Friday, June 4, 2010

Why We Divorce (Strictly Anecdotal!)

gore kissWell, Tipper and Al Gore are kaput!  What is the world coming to?   After that kiss at the convention!  After 40 years!

This morning on the way to try a divorce case, I was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition discuss the Gore situation.  The conclusion of the article is that, basically, the Gores have “grown apart”  (what I call “drift”), and  that this is a common evolution of a relationship. 

The narrator indicated that the Gores fit in the category she refers to as “the second wave of divorce,” referring to couples who have lasted in a marriage more than twenty years and their increased risk of divorce.  Her take?  “Let’s not call it a ‘tragedy,’ but celebrate it as a part of life…”  So, marriage-for-life seems kaput, too.

Why do people divorce?  Well, if you’re talking the “root” causation, I’d have to say things like rank selfishness and unrealistic expectations, as discussed in Dr. Phillips’ recent post here , play a part.  But this post concerns immediate causes—the events or characteristics that people claim as the reason for their divorce. 

As a divorce attorney I do have a window into this.  In my state, we still require grounds for divorce unless the parties have been continuously separated for a period of 18 months.  Therefore, in most cases it is necessary for a party seeking a divorce to declare what his/her grounds for divorce are—the other party must be found at fault.  Furthermore, if  the divorce is contested, the grounds must be proven by third-party corroboration.  Likewise, an “innocent” party who is sued for divorce can stall the divorce for at least 18 months in absence of proof of grounds. 

The wisdom of requiring grounds over a no-fault statue is a whole ‘nother post, but I feel it brewing…

My staff and I discussed this topic and arbitrarily decided that we would inventory the last 75 divorce files we have opened.  Here are the stats as we found them—real life in action—from least numerous to  most numerous reason for divorce in these cases (can you hear the drum roll?):

Primary Cause for Divorce

No. Cases


Family Interference (parents hated daughter-in-law and won)


Finances.  Sole stated reason for divorce.  I believe financial strain plays a role in other divorces.


Mental Illness.  Whew! No doubt on this one…mental illness was THE cause.


Pornography addiction named as sole reason (pornography also played a stated part in approximately 6 other divorces, maybe more.  We are seeing internet and “Craig’s list sex” type of involvement more and more)


Incest (grandfather/ granddaughter). Caused divorce of grandparents (Thank God! You have no idea how often I see spouses of perps take up for them).


Drug Addiction (drugs played a part in several other divorces, too).  In these three cases, drug addiction was the stated ground for divorce.  Financial devastation reigned in all three…lost savings, foreclosure in one case, etc.


Domestic Violence (one was wife battering husband, repeatedly and undeniably)


Alcoholism (this were stated primary reasons—alcohol played a part in others)


Wife committed adultery


“Drift.”  This is the term I use when client says “We grew apart” or some such and there is no other visible cause.  To be truthful, rarely do I really believe this is the cause…”drift” often is a euphemism for something they don’t want to discuss, as I sometimes unhappily find out in trial.    


NO. 1 REASON FOR DIVORCE:  Husband committed adultery


And, now, Survey Says: the No. 1 stated reason for divorce in my files is Cheatin’ Husbands!  I knew that would be the case before this tabulation, but even I was surprised by the margin.

And, yes, I represent cheaters, too.

Just an observation that came to me as I wrote this: Rarely do I see divorce after initial discovery of an affair if the cheater repents.  I cannot think of a case right now where someone “knee-jerked” a divorce action over a one-time fling and maintained it until final hearing.  It has been my experience that people are fairly forgiving of adultery if  there is change and repentance. 

On the other hand, my experience has been (and it may just be my sample) that people who cheat once during a marriage will usually do so again.  But, this may be a function of the fact that people who come to me because of cheating spouses are already fed up—I may just not get to see those who change their ways!

And, so you know, I do tend to represent more women than men.  Only 25% of these files were men, which did surprise me…didn’t realize my caseload was that woman-heavy!  Guess more women want a woman lawyer.  Again, this may skew my figures from the “norm,” but I am confident that the order of the causes would remain the same of any such list in our jurisdiction.

Back to Tipper and Al: they’re claiming “drift,” aren’t they?  Well, my cynicism and practiced eye tells me that’s not the whole story.  I’m going out on a limb here and predicting (on the worldwide web, no less) that because of the public’s eye on this couple, we’ll soon find out that their divorce will fall in that No. 1 category (you know, that 1999 “Al’s an Alpha male” comment and all)…time will tell.

And, really, I must say to Morning Edition that never—not in 31 years of family law practice—have I seen a case where the divorcing couple viewed it as a “celebration of life.”  Sheesh!