Fantasy vs. reality in a divorce

I recently tried a case where both parents, prominent members of the community, wanted to portray their family to the public as the “All American Family.” They wanted people to believe that as a couple, they loved and respected each other and that their wonderful children were the products of this perfect union. Reality painted a much different picture.

This case caused me to reflect on how often I hear about the “fantasy family.” Many people want so badly for their family to be happy that they overlook many serious flaws in their marriage. For example, their spouse is having one or more affairs. Or their spouse isn’t reporting all their income on joint tax returns (which means both spouses are equally liable for the unreported taxes). They fail to acknowledge that their spouse is claiming higher deductions on their joint income tax returns, which results in paying less tax than is legally required (which can make the non-preparing spouse equally liable for the shortfall).

Deceitful behavior is ignored, which is destructive on many levels.

  • Both spouses delude themselves into believing that they have a “happy” or at least plausibly happy marriage, when they actually don’t have anything close. Instead of working on the problems in their marriage, they fool themselves into thinking all is well. The difficulties often get worse due to inattention.
  • The spouses are usually living in their separate worlds. Each has their version of reality, rather than shared goals and interests. The division between them grows wider.
  • The spouses and the children know that the family is living a lie. The adults live in fear of being found out. Often the children are confused by the difference between the public face of the family and the reality of life at home. These children often report later that they thought all marriages were like this and often lack the tools needed to maintain their own happy marriages.
  • Often, one spouse has an escape plan. For example, they plan to leave when their youngest child attains age 18. The other spouse is generally unaware of this and will act on plans to stay married. This may include taking an early retirement from a well-paying job with the accompanying loss of income and important benefits, such as health insurance. When the spouse obtains a new position, the unaware spouse may agree to relocate to a new community (where he has no support system). The unaware spouse may agree to other major life changes that leave that spouse vulnerable. The spouse blindsided by the “escaping” spouse will feel particularly betrayed and angry that they were deceived and deliberately placed in a vulnerable position.
  • Once the unaware spouse realizes the plan has been in place for years, the future relationship between the spouses will be irreparably damaged, making it difficult for the parties to continue parenting or wrap up the business of the marriage, such as dividing accounts.
  • The result is two unhappy people who must face the fact that they did not keep the commitment to their marriage, and often describe their marriages as “lost years.”

Invariably, all marriages have problems. When you are busy balancing raising children, working outside the home and maintaining a household, it’s hard to find time to work on the marriage and see if the relationship can survive its problems. However, you owe it to yourselves to face that you and your spouse are facing serious problems that need to be addressed now. If you are successful, you may achieve your goal—a happy, All-American Family.

If this is not an achievable goal, then you can work on how you can configure your family in such a way that you can demonstrate to your community how strong, resilient, and adaptable you are. Personally, you can assure yourself that you have the skills to make needed adjustments for your family, as circumstances change. Best of all, you can avoid the public display where the community finds out that everyone (including yourself) was deluded by your public persona.