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The unfortunate reality is that you usually can't avoid a divorce if your spouse is determined to get one. All states recognize some sort of no-fault process that allows her to move ahead, with or without your consent. Your spouse only has to cite irreconcilable differences, or your state's equivalent no-fault grounds, in her complaint, and the divorce will proceed. If you find yourself in this situation, it may be more productive to focus on fixing your marriage than trying to stop her.
Get to the Root of the Problem
If your spouse hasn't filed for divorce yet, you may still have an opportunity to change her mind. Ask her – preferably, at a calm time when you're both feeling introspective – what she thinks went wrong with your marriage. You may have your own thoughts on the subject, but this is not your time to vent. You'll have your turn later if you can reopen channels of communication. Let her talk, and listen – but more than that, act on what she says. You might learn that she really just wants someone to pay attention to her. If this is her complaint, start putting the TV remote down when she is talking to you.
When and if your spouse files for divorce, you can use the court system to try to save your marriage. This is easiest if your spouse files on no-fault grounds. When you file your answer to her divorce papers, you can deny that you have irreconcilable differences. In some states, the court will respond by putting your divorce on hold – although not indefinitely – or the judge will order marriage counseling. Either way, you'll have a little more time to try to work things out.
If your spouse has filed on fault grounds, you may have your work cut out for you. This means you've done something that has hurt her deeply – or at least she thinks you have. She might believe you've committed adultery, or that you've treated her cruelly. You can still deny her grounds in your answer. This forces her to prove your wrongdoing to the court. She probably won't be happy about this, because it will complicate and drag out your divorce proceedings. It will give you some time to attend counseling on your own, however, demonstrating a real desire to fix whatever went wrong in your marriage.
No matter how tempting it might be to bury your head in the sand and play ostrich, don't. From a legal standpoint, this is the worst thing you can do. If you don't respond to your spouse's divorce petition or complaint in written form and file it with the court, the legal action will proceed without your input. Not only will this take a lot less time, but it may result in the court awarding her everything she asked for – custody, alimony, or the lion's share of your property.
If all else fails and your divorce is a fait accompli, now's the time to think of yourself. Enough people have found themselves in this predicament that a concept called divorce counseling has sprung up. It's the antithesis of marriage counseling. You're not trying to save your marriage; you're trying to deal with new challenges in your life, such as co-parenting at a time when even looking at your ex probably causes you pain. If you're not the type to seek counseling or if you feel that you can handle this just fine on your own, take proactive steps to reclaim the old you. Sit down and make a list of all the things you couldn't do when you and your spouse were together, but that you always enjoyed before. This might mean climbing Mt. Everest, golfing on Mother's Day, or it could be as simple as leaving your dirty dishes in the sink overnight with no one to nag you. These things are OK now, so do them – but don't do them angrily. The idea is to take pleasure and comfort in them.
Beverly Bird is a professional writer who is also a practicing paralegal in the areas of divorce and family law. She has offered community workshops for single parents, helping them with the financial and lifestyle issues they often face.
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