The pre-divorce process is a rough period of time. It's the three to thirty-six month period in a rocky marriage where one or both spouses are considering divorce. A lot can happen in a day let alone three years so the confusion, chaos, concern, and back and worth wavering of the pre-divorce process is to be expected. However, when you add the possibility of pregnancy to an already troubled marriage, is it time to make some strategic family size decisions? Yes, it is.
A lot of the mistakes made in the pre-divorce process come from not fully considering the long-term post divorce consequences. Pregnancy is no different. Far too often, couples look to a possible pregnancy as a marital fix. The thinking is if a new baby comes into the picture, the marriage will take on new significance, meaning and there'll be more reason to "try harder" to save the marriage. However, what's not being thought of here are all the additional stressors, financial burdens, and additional responsibilities that can make a rocky marriage go from bad to worse.
Here's the truth: Children don't save marriages; spouses do. Here's another truth: Having a new baby will not make a person fall in love with someone they've chosen not to love anymore. Here's a hard but necessary point: The more children a person has, the less time he or she has to spend quality time with his/her spouse and other children so the idea that a new baby will increase closeness and intimacy, at least for a long time or without a good nanny, is not likely. Whatever is going on in the marriage right now will be exacerbated when adding a new baby to the mix.
There's more to pregnancy and the pre-divorce process than the ill-advised and very selfish route of conspiring to have a baby to 'save' the marriage. In many cases, a pregnancy occurs unplanned. Neither person wanted to add another person to the family but, for whatever reason (lack of consistency, follow-through or sheer disregard for what's going on in the marriage), a pregnancy pops up and now two people who really don't like each other have to deal with the fact that one night of forgotten anger and unbridled passion has led to a new life and an added complication to what was looking like a divorce.
In this situation, a number of factors need to be considered:
1) Can this marriage, by any means, be saved?
2) How does each spouse feel about having a new baby and possibly getting divorced?
3) Has a petition for divorce been filed?
4) What are the custody rights of each parent to the unborn child if divorce is likely the way that things are going?
5) If there are other children in the marriage, how are they feeling about a new brother or sister given the current home climate?
It's important to understand just how complicated a pregnancy makes the pre-divorce process if divorce is definitely the way things look like they're heading. It's one thing to talk about custody of children who are walking, talking, engaging human beings with faces, smiles, and personalities. It's a whole other situation to discuss custody with a child who, for the next nine months, will be completely held by the mother and, thereafter, could go any which way. Complicated? Yes. Messy? Yes. Not fair to this unborn baby? Absolutely.
Many states see unborn children as being under the jurisdiction of both parents, whether the wife/husband want to keep the baby or not, whether either spouse has decided to go for full custody or not. The situation can get even more complicated if there's a question of paternity. If, for some reason, the wife separated from her husband, moved to another state with the kids, fell in love with another man, got pregnant, and is now filing for divorce, even though the baby is not the husband's, in a legal sense, he still has custody rights (in many states) to that child because the child was conceived under the umbrella of the marriage. I'm no legal expert and this is not legal advice but if anyone is facing this situation, the number one thing a person needs to do is get an attorney involved. It could get very messy very fast.
Here's the bottom line: Babies are blessings. They don't ask to be here but with each and every one comes unlimited number of miracles. However, if there's even a 10% chance that divorce is the route being chosen, do not complicate the sorting out of the pre-divorce process by adding another person to the mix, someone who did not ask to be brought into a rocky marriage or a chaotic family. There's enough collateral damage in a rocky marriage to go around. Do not add another child to the mix.
If the above advice is too little too late and a pregnancy is now in place, here are some key pre-divorce strategy points to consider:
1) A lawyer is necessary the moment that divorce becomes more of a certainty that working things out. Custody, even if it isn't much of an issue before the birth, will become an issue right afterwards. Be prepared.
2) Time the "I want a divorce" conversation appropriately. Whether it's the husband telling his pregnant wife or the pregnant wife telling her husband, be sure that those words aren't uttered or spoken about until there is a clear understanding of what the game plan is for custody and child rearing.
3) Know where the health insurance will come from once the divorce is final. Far too often, women have their health insurance through their spouses. If the marriage is on the brink of divorce and a baby is on the way, health insurance becomes a necessity and it's critical to know how that will be provided post-divorce.
4) Go to all prenatal appointments, take the prenatal vitamins and be a diligent, conscientious parent. Nothing looks worse to a judge than a pregnant woman who isn't taking care of her body (and thus her baby) or is abusing the baby by using drugs, alcohol and/or not taking proper prenatal care. Cover all the bases and be sure to keep documentation that of all the proactive prenatal care steps taken.
5) Last but not least, if, for any reason, the pregnancy is a result of a marital affair (whether it's the husband who got another woman pregnant or the wife who got pregnant by another man), a serious plan for establishing paternity/maternity and separating that child's future from a custody battle need to be made in advance. This requires a highly qualified attorney who specializes in child custody so be sure that there is enough money to cover that expense and there's enough time (i.e pregnancy is only 40 weeks) to plan for the consequences of this affair and pregnancy.
Maybe this topic sounds soap opera-like, a new episode of Jerry Springer or Maury Povich. The reality is that this kind of stuff happens every day and it happens to people from all walks of life, all education and income levels, whether they've been married six months or forty years. Never say never. At the end of the day, the wisest pre-divorce strategy to use when it comes to pregnancy is abstinence. The second wisest is birth control and the third wisest (especially if the deed's been done and a baby is on the way) is having a great lawyer who will look out for the best interests of all children involved (including the unborn child).