Why drag feet on divorce after separation
September 23, 2008 2:18 PM   Subscribe

Why might people wait so long to get divorced, when at least one party definitely wants it.

I read that the average time between separation and filing for divorce is 2.8 years. Why might this be? It's idle curiosity on my part, have a friend who is separated but I don't want to ask him, am just curious. Reasons I can think of:

1. Both parties have hopes for reconciliation.
2. They feel it's just a piece of paper, and not important.
3. They are too busy with work, etc to file.
4. The party with money is trying to negotiate lesser payments to future ex-spouse.
5. One party refuses to sign (though from my understanding, this is moot, it only takes one party to file)
6. They think "separation" is less painful to the kids than "divorce" (Ok, i am reaching with this one, I personally think that one would be dumb)

Any other possible reasons I'm missing? I already know you have to be separated a year first, that one is accounted for. : )
posted by Penelope to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It is not always easy to do it efficiently because it is highly emotional and there are a lot of times when you'll just go "I can't think about this today"
posted by sondrialiac at 2:23 PM on September 23, 2008

Divorce can be incredibly expensive, time consuming, and emotionally difficult. Sometimes people put it off - and sometimes people are negotiating the terms of the divorce long before anything is actually filed. Sometimes dealing with the day to day of the breakup and finances and kids post-separation is hard enough, and people like to get their heads above water on their new lives before plunging back into what can be an adversarial situation (and is, in any case, a costly hassle).
posted by moxiedoll at 2:30 PM on September 23, 2008

My ex and I are definitely average, then. We didn't get divorced until his girlfriend got pregnant. Our divorce was very simple, and it still was a ton of work and a lot of money. I don't think anyone really hurries to get it done unless there's something else riding on it.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:30 PM on September 23, 2008

I am guessing its normally #2 and #3 with #1 a close second (which is of course tempered with hopes of eliminating said pain in #6)
posted by ian1977 at 2:30 PM on September 23, 2008

My parents stayed together for about 14 years after they were separated and no longer entertaining any thoughts of reconciliation. Their reasons were

- it was easier to deal with health insurance and other benefits for my self-employed mom this way
- neither wanted to remarry
- my Dad didn't have to deal with legal child support/alimony hassles
- my mother was pretty passive about the whole thing
- paperwork was a headache

In short, what my parents wanted was to not be living together and that's what they got. They didn't have a need to be divorced per se, to say "scrw you" to the other one etc. Eventually my Mom decided that she wanted to be the only one whose name was on the title to the house she was living in and she started divorce proceedings.

This turned into a big acrimonious pain in the ass between two people who had been split and fairly neutral towards each other for over a decade. This was because -- depending on who you believe -- my Mom's lawyer was an asshole, my Dad was an asshole or my Mom was an asshole. In any case, everyone acted like children and I'm very happy they waited to do that until I was a grown adult.

That said, my opinion on their choice was that the lack of a divorce meant that there was a certain lack of "moving on" that was done, not that either one thought they'd get back together, but that neither one felt themselves to be exactly single. This was useful for certain purposes for them [it's easier being a woman in your thirties and married, status-wise which is weird, and the same is true for men in a different way, in my opinion anyhow] but I think sort of denied the inevitable: that they were both for most intents and purposes, single.
posted by jessamyn at 2:38 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh I forgot, I did this too! I got married as sort of a stunt (long story) and had a relationship with my husband that neatly overlapped the marriage. When we split up we thought we'd stay together married just for the convenience of it all and we were friends and sort of anti-marriage so this kept us from having to marry anyone else. We stayed married for a few more years and then finally did the paperwork and got a divorce when he met The One and she was a little squicked by him being married (understandable). I sort of liked being married, to tell you the truth, but it made sense to not be married and so after a while, we weren't.
posted by jessamyn at 2:47 PM on September 23, 2008 [11 favorites]

It's money. My gf spent 4 years divorcing her husband and still wound up having to pay him $400k.
posted by Zambrano at 2:47 PM on September 23, 2008

They have a pet they both adore and can't figure out who gets it?

They love the house they are in and it is convenient to their work and moving would be extremely disruptive to their career?

Waiting for kids to be a certain age that divorce would be easier (18? graduated from high school?)?

Maybe they are not lovers but they are best friends (the Clintons)?
posted by cda at 2:48 PM on September 23, 2008

It took my parents about 10 years to file, mainly because of reason 2 (it's just a piece of paper) and also because they both REALLY hate lawyers. Almost irrationally.
posted by smackfu at 2:53 PM on September 23, 2008

(And as far as I can tell, the only reason they got divorced for real was that my mother wanted to buy a house and it got a little complicated since she already "owned" half of a house.)
posted by smackfu at 2:56 PM on September 23, 2008

Anecdotally, a good friend of mind waited a few years to get divorced after separating from his wife primarily for reasons #2 and #3 on your list. In his case, being out of an unhappy situation was more important to him than the paperwork, taking care of said paperwork always seemed like a monumental hassle that was easier to push off for later and since there were no kids involved or great amounts of money/property to be divided getting officially divorced didn't seem urgent. His getting engaged to somebody else finally put the wheels in motion to get the official divorce taken care of.
posted by The Gooch at 3:23 PM on September 23, 2008

Any one or all of these - kids, money, spite.
posted by watercarrier at 3:41 PM on September 23, 2008

In NYS, for no fault divorce, you still have to be "legally separated" for one year.

I am not going to delve into my personal experience with divorce as it will make me cranky. It wasn't even my divorce, and I am still cranky about it.
posted by kellyblah at 3:44 PM on September 23, 2008

My pal John waited, I believe, just over two years. He'd gotten married on a lark (bad call, come to find out), and wanted to keep his wife on his insurance until she was done with school. Also, there was a lot of protracted bitterness.
posted by klangklangston at 3:58 PM on September 23, 2008

It took me a year of separation & good couples therapy to genuinely realize it was dead. A very bad therapist wasted some of that time. Then we took a year to save up for the divorce, and also to let it sink in. Marriage is/was important to me, and it was difficult to formalize the failure of it. Then I wanted to re-fi the house, etc., and we had a neutral divorce.
posted by theora55 at 4:30 PM on September 23, 2008

I know people who have just not had a rush to get a divorce: they were already separated, they didn't want to marry anyone else, they just didn't have any incentive to get around to it. For years.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:33 PM on September 23, 2008

Most people I know who took a long time to finalize the divorce didn't have the money to do it right away.
posted by PFL at 5:03 PM on September 23, 2008

For my mom it was:
-not being able to afford a lawyer
-having financial situation with partner so messed up it seemed impossible to get out

& I think for many, unspoken reasons are:
-Fear of change
-Controlled by the partner and/or fear of what the partner will do when you leave
-Fear of how others will react
posted by nuclear_soup at 5:26 PM on September 23, 2008

There may be a time period between when you separate and when you are eligible to file for divorce.

In Maryland, you have to be separated for a year before you're eligible to file (at least for no-fault). Your signature on the divorce paperwork attests that you have lived apart from your spouse and have had no sexual relations with him/her for 12 months prior to the date of filing.
posted by weebil at 5:32 PM on September 23, 2008

I have a friend who is legally separated but not divorced. I think it's been three or four years now. She told me she'd pay for the separation but her ex could pay for the divorce if he wanted one. She has no desire to remarry so it's kind of academic for her.

In another case I heard of a man wasn't able to get a divorce for awhile because he couldn't find his ex.
posted by orange swan at 5:35 PM on September 23, 2008

I had to go back to school, get a job, and finance the divorce myself, so it took me three years. On the other hand, it was a pretty kickass birthday present when it finalized a couple days before I turned 32.

My sister and her ex had a long and happy 14-year marriage, of which they spent precisely three years together. They couldn't stand being involved with one another, but the tax breaks were pretty good and it wasn't really causing a problem until he found The One and wanted to remarry.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:45 PM on September 23, 2008

Insurance. I have not dragged my feet, but I haven't been exactly proactive to keep a benefit package that would cost me over $800/month for cobra, enabling me to freelance around kid's schedules for a bit longer.
And neither of us has found anyone else that is concerned about our marital status.
posted by readery at 5:47 PM on September 23, 2008

Because the person who wants a divorce in the first place never finishes anything he starts.
posted by FergieBelle at 5:51 PM on September 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

I have friends who separated in a fairly unpleasant way after ten years of marriage (he had been having an affair). Four months into their separation, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. They remained married on paper for six years, through her entire course of treatment, so she could remain on his health insurance.
posted by anastasiav at 6:57 PM on September 23, 2008

For me, it was mostly 5. Kinda, sorta.
When we finally decided to split, my ex-(to be) moved a couple of time zones away and made plans to go back to school. Divorce laws were simpler in her new residence, so we kept talking like she was going to file the paperwork But somehow, she kept finding reasons not to do it. Funny, that.

After seemingly endless excuses and foot dragging, I finally filed in my state. Which has a lengthy period between filing and the divorce being final. So it was something like two years between when she moved out and when it was finally all over and done with.
posted by browse at 8:43 PM on September 23, 2008

This is fascinating. Thanks for the question. In my parents' case (separated about four months ago, no movement on the officialdom), it's --
- mostly this: It is not always easy to do it efficiently because it is highly emotional and there are a lot of times when you'll just go "I can't think about this today" -- waiting for the emotions to stabilize a bit before dealing with all the financial negotiations
- wanting to avoid financial negotiations
- since finalizing the financial negotiations will also involve selling a house, they're waiting for the real estate market to stabilize (I don't know if they realize that could be years)
- a tiny bit of uncertainty (not quite #1) on one person's part
- maybe an official wait period?
posted by salvia at 10:50 PM on September 23, 2008

An aversion to admitting one was dead, dead, dead wrong.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:19 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Although this is fading away somewhat, one reason not yet mentioned is - religion.

One of our major religions forbids divorce. Some of its adherents will separate but will not finalize the split until it is necessary to do so. (Others have learned the annulment routine.)

Just a few decades ago, in many communities, divorce just was not done. Couples separated and/or they screwed around, but they stayed married.
posted by yclipse at 2:50 AM on September 24, 2008

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