by Shawn Skillin, Esq, mediator and HCI speaker
(Article originally posted via Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego here.)
I get calls all the time from one spouse who is in a great big hurry to get divorced. And that’s OK. But, the other spouse is often in exactly the opposite frame of mind. Why is that and how do you deal with it? What does the law say?
Let’s deal with the law first. In California, there is a mandatory six-month (181 day) waiting period before the court can terminate your marital status and make you single again. This is a mandatory waiting period. The six months starts when the Respondent is served or otherwise submits to the jurisdiction of the court, by filing a response or making a court appearance. The waiting period does not start when the petition is filed. Therefore, it will be at least six months before anyone can be single again.
In order to be divorced on the 181st day, you have to file your judgment package and your Marital Settlement Agreement with the court and give them time to process it. Because our California courts are backed up, none of this happens quickly and you should allow 8 to 20 weeks for your Judgment to be processed. That’s an additional two to five months! In the meantime, you are still married. So as I always tell my clients, the wheels of justice turn, but they turn very slowly.
In addition to meeting the requirements of the waiting period, there is the issue of the “slow moving spouse.” In a divorce, it is not uncommon for one spouse to be in a bigger hurry than the other, who may be in no hurry at all.
The slower moving spouse is probably in a different part of the grief cycle than the faster-moving spouse. The end of a marriage is a great loss and both parties must grieve it. The grief cycle is comprised of five phases: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Most people do not move through the process in this precise order. They move one step ahead, then two steps back, and will likely pass through one phase or another more than once.
In addition, everyone proceeds at a different speed and likely started the grief process at different points in time. The faster-moving spouse is likely to have already done most or all of their grief work and the slower moving spouse may just be getting started. The slower moving spouse may be stuck in denial or mired in depression. At this point, the slow moving spouse is not likely emotionally able to make the many significant decisions facing them in a divorce. They may seem unable to make any decisions at all. The spouse still processing their grief needs time, support, and maybe even some counseling to help him or her move forward.
If the faster-moving spouse tries to push the slower moving spouse ahead too quickly, the likely result is putting on the brakes and slowing down even more. The better plan: allow the process to proceed more slowly, so the other spouse is steadily moving forward. The slower moving spouse needs time to get to an emotional state of mind where he or she can take in, and process, information in order to make good decisions.
In other words, sometimes slower is faster when it comes to divorce.
The team approach of the Collaborative Divorce process works well in these situations. Divorce coaches can help each party in managing their own grief process and in understanding where the other party stands in his or her grief process. The attorneys can focus their attention on keeping the process moving forward legally at a pace agreeable to both parties.
Shawn Skillin is an attorney, family law mediator, collaborative divorce practitioner. She is a sought-after speaker, trainer and consultant at the High Conflict Institute. She is the co-founder of the Family Resolution Institute, in San Diego, and is a senior mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center. Learn more about Shawn and contact us to learn how she can help train your group.