The Crises of Marriage Breakdown and Processes for Dealing with Them

AuthorJulien D. Payne/Marilyn A. Payne
Chapter 6
e Crises of Marriage Breakdown
and Processes for Dealing with em
For most families, mar riage breakdown provokes three cr ises: an emotional
crisis; an economic crisis; and a parenting crisis. Both of t he spouses and
their child ren suer severe emotional upheaval when the un ity of the family
disintegrates. Failu re in the most basic of life’s commitments is not lightly
shrugged o by its v ictims. Marriage breakdow n, whether or not accompan-
ied by divorce, is a painful exper ience. Furthermore, relat ively few families
encounter separation or divorce without encounter ing nanci al setbacks.
e emotional and economic crises resulting from m arriage brea kdown are
compounded by the co-parenta l divorce when there are dependent children.
Bonding between children and thei r absent parent is inevitably t hreatened
by spousal sepa ration and divorce.1
Paul Bohannan identi ed six “stations” in the highly complex human
process of mar riage breakdown:
the emotional divorce;
1 See Julien D Pay ne, “Family Conic t Resolution: Deal ing with the Consequ ences of
Marri age Breakdown roug h Counsellin g, Negotiation, Medi ation and Arbitrat ion”
ResearchGate (Februar y 1997) online: Resea rchGate https://www.researchgate. net/
publication/306953 629_Family_Con ict_Re solution_Deal ing_wit h_the_Conse quences_
of_Marr iage_Brea kdown_th rough_Couns elling _Negotiation _Mediation _and_
Arbitrat ion; Julien D Pay ne, “Various Ar ticles on the Mana gement of Family Conic t
and Altern ative Dispute Resolut ion Processes” Resea rchGate (Februar y 2017), online
Julien David Pay ne-Research gate. See also Joanne J Paet sch, Lorne Ber trand, & John-
Paul Boyd, “An Eva luation of the Cost of Fami ly Law Disputes: Measu ring the Cost
Implication of Var ious Dispute Resolution M ethods,” Canadian Research I nstitute for
Law and the Family (December 2017).
Canadi an family law130
the legal divorce;
the economic divorce;
the co-parenta l divorce;
the community divorce; and
the psychic divorce.2
Each of these stations of divorce involves an evolutionary process a nd
there is substantia l interaction among them. e dynamics of ma rriage
breakdown, whic h are multi-faceted, cannot be addressed in is olation.
History demonstrates a pred isposition to seek the solution to the crises
of marriage breakdown in ex ternal systems. During t he past 150 years, the
church, law, and medicine h ave each been called upon to deal wit h the crises
of marriage breakdown. Understand ably, each system has been found want-
ing in its search for solutions. People are averse to losing control over t heir
own lives. Decrees a nd “expert” r ulings th at exclude aected par ties from
the decision-making process do not pass unch allenged. Omn iscience is not
the prerogative of any profession. Nor should the fami ly’s right to self-deter-
mination be light ly ignored.
For many people, there are two cr iteria of self-f ulllment. One is satisfac-
tion on the job. e second, and more important one, is sat isfaction with
one’s marriage or fami ly. When marriage breakdow n occurs, the spouses and
their child ren experience a g rieving process. e devastating eect of mar-
riage breakdow n is particu larly evident w ith the displaced long-term home-
making spou se whose united family has crumbled a nd who is ill equipped ,
psychological ly and otherwi se, to convert homemaking skills i nto gainful
Most legal divorces in Can ada are uncontested. Issues rel ating to the
economic and parenting consequences of ma rriage breakdown are usua lly
resolved by negotiation between the spouses, who are often represented
by independent lawyers. Because the overwhel ming majority of a ll divor-
ces are uncontested, it might be assumed that the legal system works well
in resolving the economic and pa renting consequences of mar riage break-
down. at assumption c annot pass uncha llenged. In the t ypical divorce
scenario, spouses negoti ate a settlement, often with the aid of lawyers, at
a time when one or both are stil l experiencing the emotional t rauma of
2 Paul Bohanna n, “e Six Stations of D ivorce” in Divorce and After (New York: Doubl eday
& Co, 1971) c 2.
Chapter 6: The Cris es of Marriage Breakdown a nd Processes for Dealing with Them 13 1
marria ge breakdown. Spouses who have not come to terms with the death
of their marr iage or who feel guilty, depressed, or angry i n consequence of
the marri age breakdown are i ll-equipped to for m decisions of a perma nent
and legally binding nature.3 Psychiatri sts and psychologists agree that thi s
“emotional divorce” passes throug h a variety of states, including denial, hos-
tility, and depression, to the u ltimate acceptance of the deat h of the mar-
riage. Working through the spousal emotiona l divorce is a slow process. In
the meantime, permanent and legally bind ing decisions are often made to
regulate the economic and pa renting consequences of the mar riage break-
down. From a legal perspec tive, the economic and parenting consequences
of the marri age breakdown are interdependent. Decisions respecting any
continued occupation of the matri monial home, the amount of ch ild sup-
port, and the amount of spous al support, if any, are often conditioned on the
arrangements made for the f uture upbringing of the chi ldren. e perceived
legal interdependence of propert y rights, support rights, and pa rental rights
after divorce naturally aords oppor tunities for abuse by law yers and their
clients. e lawye r who has been imbued with the “wil l to win” from the out-
set of his or her career, coupled with the c lient who negotiates a settlement
when his or her emotional divorce is u nresolved, can wreak future havoc on
the spouses and on their c hildren. Far too often, when settlements are nego -
tiated, children become pawns or weapons in the hands of game-pl aying or
warring adu lts and the battles do not cease with the judic ial divorce.
e interplay between t he emotional dyna mics of marr iage breakdown
and regulation of the economic consequences of marri age breakdown may
be demonstrated by the following examples. A needy spou se who insists
that no claim for spou sal support should be pu rsued may be manifest ing a
hope for reconciliation or a state of depression. A spou se who makes exces-
sive demands is often m anifesting hostilit y. A spouse who proers an unduly
generous nancia l settlement may be ex piating gui lt. Denial, de pression,
hostility, and gui lt are all ty pical man ifestations of the emotiona l divorce
that elicit inappropr iate responses to dealing with the pract ical economic
and parenting consequences of ma rriage breakdown. Fur thermore, like most
emotional states, they c hange with the pa ssage of time. Separated spouses,
lawyers, and mediators should be aware of the dangers of prem ature settle-
ments when one or both of the spouses are sti ll going through emot ional
turmoil. Indeed, the notion of a “cooling-o ” period, though u nsuccessful
as a means of divorce avoidance, mig ht have signicant advantages with
respect to negotiated spousa l settlements upon mar riage breakdow n. Cer-
tainly, spouses and the ir lawyers should more frequently assess the st rategic
3 Bamford v Bamf ord, 2017 NBCA 35 at para 25 , citing Miglin v Miglin, [2003] 1 SCR 303.

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