What Does the Bible Really Say About Divorce? A Family Law Mediator’s Look at “Divorce and Remarriage in the Church”

by Jeremy Masys, Esq.

As a churchgoer and mediator/attorney working in divorce law, I can tell you the most common ongoing conversation I hear among my family law colleagues is about what the Bible actually says about divorce and remarriage. 

Yes, I am 100% kidding. I have never heard this conversation be brought up once among family law attorneys or mediators. I’m sure it’s happened at least once when I wasn’t in earshot, and I’m also sure the conversation is rare.

On the one hand, this makes sense. It’s not the job of a mediator or attorney to tell you whether you should get divorced, much less whether your doing so is in line with the will of the Almighty. It’s also the case that in a big coastal city like Los Angeles, the proportion of people considering how Biblical principles should affect their decision making isn’t as high as it might be in other parts of the country or in bygone eras. And by the time a situation comes in front of an attorney and/or mediator, the decision has often already been made. Finally, in our now half-century-old regime of no-fault divorce in California (signed into law by one Governor Ronald Reagan on January 1, 1970), if one spouse wants a divorce, the law grants the divorce, regardless of whatever decision the other spouse might have made on the issue.   

On the other hand, for a perhaps shrinking but still significant portion of the population, understanding what the Bible actually does say about the grounds for divorce (and for remarriage after a divorce) is an enormously important and relevant issue. It can mean the difference between staying in a toxic, unhealthy, and even dangerous relationship out of a misunderstanding of religious obligation and moving forward to a new chapter of restoration and resurrection (conversely, it can also mean understanding that pursuing a divorce to escape what could be temporary emotional discomfort may not serve you or your spouse spiritually or practically in the long run). 

Odds are that, if you’ve read this far, you’re willing to at least entertain the notion that the Bible does have something meaningful to say about divorce and remarriage, whether as a person contemplating divorce or as a friend, family member, pastor, spiritual advisor, therapist, or legal advisor to someone who is. I would also hazard to say that odds are you are not exactly sure what that something meaningful exactly is. 

I’ve befriended some extremely knowledgeable and well-educated pastors and Christian therapists over the years (and even provided legal counsel to some), and, despite their education, their collective answers to the question of what the Bible says about divorce or remarriage are neither anything approaching consistent nor super helpful. You’ve probably experienced the same (and if you feel confused by what your pastor really thinks about divorce, understand that he or she may be confused as well). And with such controversial theological questions, it seems that people often conclude that the most severe, strict interpretation of Biblical statements on divorce must be the correct one, and that all others are wishy-washy modern heresies intended to tell people what they want to hear as opposed to what they need to hear. 

Enter “Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities,” a 2003 book authored by Rev. Dr. David Instone-Brewer, a former Baptist minister and research fellow at Tyndale House in Cambridge, England. In short, not a celebrity pastor’s ghostwritten hot takes, but rather a guy who knows his Greek from his Aramaic. I was first referred to this book by a former client, and the sound of it conjured up an impenetrable 600-page tome in the style of NT Wright’s non-mass-market treatises, better suited for treating insomnia than providing practical guidance. 

When I finally ordered it off Amazon and read it, though, I was very pleasantly surprised to find a 212-page user-friendly manual that appears directed at pastors, but presented in a practical and straightforward style that anyone can easily digest and appreciate. Honestly, it was a page-turner in its clear presentation of principles that, as far as I can tell, have been mostly ignored, misunderstood, or at least not discussed openly by the church (I’m guessing you’ve heard dozens of sermons about marriage, singleness, and dating and maybe close to none on divorce). 

And to the extent you have heard divorce openly spoken about by a religious authority, it’s probably better than 50/50 odds that you came away with the understanding that divorce is allowable only in cases of adultery and perhaps abandonment. Meaning – and taking this to the logical extreme – if your spouse had a drunken one-night stand once over the course of a thirty-year marriage, you can leave, but if he’s been unsuccessfully trying to murder you every day for the last year but not cheating on you or leaving, you have to stick by him until he succeeds or gives up. 

Instone-Brewer presents a very different Biblical view on divorce, informed by his deep research into the Old Testament, Rabbinic law, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Church history. I won’t try to encapsulate the entire message of the book as a substitute for reading said book, but the author’s core thesis is that Old Testament law allowed for divorce when the marriage vows were broken and the culpable breaker of the vows is unwilling to rectify the situation when given time and opportunity to do so, and the New Testament does not nullify those principles. And these vows go beyond just sexual fidelity – indeed they include the provision of emotional and material support. As Instone-Brewer puts it, “Divorce is never good, but sometimes it is the only way to end the evil of a broken marriage.” 

Over the course of the book, Instone-Brewer sets forth seven Biblical principles on divorce and remarriage: 

“1. Marriage is a lifetime contract between two partners, and marriage vows are the stipulations of this contract.

2. Both partners vow to provide material support and physical affection and to be sexually faithful to each other.

3. If one partner breaks a marriage vow, the other has the right to decide either to end the marriage with a divorce or to carry on.

4. Divorce should take place only if vows have been broken, and it is always sinful to break those vows.

5. Jesus adds the caveat that we should forgive an erring partner unless they break their vows continuously or without repentance.

6. Pauls adds the caveat that if a divorce takes place without citing broken vows, remarriage to another is allowed only if reconciliation is impossible.

7. The overriding principle in all these is that the wronged partner must be able to choose. They must be able to decide whether to regard the marriage contract as broken or whether to persevere with it.” 

But wait, you say, that’s not what I’ve heard in church all these years (in the rare times the topic is raised)! Isn’t this just a new feel-good theology departing from orthodox teaching? To the contrary, Instone-Brewer argues this was the original theology of the Church, and presents a compelling historical lesson on why it has been in disfavor or simply unknown for all this time. 

Of course, Instone-Brewer’s interpretation is not without its detractors – influential theologian John Piper’s position is that all remarriage after a divorce should be prohibited in the Church while both spouses are alive (Piper’s organization has also asserted that Marvel’s Captain Marvel is problematic because it presents a woman saving men from danger rather than being protected and cherished by men, so there’s that). On the other hand, the Tim Keller-founded Gospel Coalition reviewed Instone-Brewer’s book and deemed it “essential reading for anyone concerned to develop a biblical understanding of divorce and remarriage…the author presents the fruits of many years of research in a clear, gripping and enjoyable way.”

In the end, for me, I return to where I started with this, which is that as a mediator and attorney, it is not my place to tell anyone how to proceed with the life-changing decision to pursue a divorce, and, although I did double-major in Religion and English in undergrad some 20-odd years ago, my Biblical knowledge is far less than Instone-Brewer’s, Keller’s, or Piper’s, so I am not here to say who is right and who is wrong. But I am keenly sensitive to the importance of the issues for clients and their friends, pastors, therapists, and family members, and my hope is that Instone-Brewer’s book can provide insight and guidance on very difficult questions. 

Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Mediator With Further Questions 

At the Mediation and Law Offices of Jeremy Masys, I serve as a mediator between divorcing spouses and attorney to those in mediation, negotiation and litigation. If you have any questions, please contact me at jeremymasyslaw@gmail.com.

Some Maybe Do’s and Maybe Don’ts For Being a Good Friend to Someone in the First Weeks of a Divorce

By Jeremy Masys 

When a friend is going through the first days/weeks/months of a separation heading towards divorce, you might be asking yourself how you can be a good friend to that person. And if you’re not – well, you really should be, as the beginning stages of a divorce is when a person needs positive friendship in their life the most. 

After all, not only is this person grieving what has been lost (even if pursuing divorce is an incontrovertibly wise decision, that’s obviously not what they thought when they got married, and that loss is still deeply felt when the separation starts), but also quite possibly figuring out how to navigate the world on their own without a companion for the first time in a long time. 

Among other things, they may be figuring out what friendship even looks like as a single person. 

If you’ve read this far, then that probably means you have positive intentions of helping this person out through your friendship. Which is fantastic. But positive intentions don’t always lead to positive outcomes, and what you think might be helpful could be not that great for the other person. Conversely, what you think might be minor and insignificant could mean the world to that person and be a forever positive memory in their time of darkness. 

I’m no therapist or life coach (thankfully), but I’ve worked with and been friends with loads of men and women as they go through the first stages of separation and divorce, and I went through all of it myself as a young thirty-something shortly after I moved to a city where I knew no one. So I’ve gained some unscientific insights along the way about what seems to be helpful and what is not.

Everyone’s different in myriad ways (now there’s an insight, huh?) so none of this is one-size fit all, but here are some “maybe” do’s and don’ts of being a good friend to someone in the first days, weeks, and months of separation/divorce:

Maybe Don’t:

Tell your friend that “marriage is hard.” Yes, it’s a true statement. But is it a helpful statement in this moment? I really don’t think so. I can’t tell you how many times I heard this when I was first separated. If there’s one person that knows that marriage is hard, it’s the person who just realized they’re getting divorced. Telling them that probably doesn’t make it easier, but instead states the obvious of what’s already in their brain 24/7 from the moment they open their eyes in the morning til the moment they finally get themself to sleep. Saying it doesn’t give them any hope to hang onto. And worse, it just kind of suggests they didn’t try hard enough and so it’s on them. This is especially true if you as the great messenger of this truism are married. It’s basically saying, “Yeah, marriage is hard. I mean I can do it. You clearly not so much. Maybe try harder next time?”

Maybe Do: 

Understand that your friend is going to want to hang out more and be open to that. Yes, another way of putting this is, your friend is going to be needy because they are in need and what they need is friendship, and that would be where you come in. It’s tough going from sharing a household for years to suddenly facing a perpetual string of solo Tuesday nights (and the other six days of the week too). You don’t have to bend over backwards or pretend you don’t have your own life, but maybe be open to having a third wheel around while you watch Dancing With the Stars, or make room for guys’ night at the bar here and there even if you haven’t left the house on a Wednesday in months and gave up whiskey for White Claws with the wifey years ago.

Maybe Don’t:

Tell your friend all the bad stuff you really thought about their ex unless invited. It’s extremely common for friends to suddenly unload every bad impression of their recently-separated friend’s ex as soon as the relationship is over, basically some version of “I/we never actually liked him/her because _____.” Now this one can go both ways, because maybe having a clear-headed impression of the ex is exactly what your friend wants or needs, but you shouldn’t be the one to initiate that. Even when things go bad, there is still a lot of love there, and in the end that was the person they were married to. Dumping all over that person reflects badly on the marriage and thus badly on your friend. And the two might reconcile and then you’re in a position of having talked serious trash about their spouse. But, hey, if your friend wants to hear what you really thought of him/her, some of that can be empowering and affirming in small doses. But again let your friend be the moderator of that.

Maybe Do: 

Invite your friend into positive social groups and interactions, even if they were never interested before. A bad marriage can really close one person off to the rest of what’s going on in the world, and when it comes to an end they can find themselves spit out into the social wilderness without a community, a lot of friends, or recently-used social skills. Their marriage may have been close to their social everything and, as bad as it may have been, it’s now gone and they don’t know how to start over. Invite your friend along with you to group events you do that they may or may not be interested in: book club, ultimate frisbee, church, beach outings, even support groups if that’s applicable. They may not want to come but they’ll appreciate the thought and may be inspired to go find a group/community that will provide them with social support and new connections.

Maybe Don’t:

Encourage your friend to “get back out there” quickly. Yes, to the brain of a long-married person, the world of Tinder and Bumble and whatever else may sound like a wonderland where single people go live their best unshackled lives, and as such it’s the immediate silver lining of a divorce. And it’s the low hanging fruit of suggestions of how to distract oneself from a bad breakup. But, really, encouraging someone who’s in the thick of the emotional pain and practical concerns to go learn to swim in the murky world of online dating is not great for them, and probably not great for anyone else either. Dating immediately at the start of legal proceedings with an ex-spouse can also be an emotional time-bomb for both parties that makes the divorce way messier than it needs to be. Your vicarious delight at your friend’s adventures and/or misadventures in online dating can wait until they get more pressing personal and legal issues sorted out. 

Maybe Do:

Have your friend over for dinner with the family on a regular basis. You might think that eating pot roast with you and your kids and then settling into a night of Disney Plus is the last thing your newly single-and-ready-to-mingle friend wants to do after a separation. Again, having known tons of people who go through this, I’m guessing you’d be wrong. Make the invite and find out. 

Maybe Don’t:

Give amateur and/or aggressive legal advice. We’ve all heard about other people’s divorces, read about them, and seen them depicted in TV and movies. But I’ve rarely found anyone who can provide any sort of useful legal guidance on someone else’s family law issues who wasn’t themselves practicing in the family law world in that particular jurisdiction (and this especially goes for lawyers who practice in other fields). What I have heard is a lot of bad and/or incorrect legal advice that doesn’t help people and usually just makes them upset/frightened or, even worse, unreasonably confident. Furthermore, this advice for some reason tends to be on the aggressive side against the other spouse. And if there’s one recipe for making a bad separation situation way worse, it’s having one spouse act aggressively and ignorantly with regard to the law. It’s a legal fees arms race waiting to happen. 

Maybe Do:

Suggest your friend go into mediation and/or speak with a trusted legal adviser. Well, this being my blog, this is of course the self-serving pitch, but I can say this confidently: I have only ever seen positive consequences of a separated person seeking consultation with a skilled legal professional and or reaching out to a mediator in the process; while at the same time I have seen quite the opposite when a person assumes it will all work out on its own and/or pursues legal action on their own without help. 

Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Mediator/Attorney With Further Questions

At the Mediation and Law Offices of Jeremy Masys, I serve as a mediator between divorcing spouses and family law attorney providing full representation and limited scope counsel. If you have any questions about the divorce process in California, please contact me at 213-478-0089 or by entering your information below.

20 Frequently Asked Questions (And To-The-Point Answers) About Spousal Support (AKA Alimony) in California

By Jeremy Masys, Esq.

One of the most perplexing issues people going through divorce in California face is the issue of spousal support, AKA alimony. Which all come down to variations of the two questions “how much can I get?” and “how much do I have to pay?” but there are often a lot of other questions to be answered in getting to that question. 

A main reason the issue of spousal support in California is so confusing to those going through the divorce process is because, while there is plenty of “law” on the topic, that law never really gives you numbers (at least not numbers that are easily accessible) and there is an enormous amount of discretion that judges have in setting those numbers. Most people can wrap their heads relatively easy around the basic concepts of property (50/50 split of community property) and custody/visitation (what is in the best interests of the child), but spousal support is murky to be sure. 

To add to this, when clients ask their attorneys about spousal support numbers, oftentimes attorneys will give a deeply unsatisfying answer that boils down to “it depends.” There is of course truth to this, and in some cases, it may be very unclear, but in a lot of cases attorneys could be giving their clients way more pointed guidance than they actualy do. 

With all that said, let’s go through 20 frequently asked questions about spousal support in California with some very to-the-point answers (with the caveat that, yes, to some extent “it depends” is quite often going to be the case with questions about spousal support). 

Q: Can a man get spousal support from an ex-wife?

A: Yes. (No “it depends” on this one!).

Q: Do we have to have been married for a certain amount of time for one spouse to pay spousal support to the other?

A: No. (Another no “it depends”!). But the duration of the marriage will affect the duration of the spousal support. 

Q: Got it. So how long do I have to pay spousal support?

A: It depends (sorry). But for marriages under ten years, courts generally order spousal support for half the length of the marriage, measured from the date of marriage to the date of separation. Meaning if you were married for six years, spousal support would be paid for three years. For marriages over ten years, the duration is a little trickier. 

Q: Right, I heard that if I stay married for ten years, then I get guaranteed spousal support forever, correct?

A: No! You might. But it’s not “guaranteed” for several reasons. First, there is always the question of whether you would be entitled to spousal support in the first place. But even if you are, the Court will expect you to make efforts to be self-supporting over time. With marriages over ten years, a Court can retain indefinite jurisdiction to make an award of spousal support – meaning the Court would have the ability to award support indefinitely over and above half the length of the marriage – but that doesn’t mean a Court will continue to award it indefinitely. Still, yes, a person seeking spousal support who was in a marriage lasting over ten years is going to probably be in a better position than someone who was not. 

Q: Can I just pay spousal support in one lump sum?

A: Yes, assuming the other party agrees to doing so. Many divorces are resolved with a negotiated agreement by which one party pays a lump sum of spousal support to the other party. 

Q: Can I get spousal support (or “do I have to pay spousal support”) if we didn’t have kids?

A: Yes (another straight ahead one). Spousal support is entirely separate from child support, and whether or not you have children has no bearing on whether you are eligible for spousal support (although the efforts of one party to take care of children in lieu of earning income can have an effect on the amount and duration). 

Q: Do I have to pay spousal support if my ex gets remarried?

A: Generally, no under the law (although this can be negotiated). Under the California Family Code, spousal support ends at the death of either party or the remarriage of the supported party, unless the parties have an agreement otherwise.

Q: But what if my ex just moves in with someone else but doesn’t get married?

A: This is trickier, but spousal support can at least be modified if not terminated where the supported party is cohabitating and being supported by a new romantic interest to whom they are not married. 

Q: If I stop earning income, can I stop paying spousal support?

A: You can’t stop paying unilaterally, but yes either party can request that the Court make a modification of spousal support after a divorce where either party’s financial circumstances have changed significantly (although some parties negotiate spousal support to not allow for such modifications). This modification can make the support higher or lower.

Q: Okay, but what I really want to know is how much I have to pay (or how much I can expect to get paid) in spousal support?

A: It depends (again, sorry). But let me provide more explanation. First we have to talk about the difference between temporary spousal support and permanent spousal support…

Q: Wait, what? 

A: Hold on! I’m getting to it. Temporary spousal support – also called pendente lite spousal support if you like a little Latin with your legalese (and, really, what kind of philistine doesn’t?) – is spousal support that can be requested at any time during the divorce proceedings, including right after the initial petition is filed, and can last until the divorce is finalized. Permanent spousal support is the spousal support that is part of a final divorce judgment. 

Q: Permanent spousal support as in forever?

A: No, that’s just a term for it being a final support award. A five-year award of spousal support in a final judgment is literally “temporary” in that it only lasts five years but is considered “permanent” or “final” in the sense that it is a settled matter part of a final judgment order. 

Q: This is confusing.

A: That’s technically not a question. And yet I’m counting it towards your 20. But, yes, it can be at first. Also, your attorney will know all of this. 

Q: So how much will I receive/pay in temporary spousal support?

A: Under California law, a Court can simply take the respective incomes of each spouse, and plug them into a formula in a program called Dissomaster and that program will spit out a temporary spousal support number with the idea of partially equalizing the monthly incomes of each party. But a Court can also hear all other kinds of evidence as well that is relevant to setting a fair spousal support number, such as one party’s ability to work or to earn higher income, and other factors from the marriage. 

Q: Can I get this Dissomaster program online for free?

A: Not that I’m aware of. It’s a proprietary software, but your attorney should have a copy and they should be responsive to you in asking for potential scenarios from the program. 

Q: Alright, well how is permanent spousal support set?

A: And we have now come to the ultimate “it depends” question and answer. A Court sets permanent spousal support based on what are called the “4320 factors” named after California Family Code 4320. These factors include:

The age and health of both parties

Whether one party stopped working to take care of children and/or support the other spouse

Whether one party would need time to learn new skills (e.g. go back to school) to become self-supporting

Any history of domestic violence

Whether the supported party has marketable skills, education, etc. to go earn a living and be self-supporting

The marital standard of living enjoyed by the couple during a marriage (e.g. did you vacation around the world for six months a year, or was every weekend netflix and chill in your shared studio apartment the entire time you were married?)

The needs of the party based on the marital standard of living (using what some might consider a rather loose approach to the concept of “needs”)

Whether one party contributed to the education of the other party 

The total obligations and assets of each party

The duration of the marriage

Basically any other fact that the Court deems relevant to determining what a fair spousal support award is…

Q: Stop right there. I sort of get these factors but how do I actually calculate with precision what a Judge will order in spousal support?

A: You don’t! This is where the “it depends” comes from. Not only do Judges have the ability to review evidence on all of the above factors, they have quite a lot of discretion in setting what that spousal support amount should be. 

Q: Am I wrong to say that this sounds like it could be a very expensive and complex issue to go to trial on?

A: No, you’re not wrong. It definitely could be. And it would be difficult to predict what result you’d get.

Q: So how do I avoid that?

A: Good thing you asked. Very few divorces go to trial on the issue of spousal support for these very reasons. Generally what happens is the parties negotiate a number and amount in light of the above factors, and often use the Dissomaster as a guide in reaching these numbers, with the understanding that temporary spousal support is often higher than what a Court would order in a trial to set permanent support. 

Q: Can we enter into mediation to mediate a spousal support number?

A: Absolutely! And mediation may well be the best way to resolve the issue of spousal support for many parties. This question deserves a blog of it’s own (and it will come in due time), but, to put it briefly, in mediation the spouses can work together in a collaborative environment to figure out what funds are available for support, what each party needs for their respective lifestyles post-divorce, and what is fair and mutually beneficial to one another in light of the law and/or their own personal concerns.  

Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney/Mediator With Further Questions on Spousal Support

At the Mediation and Law Offices of Jeremy Masys, I serve as a mediator between divorcing spouses and attorney to those in mediation, negotiation and litigation. If you have any questions about spousal support or other family law issues, please contact me at 213-478-0089 or by entering your information below.

10 Tips for Discussing With Your Soon-To-Be-Ex-Spouse Whether Mediation Is Right For You

by Jeremy Masys

At the outset of a divorce, there are typically two difficult series of conversations you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse have, or at least should be having: 1) whether one or both of you is moving ahead with seeking a divorce, and 2) figuring out the process (e.g. both of you hire expensive lawyers, trying to figure the paperwork and negotiation out on your own, and so on) by which you are going to get the divorce done in the Court so that you are legally divorced and both of you get a result you are comfortable with moving forward in life. 

I and many others in the California family law field are strong proponents of the proposition that mediation is in many cases a far more preferable alternative to resolving your divorce legally, as compared to the stressful and expensive process of having attorneys fight it out inside or outside of court, or the confusing and annoying process of two people trying to figure out the law and paperwork on their own when they’re not even sure what their rights and obligations are under California law. 

The benefits of mediation to resolve your divorce are well-explained in this blog and elsewhere, but very basically: divorce mediation with a knowledgeable and skilled legal professional gives you the best of both worlds in that you can understand your rights and options with the guidance of an impartial mediation while avoiding the high legal fees, stress, and very long delay that often comes with trying to argue your way to a result in an overcrowded, overburdened public courtroom in a front of a judge who has hundreds and hundreds of cases on their docket. 

But it takes two to tango with mediation. Because mediation is a voluntary process, both you and your spouse have to agree to enter into mediation, and you have to agree on the same mediator. And trying to get an agreement on anything at the time your marriage is dissolving may feel like a task not worth the effort. But let’s be very clear: getting to a successful mediation is absolutely worth the effort when compared to months or years in court, legal fees to both of you in the tens of thousands (if not higher), and the severe emotional strain that a contested, adversarial and drawn-out legal fight can put on you and your children. 

In other words, yes, getting an agreement from your spouse to try mediation may be a chore, but it’s worth it in the vast majority of cases. 

With that, here are 10 tips for discussing with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse whether mediation is right for you: 

  1. Before you have the discussion, do a little bit of your own research (as in an hour or so, but more if you feel so led) on the benefits of mediation, so you are prepared to make a case for why it would be a good idea for both of you. 
  2. Taking that one step further, spend a little time thinking about the tangible benefits mediation could be for the two of you in your specific circumstances and write those down. Such reasons could be: 1) we can figure out a custody schedule for [insert your child’s name] that works for her and us without dragging it through the courts; 2) we can get this done without digging into our 401ks; 3) we can figure out a way to keep this house and split the equity fairly, while preserving our collective net worth by not spending tons of money on lawyers, etc. 
  3. Email or print out articles on the benefits of mediation that you think would appeal to your spouse and share them with him or her.
  4. Find the names of a couple mediators that you would feel comfortable working with, and who would potentially appeal to your spouse as well. This way you can give options so as it does not seem to be forcing the process of working with a specific mediator. 
  5. Set a specific time to have the conversation on “how we are going to get this done” so that your spouse doesn’t feel ambushed, and so that they have time to prepare and think about what their goals and concerns are. 
  6. In the conversation, stress that mediation is a voluntary process and that both you and your spouse can choose to discontinue the process at any time and go to court if they so choose. In other words, neither party is giving up anything other than the modest time and fees associated with mediation to try the process out. 
  7. Also make it clear to the other spouse that a mediator – by definition – cannot and will not force any decisions on him or her. 
  8. Encourage your spouse to do their own research if they want, and to seek out other names of mediators if they so choose.
  9. Don’t demand an answer in a first conversation, although, if you get one, great. Understand that the other spouse likely has their own fears and insecurities about the process and may need time to get their mind around what their options are. 
  10. That said, do be persistent and patient with encouraging mediation. You may well want to say “screw it, let’s go to court” in a moment of frustration, but the negative consequences of that are often so great that sucking it up and letting the process of agreeing to mediation play out is worth the annoyance and minor delay. 

Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Mediator With Further Questions

At the Mediation and Law Offices of Jeremy Masys, I serve as a mediator between divorcing spouses and consulting attorney to those in mediation. If you have any questions about mediation, please contact me at 213-478-0089 or by entering your information here.

When Is It Time to Reach Out to a Divorce Attorney?

By Jeremy Masys
There are few, if indeed any, more stomach-churning communications in life than making that first phone call or sending that first email to a divorce attorney, especially one you don’t know personally.

By Jeremy Masys

There are few, if indeed any, more stomach-churning communications in life than making that first phone call or sending that first email to a divorce attorney, especially one you don’t know personally. Indeed, it is not uncommon in my practice to hear from people whose spouse moved out years ago – or in some cases, where both spouses continue to live in different rooms in the same residence long after the marital commitment has ended – but who are only now speaking to a family law attorney for the first time.

Why do some wait so long to contact a divorce attorney? Certainly every situation is unique, but many people consciously or subconsciously feel that speaking to an attorney about their situation is waving the white flag of defeat over their marriage. Or that speaking to an attorney about a potential divorce will “make it real.” Others worry there will be no going back to the hope of a functional marriage after speaking to a divorce lawyer, or that consulting with an attorney will make their spouse angry.

None of these are exactly true. Okay, except maybe for that last one about making your spouse angry. But two quick things on that one: 1) there is no reason your spouse has to know about your own confidential communication with your own attorney about the steps you may need to take to protect your own future, finances, and rights; and 2) even if he or she does know, his or her decision to become angry (as opposed to, say, addressing the issues in the marriage) may be the least of your concerns, and, in any case, should not take precedence over the obligation you owe to yourself to make sure you can build a stable and secure future should the marriage indeed come to an end (more on this below…).

Does this mean be a jerk with no concern for the emotional well-being of the person with whom you hitherto shared a life and what you thought was a future? Not at all, but it does mean if there was ever a time to take some relatively simple steps to understand how state law will affect your rights and obligations with regard to spousal support (aka alimony), child support, child custody, visitation, splitting up property, and any other related family law issues – and what steps, timeline, and financial costs may be involved with obtaining a potential divorce – even if it perhaps means making an unhappy situation a bit more contentious, that time is when you are seriously considering divorce and/or married to a spouse who is seriously considering divorce.

Divorce Consultations Are Generally About Analysis and Understanding, Not Declaring War

When you have an initial consultation with a reasonable, thoughtful, and strategic divorce attorney (and by that I mean not an attorney who sees you as an emotionally vulnerable mark to be financially drained via creating unnecessary fighting, litigation, and delay, all generally at your great expense – yes these lawyers still do exist, and are to be avoided at all costs…), the focus will be on understanding your specific situation and the attorney explaining to you:

  • how the law might impact your situation, in terms of both financial rights and obligations as well as relationships with your children;
  • what steps will be necessary to achieve your goals, including the avoidance of potential legal pitfalls you may or may not be aware of; and
  • what your various options and approaches are for achieving those goals, e.g. beginning an amicable negotiation between you and your spouse with no lawyers directly involved, or, in other cases, planning an involved legal strategy that results in your spouse being surprised by a process server handing them a very thick envelope.

In any case, the first consultation is, in most cases, not about filling out and filing legal papers from which there is no going back. (Although there be emergency situations involving domestic violence, theft, child abduction, etc. that may indeed require such actions.) A quality lawyer will instead want to have a friendly, relaxed, pressure-free conversation about the topics in the above bullet points, all for the purpose of providing you with information and support in what can be done on your behalf.

Whether you want to have a second or third consultation or indeed go ahead with filing for divorce (which even then won’t be final for at least six months in California, and you and your spouse always have the opportunity to reconcile and withdraw the action prior to finalization) is entirely up to you.

I’ve had numerous consultations with both men and women regarding potential divorce scenarios who ended up reconciling with their spouses, determined more than ever to make it work. Less work for me, obviously, but a seemingly positive outcome for them (I honestly don’t know whether it’s positive or not, and it’s certainly not a lawyer’s job to know that). But reconciliation is often not in the cards, and the more information you have early in the process, the better it is for planning for the best outcome possible and avoiding unnecessary grief and expense that can come as a consequence of willful, if well-intentioned, ignorance and delay.

At any rate, I or any other attorney am not there to tell you whether to get divorced or to give it one more try, but instead to give you realistic outcomes, options, and strategies should that scenario come to pass, whether by you making the decision to file or your spouse making that move.

What You Don’t Know About Divorce Law Can Hurt You. Badly. For a Very Long Time.

When two people finally have the “it’s over” conversation, there’s usually not the pots-and-pans-flying, wedding-ring-tossed-at-the-other’s-feet theatrics of movies and TV. Instead it’s often an uncinematic somber moment of words finally being spoken – after months or years of those words going unspoken – between two people that for years genuinely wanted and worked to build a life together, but, for one or thousand reasons or another, that didn’t work out as planned. Which can be emotionally overwhelming, to say the least.

In that moment, some combination of the phrase “no lawyers” is often spoken. It might be said to cut the tension, to put a salve on the emotional bleeding, or to save costs at the same time one self-supporting financial unit is severing into two. But it might also be said to cut one person off from understanding just what their legal rights are in the divorce.

And even if the suggestion does come from a genuinely positive (albeit ignorant) intention, things can change quickly when the emotional relief of finally “moving on” turns into the harsh reality of financial hardship and confusion of living on one’s own, not to mention the emotional hangover of resentment and anger related to the end of the relationship that can begin to throb ever more brutishly when the haze of the breakup wears off and the world can start to seem like a cold place where all bets are off.

While one spouse may be dutifully going along with the “no lawyers” commitment for months, the other spouse may be talking to a lawyer on their own (and not necessarily the reasonable, ethical, let’s-work-this-thing-out kind of lawyer), and making all kinds of financial and legal decisions, proper and otherwise, without your knowledge and to your great long-term detriment.

You can certainly speak with an attorney for the first time (or the tenth time) at any point in the divorce process up until final judgment (and even afterwards in some cases), but waiting to understand what your rights and obligations are – not to mention what steps you can begin taking now to protect your assets, legal rights, and family relations – can cause damage to your own interests that may get harder and harder, if not impossible, to remedy the longer you wait.

And understand this, divorce is often not a singular event where you just walk away – you’re not SO’s, you’re spouses. There are a lot more ongoing obligations and restrictions that come with ending a marriage than many people realize. You could be paying spousal support (or losing your ability to receive it) for years and perhaps decades. Your relationship with your children may be negatively impaired by a court order until they graduate high school.

Point is, you could be living with the long-term consequences of not seeking out legal advice and potential representation for a long, long time after your short-term reasons for not speaking to an attorney – i.e. because a person who will most likely dramatically fade from your day-to-day life said “no lawyers” during an extremely emotionally vulnerable moment – have disappeared into the past.

You’re Going to Be On Your Own Now, So Start Taking Care of Yourself Now

Even in the not-great marriages that end in divorce, there are still often a lot of good things that get taken for granted until they’re gone. You had a friend, a teammate, a partner in the you-and-me-against the world story of every marriage, even if the world might have won this time. Basically, you had someone watching your back.

Now, you’re most likely going to be in charge of watching your own back. Which you might get on some level during the beginning of the end, but which you really won’t truly understand until it’s just you with the bills, the taxes, the grocery shopping, the insurance forms, the cleaning, the dinner party, the broken garbage disposal, the TSA line on your Christmas trip back to Texas, and the dog that wasn’t even your idea.

This can be liberating in many ways, and that is genuinely something to be celebrated, but transitioning from a two-person team to just you can be pretty crappy in a lot of other ways. If it’s not you that’s taking responsibility for doing something, it’s not getting done. And you might even know what to do much less how to do it.

But you’re going to learn. Not just the practical what-to’s and how-to’s, but the general mindset that you and you alone are in charge of taking care of yourself for the next while, and that means doing what you need to do for yourself even when there’s not someone reminding or asking, much less nagging, you to do so.

One of Dr. Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules of Life” from his bestselling 2018 book is, “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.” Whatever you think of him, that one’s a tough rule to argue against. And yet one we rarely actually follow. He makes the point that statistics tell us we’re more likely to give our dogs their proper medication than we are to take the medication we ourselves need. And a dog won’t be happy if its owner is incapacitated by his or her lack of self-care.

If you had a friend ending a marriage where there were significant finances and family relations at stake, would you advise them that, whatever they do, they should avoid taking the opportunity to learn about their rights and obligations under the law from a skilled professional? I hope you wouldn’t, and I hope you would treat yourself with at least the same level of care and concern.

So, Wait, When Is It Actually Time to Reach Out to a Divorce Attorney?

You might have missed the answer to the question posed by this post about 1400 words back or so. Because it’s a pretty short answer. Once again, the answer is:

  1. When you are seriously considering a divorce
  2. When you have reason to believe that your partner is seriously considering a divorce

It’s that simple, even if everything else in your life at this moment feels as far from simple as possible.

At the risk of sounding like cheesy lawyer marketing, you don’t have to do this on your own. You really don’t. No matter what anyone else might say or think about it. Let them say or think what they want. And certainly don’t feel like you have to let them know about everything you do, i.e. consulting with an attorney. Instead, focus on getting done for yourself what needs to be done. And you’ll learn that doing that often means asking for help, even when it feels scary and hard to ask.

There is, or course, the issue of money. A basic downside of a consultation with a divorce attorney is the cost. I provide by-the-hour consultation in addition to full and limited-scope representation in California family law matters. Whether you are seeking a one-time consultation or immediate representation, in our first session I’ll ask questions, you’ll give answers, we’ll talk about the law, and we’ll talk about your options. What you do after the consultation will be entirely up to you.

(On the topic of cost – and this is certainly the subject of another blog post – be highly suspect of “free” or very low-cost consultations. And don’t be surprised if it turns out to be a mostly substance-free sales pitch for you to hire that lawyer to file for divorce ASAP and rack up some mighty high bills in a drawn-out, needlessly complex legal battle.)

You may be one of the lucky couples who can mostly resolve all the issues of their marriage and navigate the family law courts to achieve that result without significant help from attorneys. But even a one-time confidential consultation to help you understand the law and procedures and available resources as they apply to your specific situation can go a long way in helping to achieve that ideal outcome.

And, again, even if for some reason your spouse does become aware of and upset over the fact that you consulted with an attorney, well, that is the definition of “not your problem.” Ask yourself this: does their negative reaction to you taking steps to understand this highly consequential legal process you’re entering into come from a place of concern for you and your well-being? Highly doubtful.

Remember: responsibility and concern for you and your well-being both now and for years into the future is now a job held by one person. You. Carries out the duties of that job wisely. Starting now.

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