When a divorce ultimatum is issued in a relationship it’s possible that your relationship has already gone through a lot of trauma and difficulty. A divorce ultimatum is usually preceded by behaviour, actions or comments that are unacceptable to a spouse. But is a divorce ultimatum the way to go?
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The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of ultimatum is: A final demand or statement of terms, the rejection of which will result in retaliation or a breakdown in relations. You really need to be sure that this is the only option left to you if you’re going to issue a divorce ultimatum. Rather than being emotionally driven to make this choice, thinking clearly and rationally is very important, as is only issuing an ultimatum you definitely mean.
Dr Jane Greer, a relationship expert, marriage and family therapist, says, “An ultimatum is really more about you than it is about your partner. It has to do with what you can and will accept, what you are able to live with and what actions you alone are going to take if things don’t work out the way you hoped.” The problem though with ultimatums is that they can create a power struggle, thereby not achieving what you’d hoped with the ultimatum (usually a change in behaviour of some kind). Your spouse is most likely to become defensive, feeling like they have no actual choice in the matter. The divorce ultimatum is not seen as a positive and they may refuse to consider what you’re laying down or they may ‘give in’ and be resentful – neither of which is usually the hoped outcome.
Ann gave a divorce ultimatum to her husband when their marriage was not going well. She said:
“I told my spouse I wanted to go to marriage counseling ‘or else.’ I was desperate for happiness and unity in our marriage and I hoped that couples counseling would provide the solutions I sought. My spouse was not closed to the idea but he wasn’t open to it, either, mostly because he didn’t like being given an ultimatum. He asked if he could choose the counselor and I agreed. But when months passed and he kept giving excuse after excuse for why he was too busy to research marriage counselors and choose one for us, I took matters into my own hands and scheduled an appointment. Ultimately, months of counseling followed by a year of separation ended in divorce. In hindsight, I see that giving him an ultimatum, and then choosing the counselor after he failed to, was my one-sided attempt to control the situation ― and he certainly despised being controlled. That said, he had no sense of urgency to repair our damaged relationship, so we were both at fault in our own ways.”
For Anna, it was about their children. She wanted them to have a present father and so laid out an ultimatum to her husband – they are no longer together. She said, “You can’t make someone be a parent, even if you ask. They have to want to be there, emotionally and physically. I could handle my ex not being a husband for me. I couldn’t handle him not being a father. Now he sees our son once or twice a week, if he chooses.”
Samuel Forrest was also issued an ultimatum about his relationship from his wife because of their child. Their son, Leo, was born with Down’s syndrome. “They took me in see him and I looked at this guy and I said, he’s beautiful — he’s perfect, and I’m absolutely keeping him,” Forrest said. But his Armenian wife didn’t feel the same way. In Armenia it is common to give up a child with any kind of disability and she told Forrest she’d divorce him if he didn’t give up their son. Ruzan Badalyan, Forrest’s now ex-wife, followed through with her ultimatum and Leo lives with his Dad.
Sometimes an ultimatum is entirely appropriate. Psychotherapist and author, Tina B. Tessina, says, “If your partner is abusive or out of control, a divorce ultimatum is exactly the right thing to do.” If you think that there is hope for your relationship then it’s appropriate to persevere within measures that will help to keep you and your children safe. Sometimes, it’s wiser to just skip the ultimatum and move quickly out of a relationship that is emotionally toxic or threatens your physical safety.
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Really, the only ultimatum you really want to give is a declaration of what you will do if the issues in the relationship don’t change. Greer suggests that instead of saying “if you don’t come to counseling this relationship is over, say that if your partner refuses to join you in counseling you may decide to leave the marriage.” Instead of the focus being on your spouse it is on you and what you will do. Empty threats are not helpful. Be sure about an divorce ultimatum if you’re going to give one.
If you are thinking of taking this option, it’s also a good idea to be prepared for what will come next. You may need to obtain copies of your financial documents, for example, and have a good understand of what assets and debts you have with your spouse. If you are thinking of issuing a divorce ultimatum, or you’ve been on the receiving end of one, the best thing you can do is to seek legal advice. You’ll be able to get clarity around what you can expect.
At Divorce Lawyers Brisbane we understand that the process of obtaining a divorce can be a traumatic event in your life. We are able to help our clients through this difficult time by handling this process with compassion and efficiency. If you would like to speak to one of our experienced family lawyers, please contact us today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.