Why would people divorce knowing that they'd mess up their children's life?v originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
I feel very qualified to answer this question as I'm someone who divorced despite having a kid.
First of all, you have to understand that my marriage was a mismatch from the beginning; I was just too in denial to recognize it and act accordingly as I was approaching the decision. I suppressed the feeling in my gut that told me I was doing something stupid to my own detriment.
About thirteen months after we got married, our daughter was born. This introduced additional sources of stress for an already regularly stressed relationship. But we made do: I was working a night shift and tended to our newborn all night (they wake up rather often all day and night long at that very young age), then when my wife woke up in the morning I handed our daughter off to her and crashed into bed - only to wake up several hours later, spend a couple of hours with them, and then head off to work and repeat the cycle all over again.
Life changes commenced, including a bunch of moves first locally, then several states north, then another local. Throughout the process there were lots of arguments, power plays, damages to trust, and other problems between us. But eventually it seemed like maybe - just maybe - we'd finally found some stability and perhaps the chance to build something progressive and sustainable of our lives. So I was attending college while my wife was working (her shifts and my classes being at different times) so we didn't spend much time together but we seemed to be building a future for ourselves. Then my wife did one of the worst things she could do: cheated on me (slept with another man).
Had our relationship been a mostly good one, I would have worked through it with her to save it. But after all those (~6) years of struggle and heartache (because our life together was hectic, full of regrets, and seemingly cursed) I couldn't imagine the marriage was worth saving anymore. I divorced her.
Since we were poor, we didn't hire lawyers. I went to the courthouse myself to open the case, got the necessary documents, followed the (complicated) procedures for filing this and that (and fell horribly behind in what could have been a more streamlined process), and eventually got our divorce finalized. It was as simple as possible: no-fault, mutual consent, no property division or child custody judgments asked of the court.
I considered that it would make my daughter's life harder. This was actually the one thing that most gave me hesitation as I considered the choice I was making. But some of the supporting thoughts I had were:
- Her mom and I would merely continue our pattern of conflict - perhaps even exacerbate it with the new, complete obliteration of any remaining trust I had in her
- I didn't want my daughter to grow up in a home of bitter, frequent conflict
- Divorcing would give my wife and I another chance to pair off with others, hopefully next time more compatible others
- My mental and emotional health were endangered if I stayed in that marriage, which would indirectly affect my daughter; I wasn't about to willingly choose a path that likely would've ended with me as a jaded old man cursing his life and those in it
Some caveats I considered:
- What if my ex tries to sue for custody? (she has made the threat numerous times since our divorce, but in each situation we've settled things without involving a court)
- What if my ex tries to sue for alimony and / or child support? (she wouldn't have any basis to sue for child support as my daughter spends approximately 70% of her time with me - not her mom - and since she has employment and I currently don't, suing for alimony would be kind of a lost cause)
- Switching our daughter back and forth between our houses will be a hassle (it has been and continues to be in small ways, but we manage these bits of friction better than we could ever hope to manage living together again)
- Will my daughter ever have the example of a healthy marriage modeled for her by one of her parents? (I'm hopeful to make that happen by finding someone genuinely good for me - and vice-versa - but the jury's still out on this one: my ex married another guy but my daughter tells me they fight more often and nastier than my ex and I did)
I pray that the consequences of my actions do not ruin my daughter's life. She definitely experiences various ongoing degrees of fallout from the fact that her parents are not together (and her memories of when they were feel more secure to her) and being swapped between two different households twice a week (once to her mom for a couple days or so, then back to me - almost every week, based on her mom's days off from work), but I conclude that I'm pretty sure I made the best, imperfect choice that was available to me. Time will tell how productive or destructive that choice is in the final calculation, but I did the best with what I knew and felt at the time and still see plenty of room for hope on the horizon.