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The Legal Cost of Divorce

with Steve Grissom | July 11, 2006

Fourteen years ago, Steve was faced with a divorce he didn’t want. On today's broadcast, DivorceCare founder Steve Grissom talks honestly about the financial, as well as legal, aspects of a divorce.

Fourteen years ago, Steve was faced with a divorce he didn’t want. On today's broadcast, DivorceCare founder Steve Grissom talks honestly about the financial, as well as legal, aspects of a divorce.

The Legal Cost of Divorce

With Steve Grissom
|
July 11, 2006
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Too many Christians today who find themselves in a difficult place in their marriage head off in the wrong direction.  Here is Steve Grissom.

Steve: If your marriage is in trouble, you don't go to a lawyer, you go to your church.  And if your spouse is not an agreeable party to that process, we have clear guidelines in Matthew 18 in how to do it.  You first confront them individually.  If that person doesn't respond, then the next step is to go with one or two other Christians and confront again in love with the idea of restoring and reconciliation.  If the person doesn't respond at that point, then you are to take to the church.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 11th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  What can you do to help a friend who may be headed for a divorce?  We'll talk about it today, stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.  We are focused this week right at the heart of a very difficult issue.  It's really an issue that is at the center of what FamilyLife is all about.  In fact, this month we are encouraging FamilyLife Today listeners to sign up for one of our upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  We're going to be hosting these in a variety of cities this fall all across the country, and if you sign up this month, we are offering FamilyLife Today listeners a special rate.  You can sign up at the group rate even though you're not a part of a group.  You will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee if you sign up between now and the end of July. 

There is a complete schedule of our conferences on our website at FamilyLife.com.  You can find the city where each conference is going to be located and the weekend that we're going to be holding it there, and what we're hoping you'll do is block that weekend out, get away together as a couple, and focus on how to build a stronger, healthier marriage – whether your marriage is in a good place already or whether you're in a difficult spot, and you need some hope.  The FamilyLife Today Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference is designed to give you the practical tools that you can put to work in your marriage, keep it headed in the right direction and, again, between now and the end of the month you can take advantage of a special offer that we're making to FamilyLife Today listeners.  You can register at the group rate and save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee.

 For more information or to register online go to our website, FamilyLife.com.  If you are registering online, when you fill out the form you'll come to a keycode box.  You'll want to type my name in there, it's "Bob," and that way we'll know you're a FamilyLife Today listener, and that you're eligible for the special rate for listeners.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, mention that you're a FamilyLife Today listener and, again, you'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee if you register between now and the end of July.

 Again, call us or go online if you have any questions or to get registered for an upcoming Weekend to Remember conference.

 You know, Dennis, the Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference is designed to encourage couples to honor their commitment, the covenant, to one another, and that's at the heart of what we're talking about this week, and it may be that a person listening is not in this kind of a situation but, undoubtedly, you know somebody in your church or your neighborhood, where you work, somebody who is in a difficult spot in his or her marriage, and someone who is in need of some hope.

Dennis: Right, and we want to help you rescue marriages from divorce.  A lot of folks don't feel comfortable or equipped knowing what to say and how to go about preventing a divorce from occurring in the life of a loved one who is a family member, maybe an associate at work, maybe it's somebody in your Sunday school class.

 In fact, just last night I was talking to a layman who said, you know, "I'm covered over with this ministry, but I don't know what to say, I don't know what to do."  Well, we've got the guy who can help you.  In fact, he's got a whole resource kit to equip you in rescuing those marriages – Steve Grissom.  Steve, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Steve: Thank you. 

Dennis: Steve is the president of Church Initiative, which is a ministry that really specializes on rescuing marriages from divorce and helping people heal up after they've gone through a divorce in the church, isn't that right?

Steve: That's correct, and we would love to shut down the divorce recovery part of our efforts.

Dennis: Steve is a father of three.  He is a former television announcer, anchorman.  In fact, this video package you put together came out of your experience in television, isn't that right?

Steve: That's correct.

Dennis: Steve, you went through a divorce.  This is what really tenderized your heart.  It was through the pain that you experienced that God enlarged your own vision to be able to reach out and help laymen rescue marriages from divorce.  Where does a layman start?  How does he begin in this process of rescuing a friend who is thinking about divorce?

Steve: Maybe a good place to start is to understand the dynamics of what's happening.  If you know about a friend or a neighbor or family member that is toying with or in the process of divorce, you've got to understand that the train is almost out of control right now.

Bob: Now, it would seem to me that your response in that situation might be different if you're dealing with the person who is initiating the divorce than it would be if you're dealing with the person who just got a bomb dropped on them last night that their husband or wife is planning to leave the relationship.

Steve: You've got to be sensitive to the dynamics of that.  You've also got to be aware now, in society today, it's become very acceptable to get a divorce because we just don't love each other anymore, and it's a mutual decision.

 Typically, though, there is one person driving and one person who does not want the divorce.

Dennis: You say in your series that people have two choices – explain those choices to our listeners.

Steve: Well, in the end, you've got either the choice of anger or the choice of reconciliation.  You've got the choice of divorce or the choice of God's ideal, which is restoring your marriage.  There are no other choices.  You either forgive each other for the wrongs you've done and rebuild your marriage, or you proceed down the path of disillusion, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, and resentment.

Dennis: And you begin your series by letting that couple who are thinking about divorce know that they have these choices.  Why do you do that?

Steve: Well, it is true that we all have choices in life and, in some cases, divorce is an allowable choice scripturally and maybe even an appropriate choice scripturally.  So it is a decision that each person faces themselves and, in some cases, in many cases, in fact, in most cases, it's a sinful decision but not always.  We've got to remember that, and we've got to talk to the person who is looking at divorce as an option because they have a habitually unfaithful spouse.  Scripture tells us that's an allowable reason for divorce – not a requirement for divorce, by the way.

Dennis: Yes, and that's something I'd want to say right here – I don't think God's first choice in any situation is for divorce.  His desire is for a couple to reconcile, forgive one another, work through their pain, and come back and become one.  The problem is, we are broken people, and it is clear in Scripture that there are situations where there is the freedom to go ahead and get a divorce – again, not God's first choice.

Bob: And, generally, the two situations that the Scriptures deal with that grant permission for divorce are an adulteress or an unfaithful husband or wife, and an unbelieving spouse who has abandoned a believing spouse.  Those are pretty much the two grounds on which someone would be allowed divorce but, as you've said, Dennis, it's not necessarily God's best choice for that couple at that time.

Dennis: And, Steve, what I hear you saying when you're equipping this layman to talk to his friends who are thinking about a divorce that why it's so important to give this freedom of choice is that we, as counselors; we, as advisors; we, as someone who is coming alongside another person have to be careful not to try to control them, judge them, condemn them, but instead try to call them out of sinful choices, call them away from the wrong path but let them know that they are responsible for making their own choices before God.

Steve: The other challenge we have as laypeople in helping is not to force our own agenda.  If I'm a mother or a father, and I see my daughter being mistreated by her husband, I may encourage her to get rid of the bum.  In the end, it can't be my choice, meaning an advisor, a friend, a family member.  It can't be society's choice, it can't be the church's choice, it's got to be that individual's choice, and another big influencer is the attorney, because once you connect with an attorney, it's almost on remote control at that point.

Dennis: Steve, I can hear someone saying right now – in fact, I've heard it said to me on more than one occasion – you know, "This just isn't any of my business."

Steve: Well, we're encouraged in Scripture to confront in love; we are encouraged to put our arms around – you know, Scripture talks about older women teaching younger women, so we need to be involved.  And if we don't get involved, we may well feel the ripple effect of that divorce.

Bob: You know, Dennis, Steve brought up this point, and that is that there are plenty of people around a divorcing couple who are kind of cheering them on, who are saying, "You know, I think this probably is best for you.  You probably ought to go ahead.  This will be better.  It will all work out."  It takes a little courage for someone to step forward and say, "I'm not sure that's good advice."

Dennis: Yes, and there's a couple of points I want to make here, Bob.  First of all, unfortunately, many of those people who are advising Christians to get divorced are Christians. 

Steve: Exactly.

Dennis: Yes, and you know what?  People ought to cut it out.  They ought to stop advising their friends to get a divorce.  That's not the first line of offense or defense when it comes to talking to somebody here. 

 The problem today in the Christian community is we are no longer our brother's keeper, we no longer want to look out for each other, we no longer want to dirty ourselves by getting involved in these deals, and they extract a price.  We don't want to make the investment. 

 If it's not done by the body of Christ in the church, who is going to do it?  And the answer is there isn't anybody else to do it.

Steve: We are called to a ministry of reconciliation, and that includes a ministry of reconciliation to marriages. 

Bob: Steve, you mentioned that once an attorney is in the picture, this thing has moved into inertia – remote control.  It's almost unstoppable at that point.  Why is that?

Steve: Society has set up a process.  You get in a spat with your spouse, you decide probably you want out of the marriage.  The first thing you do, you go see a lawyer, and what is the first thing the lawyer does?  He says, "Stop communicating with your spouse.  We don't want to compromise your situation."

Bob: So he goes right into protecting yourself – assuming a divorce is going to happen, right, and, of course, he's got some financial incentive, doesn't he, for this thing to move ahead?

Steve: Yes, he does.  And the irony is we call them "family lawyers," and the practice of family law is actually divorce law.  There are exceptions, and we want to thank those attorneys who are godly and try to restore marriages, and I know of some.  But, in most cases, they started on a process that's almost unstoppable, and here is what happens – first of all, you pay them a big retainer, and then they begin the process.  They will tell you, depending on the laws in your state, you need to get a separation agreement, which divides the assets of your family, decides who will own the children, if you will, and all of the other issues related to divorce – is there alimony?  And, by the way, alimony is a disappearing concept.  That is a gut-wrenching experience to go through.

Bob: How big is a big retainer?  How much are you going to give to an attorney?

Steve: You can pay anywhere from hundreds of dollars to there are million-dollar divorces.

Bob: The stuff that I see in the paper that says, "$59 – Quick, Easy Divorce."  What happens if I call that number?

Steve: It's a lie.  There is no quick, easy divorce.  You will spend much of your personal savings and assets in getting through the legal process of divorce.  And I hear couples say, "Well, we're going to be friendly about it."  There is no friendly divorce.  Warren Kniskern is an author.  He says divorce is war – he is correct.  What do you have in a war?  You have warriors, in this case, the husband and wife.  You have spoils – in this case, who gets the kids, who gets the money, who gets the house?  And if you can agree to that in a separation agreement, then that becomes the automatic framework for the divorce, and if you've never been to a divorce court, you ought to spend a day in there before you go through the process just to get a taste of what you're getting into.

Dennis: I want to stop you there because I want you to take us back through kind of what takes place at that point, because I think many of our listeners are unaware what is taking place legally as they are separated.  But before I have you do that, I want to make a comment about selecting a lawyer.

 Psalm 1:1 says "Blessed is he who walks in the counsel of the godly."  And if my friend was seeking legal separation or they were involved in some kind of situation that could move toward divorce, I would want my friend to find a lawyer who is a Psalm 1:1 man or woman – a godly counselor who I would expect to have God's interest in mind above his own interest and who would speak the truth to this woman or this man when the going got tough. 

 And, it would seem to me to be, at that point, that the Christian woman, the Christian man, who is facing a divorce or thinking about a divorce ought not to just go to the Yellow Pages by really ought to go to their church, to their elder board, and ask them to help them find wise godly counsel.

 If two people would do that, at that point I've got to believe that marriage has a chance of surviving.  If there is not godly counsel in place, though, you have an adversary of that marriage – someone who is wanting to make a living off of the demise of that marriage.

Steve: See, the world's advice is to go find a piranha – somebody who is mean, tough, and aggressive and to get all you can for you.  But, Dennis, you hit, really, on what should be the next step.  If your marriage is in trouble, you don't go to a lawyer, you go to your church.  And if your spouse is not an agreeable party to that process, we have clear guidelines in Matthew 18 in how to do it.  There are some great exceptions, but many churches do not follow the Matthew 18 guidelines, which, simplified are this – if somebody has sinned or done wrong against you, you first confront them individually.  Well, let's assume that would happen in a marriage situation.  If that person doesn't respond, then the next step is to go with one or two other Christians and confront again, in love, with the idea of restoring and reconciliation.  If the person doesn't respond at that point, then you are to take it to the church, and here is the sticking point is what does the church do at this point, because it sometimes is a process called "church discipline" where you actually have to confront formally, as the body of Christ, that person, accuse them of the sin.  If they are a member of that church the ultimate responsibility is to remove them from their church, not with the idea of castigating them but – or ostracizing them – but of restoring them.

Dennis: Love them enough to break fellowship with them so that they might come to their sense if they haven't heard the words that you've said to them when you've lovingly confronted them with the truth.

Steve: Now, a challenge to the church, too, is that they can't wait until this flares up to have a process in place to deal on the Matthew 18 track.  You've got to have that ready and be able to respond quickly, because, again, the train is out of control by this point, and if the church isn't equipped to jump into action immediately, then it needs to create a process to do so.

Bob: And then the challenge, Dennis, to folks who are in a difficult marriage, if they are experiencing tension and pressure and frustration in their marriage, don't wait until the train is so far down the track that it's moving on its own force before you cry help.  Back it up when it's at the station, call a friend today and say, "Can I talk to you?  We're going through some bumps, and maybe they're just little things, but I don't want them to be big things."  It's time to be open with one another about the little things that spin out of control and lead toward divorce.

Dennis: There's too many great resources to help couples today who are experiencing difficulty.

Bob: Steve, you were telling us about one church that is very shrewdly using the "Before You Divorce" videotapes just in a general Sunday school class.

Steve: The idea of being – the pastor told me, he says, "We genuinely have an interest in helping people who are in marriage crisis, and we want to equip our congregation to know how to react.  So we show the tapes in adult Sunday school classes with the idea of equipping them to help in crisis."  But we also know that there is some percentage of couples that are in a crisis that we don't know about, and we can get to them earlier by doing that.  So it serves a dual purpose and maybe catches the train, at least as it's leaving.

Bob: You know, that is such a shrewd strategy for a church to step in and say, "Here, let's watch these videos because you may know somebody.  We know that you may be somebody, and we just don't know who you are, and watching the videos can help wake you up to the reality of what you may be facing."

Dennis: Bob, this happens at our FamilyLife Marriage Conferences all the time.  We have couples who come to our conference, and I don't think they realize that the train is leaving the station for a divorce.  They are in trouble, but they don't know it.  They're isolated, but they're numbed over by their activity, and they don't realize that they've lost the intimacy that they've gotten married to experience.  And at the conference they're confronted with the truth, they're brought face-to-face with one another in projects where they express love to one another, and I think, in some cases, our conference is used mightily by God to back that train back up to the station and give some folks some help when they can receive it before the communication lines go down, and the emotions go up, and the anger starts getting expressed, and the adversarial relationship gets a established and is being fed by a couple of lawyers who aren't really interested in helping this couple keep their marriage covenant.

Steve: In fact, these two lawyers, these people who you think are on your side and defending you, which, in some respects they are but will probably play golf together on Saturday and are family friends and may go to dinner that evening.

Dennis: You know, as you were talking, I just thought we've been kind of hard on a certain profession here on the broadcast today, and I just want to recognize the fact that there are a number of very fine Christian attorneys involved in the church that are committed to the Scripture and to doing what's right.  That's not who I'm talking about.  I don't want you to write me, ticked off at me.  You don't need to write me if you're doing what's right, because we're not coming after you at all, but I'm going to tell you something, there are a number of those who aren't committed to doing what's right …

Bob: … there are some snakes in the grass?

Dennis: That's exactly right and you know what?  That's true of every profession including our own, Bob, and I just want to encourage the Christian attorneys who are standing strong to keep standing and stand firm, and those who aren't – check your motive.  Ask the question, "Who is your God and why are you doing what you're doing?"  Because there is a judgment that is going to occur, and I would hate to be a compromised attorney; I'd hate to be a compromised preacher; I'd hate to be a compromised movie owner, are you with me?  I mean, the Scripture is clear.  You will be held accountable for your actions.

Bob: And you know what would be great is if the Christian attorneys who are listening to us or someone who knows a Christian attorney would get the DVD series that we've been talking about this week, "Choosing Wisely Before You Divorce," and anyone who came to the office and said, "Would you represent me in a divorce proceeding?"  The attorney would say, "If you will watch these DVDs then I'll represent you."

 I agree with Steve – there are some folks who are victims in a divorce proceeding, and we're not trying to beat up on anybody, but those who would initiate, those would say, "This is the best thing for my marriage," I just think it would be good for them to watch this DVD series and weigh that out.  It could be that an attorney who would put these DVDs in the hands of a prospective client would be a messenger of God to bring a little reality to the situation.

 We've go the entire DVD series in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and whether it's a church or an attorney or just a friend who wants to put them in the hands of another friend who is considering divorce, these DVDs lay out the facts and help folks understand the real financial, emotional, legal realities of divorce.

 You can get more information about the DVD series, "Choosing Wisely Before You Divorce," by going to our website at FamilyLife.com, click the button in the middle of the screen that says "Go," and that will take you right to a page where there is, again, more information about this DVD series.  There is also information on our website about the upcoming fall season of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference, and it may be that you want to pass along information to someone you know who is in a difficult spot in their marriage, pass on the information about when a Weekend to Remember conference is coming to a city near where you live and, once again, if folks register this month for that conference, FamilyLife Today listeners will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee.  That's the group rate that we're making available to our listeners this month. 

You can get more information about the upcoming fall season of conferences on our website at FamilyLife.com, and if you register online, as you fill out the form, when you get the keycode box, just type in my name.  Just type in "Bob," and that way we know that you're a FamilyLife Today listener, you want the Bob special rate, and we'll get you registered at a $60-per-couple savings off the regular registration fee.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY and let someone on our team know that you're a FamilyLife Today listener, and you'd like to register for an upcoming conference, and we'll get you taken care of.  Again, the special rate is available during the month of July so call today or go online at FamilyLife.com and get registered for one of these upcoming conferences.

Now, tomorrow we're going to continue our conversation with Steve Grissom.  We'll be talking about the things that couples need to be thinking through and things that individuals need to consider before they make the life and family-altering decision to end a marriage relationship.  If you know somebody who ought to be tuned in tomorrow, call them today and invite them to tune in and listen.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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