3 Questions to Help A Friend or Loved One Decide Whether to Stay or Divorce

September 22, 2020

I’m hungry. What do I have a taste for? Should I cook or order in? Where should I order from? And the list goes on. If you’re like me, these are questions that run through your mind before every meal. And while they all sound simple enough to answer, just ask my friends and family how smooth it goes. With all the various options afforded to us today, it’s unsurprising that many of us worry about making the wrong choice – even when it comes to trivial matters like what to eat for dinner.

Of course, I’m not just referring to indecision around a meal. The same seesaw occurs for those considering divorce, although the worry of making the wrong choice is on a much larger scale. Are there any couples in your life who you know are struggling with their marriage? It’s possible that quarantine has only heightened the issues they were having before. Still, making the final decision to move forward with divorce (or not!) can be paralyzing. The three questions below can give better direction to anyone considering whether to stay married or move forward with a divorce.

1. Think through how divorce will affect the relationships involved. Divorce has ripple effects well beyond family, for years to come – and, in ways the effects are unexpected. It can be helpful to write down the potential positive and negatives of staying married vs. divorcing on each relationship with a soon-to-be ex-spouse, children, friends, and community. Where do things stack up? 

2. Consider the couple’s financial position – cash, credit, career, and earnings along with the ability to fund retirement and access healthcare. Divorce is expensive even without a pandemic. And the true impact of COVID-19 on employment, healthcare costs, retirement accounts, and a host of other factors is completely unknown. Is it realistic to think about living comfortably on less than half of the income grown accustomed to throughout the marriage? Are both spouses up to speed on how much they earn (income), own (assets), and owe (liabilities)? Does each party know how much they need to support a comfortable life post-divorce? It is important for each person to evaluate their lifestyle and figure out what they can and can’t live without, and whether they’ll have what they need to support that standard of living. 

3. How meaningful of a change will divorce contribute to the future? Is it worth all it takes? The true cost of a divorce is not the dollars, but the amount of “life” spent on it – the hours of time, energy, collateral emotional damage, and, of course, the money. Is a happy marriage at all possible with some work from both parties? THEN DO IT! If not, the couple may be better off getting out of the relationship sooner rather than later.

Even after considering the points above, it can still be hard to feel confident that a decision is an authentic choice based on self-awareness and not an emotionally reactive decision from the stress of COVID-enforced confinement. This is where discernment counseling can help.

Discernment Counseling

Discernment counseling is a relatively new approach to help couples examine all aspects of the decision to stay or go. While marriage counseling focuses on change, discernment counseling focuses on decision-making. Being time-limited, this process focuses on getting to a decision on the future of the marriage with clarity and confidence. In one to five voluntary meetings, the couple gets to decide if it’s best to maintain the status quo, to divorce, or start couples counseling to do what’s needed to strengthen their marriage.

Here’s the high level on how it works:

It’s important to have a balance between making a knee-jerk decision and bringing closure and resolution to issues that may be eating away at your friend or loved one’s happiness and well-being. Whether the Next Chapter of their life is written as a pair or solo, the fact remains that your loved one holds the pen and the power on how that chapter will be written. Help them use it wisely and they won’t ever worry about whether they made the right decision.

Kristina Caragiulo, CFP® is an Advisor who joined the BDF team in July of 2015. As an Advisor, some of Kristina’s responsibilities include providing analysis to clients in the different areas of financial planning, maintaining client relationships, and trading and rebalancing client investment accounts. Kristina received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture and Consumer Economics with a concentration in Financial Planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional.