working partner won't have to re-enter the workforce. Furthermore, says Hoertz, you won't have to deal with the hefty legal fees divorce warrants. Plus, she adds, there is typically a lower tax burden for married couples.
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. "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.
Hoertz advises Discernment Counseling, a type of counseling that helps couples find clarity about the direction their marriage is going. "Typically, in Discernment Counseling, couples consider whether each party is 'leaning into' or 'leaning out' of the marriage," says Hoertz. Both perspectives are honored and discussed, and the goal is for the couple to take one of three paths: move forward with a divorce, commit to repairing their marriage via couple's counseling, or continue on their current course and postpone the decision.
Pros of Getting a Divorce
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. "An advantage of getting a divorce would be the opportunity to reset your financial priorities and have greater control over your finances," says Hoertz. 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. "Kids are extremely resilient and adapt to most situations," says Hoertz. "If the couple can find a way to co-parent and communicate effectively, they are teaching their children far more than they could model in an unhealthy marriage," she continues. "Often, children coming from divorced households are likely to have increased empathy for others."
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.
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."
You May Live With Resentment
If you stay in a failed marriage, you may consciously or unconsciously do things that bother your partner or ignore their requests simply because you feel slighted and blame them 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 your anger, which can lead to anxiety and attachment issues.
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. "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."
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. "Typically, if you can avoid hiring a lawyer to litigate, mediation is a more amicable and less expensive option to divorce," says Hoertz.
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 Deal With Friends and Family Picking Sides
Like your kids, your coworkers, friends, and family will also be impacted by your divorce. It's essential to recognize that cracks in third-party relationships can develop once the divorce is final. "If you have a solid friend network and get divorced, friends often consciously or unconsciously take sides," says Hendrix. 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