Are you ready to get divorced?
Separating from your partner and ending your marriage is a monumental decision with far-reaching consequences, for you, your family members and friends.
It's not the kind of decision many people can successfully "try on for size", and then recover from unscathed if they decide it's not what they want. For most couples, once one person makes the decision, it's relationship over, and in many cases, it's game on.
My decision-making tool
One of my dearest friends shared a decision-making tool with me many years ago. I use it to this day to make all manner of decisions.
It is this: If you think you’re ready to end your marriage, ask yourself:
With all of the consequences of my decision, will it make me any happier?
If the answer is yes, go through the pain with the goal of a happier life in clear view. If your answer is no or you’re not sure, then don’t do it.
Instead, reinvest in the relationship, and try again. Or, narrow the scope of your question until you arrive at a yes, and then, do that.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it?
It’s a simple concept, but it’s not easy.
The difficulty comes in factoring in the consequences.
You must take all of the consequences of your decision into account.
What are all the consequences?
There are serious downsides to ending a marriage. You must be prepared to separate from anything that’s still good about your marriage and your partner and be prepared to go it alone.
If you’re always bickering with your partner over money, their roving eye or their haphazard parenting, the prospect of not having to engage in the conflict anymore may seem like a tremendous relief and very appealing.
However, what irritates you now about your partner might amplify upon separation.
Ending the marriage is likely to inflame existing conflicts and highlight the inadequacies in the partnership. The traits your partner may try to temper while you are married will be given free rein once you separate, and he or she no longer has any reason to be accountable to you or your marriage.
If you are a parent, you will have serious considerations about how the consequences of your decision will impact your children. This is one of the most gut-wrenching aspects of any family break up.
There will be setbacks, and you need to have a plan in place to counteract them.
How I make difficult decisions
I am a techie nerd at heart, so when I have to make complex and challenging decisions with far-reaching consequences, I turn to lists and logic.
While that may work where the choices and the outcomes are purely practical, in separation and family matters, there are added layers of complexity which don't fit the one size fits all logic. Firstly, it is an emotionally stressful time, and your decisions have a direct and profound impact on your emotional well-being and that of other people. And, secondly, the decision isn't wholly yours to make; like it or not, your ex partner has a say in matters.
So, I found there were additional considerations necessary in my usual "list and tick" methods of decision-making when it came to my separation and divorce.
The first step was to decide on what I thought was in the best long-term interests of myself and my children and then to be able to justify my reasons in negotiations or the facts that lead me to my reasoning in an Affidavit to the Court.
The most important and challenging decision for me was, "where we would all reside post-separation?"
When my marriage ended, we were are a bit of a motley. Nothing has changed in that regard. I am an Australian. My Ex-Husband is a New Zealander, and our two sons were born in South Africa. We met in the UK, married in Australia, lived a short time in London before spending the majority of our married life in South Africa. We moved back to England, on what was supposed to be a 2-year secondment and separated within months of that move. My right to remain was mostly dependent on being married.
I am an Australian citizen. I have only one passport and the right to reside in Australia, and also, I guess New Zealand.
My ex-husband has two passports and the right to reside permanently in either New Zealand, UK, South Africa or Australia. He was indicating at the time of separation, that he intended to remain in the UK, but eventually, move back to South Africa, and he would not be moving to Australia, under any circumstances.
My oldest son is an Australian citizen, has a New Zealand passport and permanent residency in South Africa.
My youngest son is also an Australian citizen, with both a British and New Zealand passport and permanent residency in South Africa.
There was a sense of urgency in reaching a consensus on where we would live because the start of the school year was fast approaching, and my oldest son was about to start high school and the schooling system is different in each country. As we had intended for the boys to attend a private school, there were enrolment considerations.
At the risk of revealing myself as a bit of a nutter, I am going to share with you how I reached the decision that a move to Australia was in the best interests of my boys and me; preferably East Coast so that it was easier for the boys' father to find work in his area of expertise. As it turned out in the end, the lawyers on the other side seemed to agree with me, or at least they advised their client that the judge would, and we settled parenting arrangements on the steps of the courthouse with consent orders.
The crazy country matrix
To make this decision, I created the spreadsheet below to help me decide which country, Australia, England, South Africa or New Zealand most met the future needs of our separated family.
The first step was to list all of the factors influencing my decision. I knew that it was imperative for the boys to maintain regular contact and spend time with their dad so there were separate points added to address their contact with me, and their contact with their dad.
As it's a very emotional time and many of the elements of the decision carried an emotional price, I decided to weight the consideration factors on a scale 1 to 100 in terms of importance in the overall scheme. So contact with each parent is weighted at the maximum level of importance at 100 while the proximity to their existing friends carried a much lower weighting of 40. I guess this is where my emotional state at the time came in because as I look at this table now, which incidentally, was much longer than the sample shown below, I cannot for the life of me recall what my reasoning was behind some of the weightings.
Once I had listed and weighted all of the decision factors I wanted to consider, I then assessed each point and scored how well the criteria would be satisfied by each country, where 4 was the maximum score.
Once I had scored each point, I just multiplied the level of satisfaction by the weighting and tallied it all up.
A graphical representation of the results showed that a move to Australia was what I should be aiming for to best satisfy what I believed to be in the best interests of my children, followed by NZ, the UK and then South Africa.
It is not scientific by any measure. But when I was consumed with the overwhelm of having to make the most difficult decisions of my life it helped to list all of the things I felt needed to be considered, find some way of prioritising them in terms of how important they were to me, the children and my Ex-Husband and then meander my way towards a conclusion.
Maybe it would work for you, maybe not.
You should prepare yourself for separating, and then work through the harsh practical and emotional aspects, piece by piece, to put together a new life picture for yourself.
I had considered all of the consequences I could think of, the most negative of which was that the boys' Dad had made it very clear he had no intention of moving to Australia. That would mean they would not spend regular time in his home during the school term and I would most likely not be spending too many holidays with my children during their school years. But still, I thought we would all be happier and better off financially, and in terms of schooling, socialising and overall quality of life in the long run.
Getting back to the rest of the process of the Decision-Making tool, I finally had a question to which I could answer "YES"; If I move back to Australia with our children, whether their father elects to come or not, will it make me and my children, in the long run, any happier?
When you reach this point, you are well placed to forge a clear path.
Don't expect it to be easy.
Once you are sure you are making a sound decision, make it happen with as much integrity, compassion, and respect as you can muster and open yourself to the opportunity of a happier life.
If you go through the process and the answer for you at this stage is "No, it will not make you happier", then narrow the scope of the question to consider other options. For example: With all of the consequences of my decision, will it make me happier to stay in the home and agree to attend counselling sessions with my spouse?
Keep trying different questions until you find something you can answer yes to, and then do that.