The Crises of Marriage Breakdown and Processes for Dealing with Them

AuthorJulien D. Payne,Marilyn A. Payne
Date25 July 2022
Chapter 6
The Crises of Marriage Breakdown
and Processes for Dealing with Them
For most families, marriage breakdown provokes three crises: an emotional
crisis; an economic crisis; and a parenting crisis. Both of the spouses and
their children suf‌fer severe emotional upheaval when the unity of the family
disintegrates. Failure in the most basic of life’s commitments is not lightly
shrugged of‌f by its victims. Marriage breakdown, whether or not accompan-
ied by divorce, is a painful experience. Furthermore, relatively few families
encounter separation or divorce without encountering the accompanying
f‌inancial setbacks. e emotional and economic crises resulting from mar-
riage breakdown are compounded by the co-parental divorce when there are
dependent children. Bonding between children and their absent parent is
inevitably threatened by spousal separation and divorce.1
1 See Julien D Payne, “Family Conf‌lict Resolution: Dealing with the Consequences of
Marriage Breakdown Through Counselling, Negotiation, Mediation and Arbitration”
ResearchGate (February 1997) online: ResearchGate
Arbitration; Julien D Payne, “Various Articles on the Management of Family Conf‌lict
and Alternative Dispute Resolution Processes” ResearchGate (February 2017), online
See also Joanne J Paetsch, Lorne Bertrand, & John-Paul Boyd, “An Evaluation of the
Cost of Family Law Disputes: Measuring the Cost Implication of Various Dispute Reso-
lution Methods,” Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (December 2017).
Chapter 6: The Crises of Mar riage Breakdown and Processes for Dealing with Them 131
Paul Bohannan identif‌ied six “stations” in the highly complex human
process of marriage breakdown:
the emotional divorce;
the legal divorce;
the economic divorce;
the co-parental divorce;
the community divorce; and
the psychic divorce.2
Each of these stations of divorce involves an evolutionary process, and
there is substantial interaction among them. e dynamics of marriage
breakdown, which are multifaceted, cannot be addressed in isolation.
History demonstrates a predisposition to seek the solution to the crises
of marriage breakdown in external systems. During the past 150 years, the
church, law, and medicine have each been called upon to deal with the crises of
marriage breakdown. Understandably, each system has been found wanting
in its search for solutions. People are averse to losing control over their own
lives. Decrees and “expert” rulings that exclude af‌fected parties from the deci-
sion-making process do not pass unchallenged. Omniscience is not the pre-
rogative of any profession. Nor should the family’s right to self-determination
be lightly ignored.
For many people, there are two criteria of self-fulf‌illment. One is satisfaction
on the job. e second, and more important one, is satisfaction with one’s
marriage or family. When marriage breakdown occurs, the spouses and their
children experience a grieving process. e devastating ef‌fect of marriage
breakdown is particularly evident with the displaced long-term homemaking
spouse whose united family has crumbled and who is ill equipped, psychologic-
ally and otherwise, to convert homemaking skills into gainful employment.
Most legal divorces in Canada are uncontested. Issues relating to the eco-
nomic and parenting consequences of marriage breakdown are usually resolved
by negotiation between the spouses, who are oen represented by independent
lawyers. Because the overwhelming majority of all divorces are uncontested, it
might be assumed that the legal system works well in resolving the economic
and parenting consequences of marriage breakdown. at assumption cannot
2 Paul Bohannan, “The Six Stations of Divorce” in Divorce and After (New York:
Doubleday & Co, 1971) c2.
Canadian family law132
pass unchallenged. In the typical divorce scenario, spouses negotiate a sele-
ment, oen with the aid of lawyers, at a time when one or both are still experi-
encing the emotional trauma of marriage breakdown. Spouses who have not
come to terms with the death of their marriage or who feel guilty, depressed,
or angry in consequence of the marriage breakdown are ill-equipped to form
decisions of a permanent and legally binding nature.3 Psychiatrists and psych-
ologists agree that this “emotional divorce” passes through a variety of states,
including denial, hostility, and depression, to the ultimate acceptance of the
death of the marriage. Working through the spousal emotional divorce is a
slow process. In the meantime, permanent and legally binding decisions are
oen made to regulate the economic and parenting consequences of the mar-
riage breakdown. From a legal perspective, the economic and parenting conse-
quences of the marriage breakdown are interdependent. Decisions respecting
any continued occupation of the matrimonial home, the amount of child sup-
port, and the amount of spousal support, if any, are oen conditioned on the
arrangements made for the future upbringing of the children. e perceived
legal interdependence of property rights, support rights, and parental rights
aer divorce naturally af‌fords opportunities for abuse by lawyers and their cli-
ents. e lawyer who has been imbued with the “will to win” from the outset of
his or her career, coupled with the client who negotiates a selement when his
or her emotional divorce is unresolved, can wreak future havoc on the spouses
and on their children. Far too oen, when selements are negotiated, children
become pawns or weapons in the hands of game-playing or warring adults,
and the bales do not cease with the judicial divorce.
e interplay between the emotional dynamics of marriage breakdown
and regulation of the economic consequences of marriage breakdown may
be demonstrated by the following examples. A needy spouse who insists that
no claim for spousal support should be pursued may be manifesting a hope
for reconciliation or a state of depression. A spouse who makes excessive
demands is oen manifesting hostility. A spouse who prof‌fers an unduly gen-
erous f‌inancial selement may be expiating guilt. Denial, depression, hostil-
ity, and guilt are all typical manifestations of the emotional divorce that elicit
inappropriate responses to dealing with the practical economic and parent-
ing consequences of marriage breakdown. Furthermore, like most emotional
states, they change with the passage of time. Separated spouses, lawyers, and
mediators should be aware of the dangers of premature selements when one
or both of the spouses are still going through emotional turmoil. Indeed, the
notion of a “cooling-of‌f” period, though unsuccessful as a means of divorce
3 Bamford v Bamford, 2017 NBCA 35 at para 25, citing Miglin v Miglin, [2003] 1 SCR 303.

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