Separation or Divorce May Not be The Answer to Your Marital Problems

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Family Law lawyers are always busy. They are busy when economic times are good or bad. They are busy when unemployment rates are high or low. They are busy throughout the year (though, usually less so in the summer).That makes for a lot of unhappy families going through divorce and children at risk. And, I’m very sensitive to the issues around divorce and children.

After being an Ontario divorce lawyer for 20 years, I set out to see how I could make a difference in how people experience divorce and legal separation in Ontario. I tried to focus my legal practice on more humane methods such as being a Mediator and practicing Collaborative Law; searching for a way to ease the pain of clients seeking to reach a separation agreement in Ontario or agoing through a divorce while at the same time providing them with responsible legal services. But, in my experience obtaining a separation agreement in Ontario is not sufficient to attain happiness.

Often legal intervention, even the best type, is not enough. Even with the best of intentions and good lawyers most families face significant challenges during the process of legal separation in Ontario and for many, these challenges persist for several years after their separation.

Then, I learned a few interesting facts.

I discovered that the divorce rate for second marriages is actually higher than the divorce rate for first marriages. Consider the following statistics :


– First Marriage – 33%

– Second Marriage – 40-50%

– Third Marriage – Greater than 50%

– Common Law union – Greater than 50%

I have the privilege of knowing Professor Anne-Marie Ambert, a leading researcher and author on family trends in Canada and the author of several books on the subject including: “Changing Families: Relationships in Context.” Professor Ambert’s findings confirm what I have seen in my legal practice: many families are not happier even several years after their divorce.

Professor Ambert writes:

“…many divorced persons admit that they are not any happier and even are more unhappy than during their marriage… even unhappily married people who divorce were not necessarily happier five years later than those who had remained married…

Divorce generally involves a period of stress, instability, loneliness, hurt feelings, and often hostility. That period lasts a few months to two years but may persist after five years. Furthermore, as shown by the high rates of divorce in remarriages and dissolution of subsequent cohabitations, one divorce often triggers many other unpleasant passages…”

This paints a troublesome picture. Failing marriage therapy, couples seek answers to their marital difficulties in things like seeking a separation or divorce. Yet, statistically, their second relationship is even more likely to fail than their first. And, as Professor Ambert has seen, many divorced people are not any happier after their separation. So, what are these unhappy people to do? Should they stay and be unsatisfied with how things are at home, or leave and take their chances that it will all happen again? And, what about their kids? Divorce and children are a hazardous combination. Will they too have to face multiple separations and live with perpetually unhappy parents?

It is clear to me that there is a need for a new approach to support these families, something beyond traditional marriage therapy.

A Separation agreement in Ontario is reached when parties are able to negotiate an out-of court resolution. So, even those couples who obtain a legal separation in Ontario through less adversarial means, such as mediation and Collaborative Law, still face several challenges post-separation.

Professor Anne Marie Ambert, June 2010. Professor Ambert is a retired Professor of Sociology at York University, Ontario. She published several articles through the Vanier Institute for the Family, and she has extensively studied family trends in Canada. She is the author of the book: “Changing Families: Relationships in Context”- second edition, Pearson Canada.

The Vanier Institute of the Family, Contemporary Family Trends, Divorce: Facts, Causes, and Consequences, Dr. Anne-Marie Ambert, York University, Revised Edition 2009


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