It’s the spookiest time of the year: the leaves are turning, the days are getting short, and we’re preparing for Halloween.
There’s a lot to fear out there, including some things related to divorce. How do you know what’s true or what isn’t? How can you tell if you’re dealing with a scary divorce fact or urban legend?
Usually, urban legends are the stuff of horror movies, a hook-handed madman preying on unsuspecting teens at Make-Out Point. But misinformation about divorce portrayed as fact can give unrealistic expectations and damage cases. Knowing what’s real and what’s not can go a long way toward defining your goals.
With that in mind, here are a few common urban legends and scary divorce facts you should know the truth about.
Urban Legend or Scary Divorce Fact?
Does Adultery Cost Everything?
Urban Legend: Many people think adultery costs a person everything in a divorce. You cheat, you lose the kids, the car, the house, and the dog, right?
That makes great drama for movies and TV, but that’s not the way it works. In reality, an affair may cost you your marriage, but it doesn’t necessarily impact divorce settlements.
Fact: As with most states in the union, Washington practices no-fault divorce. The courts don’t play moral police.
That means no one takes the blame for ruining a marriage and you don’t have to prove anyone was in the wrong.
Unless adultery directly damages your finances, it’s not likely to play a part in the division of property. The same goes for custody disputes. If an affair impacts your ability as a parent, it’s more likely to play a role.
In-Depth Reading: How Does No-Fault Divorce Work In Washington?
Urban Legend: If you live with a partner for a certain number of years, the law considers you married, right?
People throw the term common-law marriage around often. It’s thought of as a kind of de facto marriage, when two people live together as if married, but without actually tying the knot.
Fact: While a handful of states still have common-law marriage, Washington does not. It does, however, have committed intimate relationships.
Similar to common-law marriage, this is when a couple lives together in a marriage-like way. They cohabitate, pool resources, purchase property, and all the rest.
There are no specific criteria for committed intimate relationships, but the court considers things like the length of the coupling and the degree to which the two lives intertwine. This protects individuals in long-term relationships. It also helps deal with legal and financial matters after a breakup. Often, the proceedings look a lot like divorce and couples split assets and work out parenting plans.
Related Reading: Does Washington Have Common-Law Marriage?
Do Mothers Always Get Custody?
Urban Legend: The deck is stacked against fathers. Mothers always get the kids.
These are statements you hear often. Many believe that when it comes to child custody cases, the courts automatically hand children over to the mother.
Fact: Though many men feel they’re at a disadvantage in child custody battles, legally speaking, there’s no preference given to parents based on gender.
Admittedly, it doesn’t always work out like that. But on paper, each has the same right to pursue custody.
The overriding goal is to serve the child’s best interests. Above any other factors, that principle guides custody decisions. So unless there are extreme circumstances, even if you don’t get custody, you have the right to pursue custody.
Related Reading: What To Expect From Child Custody Hearings
Can You Deny A Divorce?
Urban Legend: “But what if my spouse won’t give me a divorce?” Again, this is something often heard on TV and in movies. It makes for good watching, but thankfully, this isn’t a made-for-Lifetime drama.
Fact: No one can force you to remain in a loveless or dangerous marriage, and neither spouse can deny the other a divorce.
It’s possible for one person to make it tough on the other, but the idea both parties have to agree is a common divorce urban legend.
Getting your spouse to consent to divorce makes it much easier, but it’s not required. You can fill out and file the paperwork and get the ball rolling. Part of the process involves serving the documents to the opposing party. Your spouse then has a certain amount of time to respond. If that doesn’t happen, you can file for a default judgment. This essentially grants you a divorce on your terms because your spouse didn’t object.
Related Reading: What If My Spouse Doesn’t Want To Divorce?
Do All Divorces Go To Trial?
Urban Legend: When you think of divorce, the first image that springs to mind is probably a courtroom. You have judges, gavels, and lawyers in suits. Both sides call witnesses, cross-examine, make objections, and it all plays out like an episode of Law & Order.
Fact: A divorce can wind up in a courtroom. But not every last one winds up in front of a judge. In fact, most don’t.
Before things get that far, couples usually come to terms in one way or another. If both spouses agree on all the important issues, a split can be fairly simple. The less complex a marriage—short, no kids, little shared property—the smoother things often proceed.
When there’s more conflict, tools like mediation or arbitration are frequent options. These allow both sides to sit down, often with representation, and hammer out a mutually agreeable divorce settlement.
While they do happen, the idea of an intense, drawn-out divorce trial largely remains more of an urban legend than a scary divorce fact.
Related Reading: What is Divorce Mediation?
Scary Divorce Facts
Big Wedding, Big Divorce
Weddings are huge milestones. People dream about these events for years and spend countless hours planning and perfecting the big day. While you want it to be absolutely flawless, consider dialing things down a bit.
The more a couple spends on engagement rings and wedding ceremonies, the more likely they are to divorce than a couple who spends less.
From a certain perspective, it makes sense. Elaborate weddings don’t come cheap. And money is one of the most common sources of friction in marriages. If you start off your wedded bliss in a massive pile of debt from the party, that may lead to trouble.
Related Reading: How You Dress For Court Is Important
The mental health risks following divorce are well documented. Self-esteem takes a hit and depression spikes after a marriage fails. But divorce also poses a variety of physical health risks, especially for men.
Instances of diabetes, substance abuse, hypertension, heart disease, and even cancer rise in the wake of divorce.
Suicide rates in men also soar following divorce. It’s a tough time and it’s easy to let yourself go, skip the gym, and eat McDonald’s for dinner every night. But it’s also vital to look after your health and well-being. The people who care about you will appreciate the effort.
Related Reading: Men’s Health and Divorce
Long Commute Times
No one likes a long commute, but many of us slog through it day after day. Trying to find something good to listen to on the radio is the worst.
Sure, it may impact your mood, but a long commute can also have a detrimental impact on your marriage.
A nationwide study out of Sweden found that when one spouse commutes more than 45 minutes each way, couples have a much higher risk of divorce.
Related Reading: When to Hire a Divorce Lawyer
Smoking Is Bad For Your Marital Health
By now everyone knows smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. What you may not know is that it’s also bad for the health of your marriage.
Over the years, a number of studies, including ones from the University of Michigan and the Australian National University, looked at the relationship between cigarettes and divorce.
All of these found, to varying degrees, people who smoke experience a much higher incidence of divorce than nonsmokers.
There’s not necessarily a direct causal link—researchers have also examined the connection between smoking and mental stability and as a compatibility factor in relationships—but there is a definite association.
Related Reading: Social Media and Divorce
Cohabitation Before Divorce Can Increase Your Chance Of Divorce
Many couples look at living together before marriage as a kind of practice run, a marital test drive if you will. On paper, that’s sound logic. You can see if you’re truly compatible before taking the next step. In practice, however, that’s not always the case. But data says otherwise.
According to the numbers, couples who live together before marriage have a higher likelihood of divorce before their marriage hits the ten-year mark.
These are just a few common misconceptions people have about ending a marriage. A quick Google search is sure to unearth countless other divorce urban legends. With all the misinformation out there, it’s important to know what’s true and what’s false. You don’t want to go into your case with unrealistic expectations that may hurt your case.
Related Reading: Breaking Down Divorce Rates By Generation