Very often, discord in the divorce process stems from power inequality, both real and perceived.  If there was a financial or emotional imbalance in your marriage, you can likely expect it to rear its head in a divorce.  If you believe you are holding the short end of either (or both) of these sticks, you are not alone and you are not as powerless as you might think.

“Hannah” is smart, strong, and soft-spoken.  At our initial consultation, Hannah tearfully told me her wife of seven years informed her three weeks earlier she wanted out of their marriage.  Simple as that.  No warning, no fights.  Just a vague musing that she was questioning whether she wanted to be in relationships with other people, including men.

Further deepening Hannah’s despair was the couple’s three-year old daughter.  Hannah’s wife carried the baby and Hannah adopted her at birth.  Hannah’s wife was posturing for a greater percentage of time-sharing with their child because she is the biological mother, and Hannah is not.

I was moved by Hannah’s honesty, and lack of anger, about her pain.  She was past the denial and bargaining stages of the grief process, but justifiably a long way from acceptance.  She was in the depression phase of processing the loss of a ten-year union (they dated three years before marriage) and the family life she had with the co-parent of their beloved daughter.

It amazed me how well Hannah was outwardly holding up only three weeks post bomb-drop.  When I told her that, she gave me a mirthless laugh and replied, “it’s an act.”  She then explained to me that she was in the weak position in the divorce because “I have no choices in this.  Because she is leaving me.”  What?  (cue the oh-hell-no bells in my head).

Hannah went on to describe her wife in omnipotent terms.  It sounded as if Hannah was tip-toeing on eggshells at home, and acquiescing without question to her wife’s decisions about how the divorce would be handled.  As if it were forged in iron, Hannah told me her wife had already hired a family law mediator (without Hannah’s input), and had set the mediation date (without Hannah’s input), for only two months away.

As Hannah continued to unfold her story, I was surprised to learn that the balance of economic power in the marriage was on Hannah’s end.  She has a university education, is the higher wage earner, and the majority of her assets were acquired before the marriage.   Nevertheless, because her wife had the emotional power in the marriage, Hannah perceived herself to be the weak “leave-ee” while her wife was the powerful “leave-or.”  This caused Hannah to also believe she was without choices in the divorce.

Hannah’s case is an important reminder that the perception the spouse with the most assets or income is more “powerful” than the other spouse in a divorce is merely that, a perception.

Because Hannah’s wife temporarily had the upper hand over Hannah’s emotions in the marriage, Hannah also believed she had no voice in the who, when, what, and where decisions about the divorce process.  More importantly, she was over-looking her own valuable input as to decisions about the healthy restructure of her family.

If you perceive you are in the weaker position in your divorce, whether it is for economic or psychological reasons, promise me you will do one thing:  EDUCATE YOURSELF.

In the divorce arena, as in every other arena in life, knowledge is power.  The internet gives us quick access to general facts, and broad answers to broad questions.  But I encourage you to dig deeper, especially if there is a real or perceived power imbalance going into your divorce.  If left unchecked, your emotional state over this imbalance will negatively affect your decisions during your divorce.  Decisions that will permanently impact the welfare of you, your children and your family.

Enlist the help of professionals at the earliest possible time.  A trusted mental health counselor who specializes in relationships, and a trusted legal counselor who specializes in family law, will put your perceptions into a more realistic perspective, which will diminish your fears and anxiety.  These professionals will also help you direct and focus your energy on the permanent aspects of your family’s restructure.  The aspects that are temporary, such as feeling disadvantaged in your case, will only serve to cloud your judgment in what could be the most important business transaction of your life.

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