No-Fault Does Not (Necessarily) Mean a Mutual Divorce

When lawmakers incubated no-fault divorce legislation in California some 44 years ago, some people thought no-fault would help unhappy couples to mutually end their marriage. In this routine, the argument went, the husband and the wife would more or less simultaneously decide to throw in the towel. Well, it did not turn out that way.

Rarely do husband and wife simultaneously decide to end the marriage. One spouse – the leaver – usually debates divorce with himself or herself for months or years and longer before he or she announces, “I want a divorce.” The “leavee” very often is blindsided by the announcement, and he or she responds with a “degree of resistance ranges from letting go reluctantly to fighting it all the way.”

“Regardless of the current state of the marriage, this announcement often comes as a shock to the other spouse, even though he or she may have been thinking about a trial separation as an option as well. Rejection is hard and most people fight it initially. It feels like falling off a cliff. Stability shifts. We hold on to whatever we can to stop the fall,” says Micki McWade, a collaborative divorce coach, psychotherapist, author, parent educator and a basic and advanced collaborative trainer with a practice in New York who focuses on divorce.

This situation – a symmetrical breakdown of the marriage where one very unhappy person lives in plain sight of the other spouse who is impervious to it – makes the divorce nuanced and textured. A marriage erodes and empties from the inside until “the emotional connection has been broken. The break may be acutely painful for the initiating person but once he or she’s come to this point, he or she doesn’t have the emotional energy or the will to turn back.” In other words, like the song, “It’s just no good anymore.”

The “leavee” may dig in and hang on, but no-fault means the leaver can obtain a divorce without the agreement or cooperation of the “leavee.”

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