The Conversation

“I don’t want to get divorced, it’s him (or her), not me.”

That’s the start of one of the toughest conversations I have with potential clients. It’s a conversation, by the way, that really shouldn’t be put off for any length of time. Options disappear quickly with time when you’re dealing with a legal issue.

I’ve heard variations on the ‘I don’t want to get divorced, but …” theme for what seems countless times, and yet they never seem to get any easier.  People come in for an initial consultation, introduce themselves, we share a few pleasantries about the weather or the Seahawks or the latest movie, and then they tell me they’re not in my office because they want to get divorced, they’re only here because their spouse–sometimes to their surprise–does.

That brings the comfortable part of the conversation to a halt. It was hard for them to tell me that, and I’ve heard it enough that I know the person across from me is in pain.

I completely understand.  Barring extreme situations–abuse, addictions, etc.–people generally don’t want significant relationships to end.  It just seems to happen.

I don’t want these relationships to end for my clients either, if it can be avoided. That brings up a very knotty question, one that books and countless daytime TV shows have been dedicated to: when can divorce be avoided, when can’t it, and how is anyone supposed to know?

From what I’ve seen, the question comes down to whether it’s past a point of no return, the point where there’s nothing the partners can do to save the relationship. The point where it’s obvious–at least to one spouse–that there’s nothing left to pursue or explore that can make a difference in saving the marriage.

The legal term for that point is dry but straight to the point: “The marriage is irretrievably broken.”

So, back to my conversation with the potential client who doesn’t see the relationship as truly over?. The person doing the “dumping,” or the leaving, can say it’s done, and has taken actions —like serving a summons and petition–to convey that, but it certainly doesn’t mean that the “dumpee” thinks it is. In fact, it usually comes as quite the shock.

Yet, the person in front of me, in pain, upset, shaken, has no choice but to respond. Where do I begin. First, here’s what I absolutely, under any circumstances, do not talk about – promises, how much alimony (called spousal maintenance in Washington) are you going to pay/receive, do you get to keep the kids 50/50, how much do you keep in your retirement plan, etc.

We are going to have a discussion about your options. That simple. There are more than you think. In there someplace, we’ll figure out a realistic plan to get you through this opening stage of the divorce proceedings.

There’s really only one truly important, have-to-do-this-immediately-or-else move when you find out your spouse wants to divorce. It’s also the easiest step: pick up the phone and call me.