Promises and Divorce: What To Do When Best Intentions Can’t Be Honored

You made me promises promises
You knew you’d never keep
Promises promises
Why do I believe?

 – lyrics from Promises, Promises by Naked Eye

When a couple first decides to divorce, before the mediator or lawyers are hired, well-intentioned promises are often exchanged:

  • You and the kids can stay in our home as long as you want.
  • I won’t take this valuable asset from you.
  • We will share 50/50 child custody.
  • I’ll pay for the kids’ college.
  • I won’t ask you for spousal support.

These are all good faith promises that may sound familiar to you. And when you or your spouse made the promise, it was with the best of intentions. Then the divorce process starts, and one of you begins to hesitate, to step back, and wants to modify that promise. The one who made the promise feels bad and guilty and the one who relied upon it feels angry and betrayed.

If you are at the beginning stages of your divorce, remember that things change. Perhaps you simply have more information today than when the promise was made. Perhaps you didn’t realize the implications of what you promised. Perhaps circumstances have changed such as a job change, medical issues or other factors that weren’t known when you began discussing divorce with your spouse. Collaborative divorce attorneys and mediators can help you understand and negotiate these changes and the unique circumstances of your divorce in a way that respects the promises that were made and allows for shifts needed as the divorce process moves forward.

As difficult as it is to accept that what you thought was an ironclad promise is not actually going to happen, it’s much better to know this before a settlement agreement is signed, as opposed to after. There’s nothing that will make your post-divorce life more miserable than to base an agreement on promises that will be impossible to comply with months or years down the road. If you want your divorce agreement to be durable and to never have to be argued about or brought before a judge for non-compliance, then you want to make sure all misgivings and concerns are addressed before you sign.

It’s for this reason that your mediator or attorney will be asking you probing questions to make sure that your agreement is based on a realistic assessment of the situation and that promises made can actually be kept.

It’s normal to be hurt and emotional during your divorce. It’s normal to feel betrayed when a promise is not being kept. But it’s important to move forward, and not be roadblocked by a promise that cannot be honored, whatever the reason. Call on your divorce team to help you separate the facts of your divorce from the emotions. This will help you make the best decisions now and avoid unnecessary conflict later.

Contact us for more information about how mediation and collaborative divorce can help you enter into a durable agreement with promises that can actually be kept.