Should I divorce my wealthy but abusive husband?
If you are asking this question, it is an emotional, difficult time for you. It is easy to become overwhelmed with feelings of, "How can a man tell me he loves me and buy me nice things, but treat me so badly other times?" "Why is this happening to me?" "This is not what I hoped for at all." "How will I provide for myself if I leave?" "How do my friends escape these problems?"
Making a good decision will be a blessing for the rest of your life. Making a bad decision will bring heartache and difficulty to everyone involved. We are all different; the same solution does not work for everybody. This article will ask you the important questions that you must answer to make a good decision—and to avoid a cycle of continual abuse.
To be on the same page, we define "abuse" to be physical violence, adultery, alcohol or drug addiction and/or continual lying and manipulation. Sometimes, women are just suspicious that some of these things might be happening. If there is no clear evidence that would utterly convince another unbiased person, then wait, watch and pray. You will eventually find out and can take action then.
If your husband just frequently argues or is simply gone to work all of the time, that is a serious marriage problem you need to reconcile, but it is not abuse. Talk about it, find counselors, but do not divorce. If you are sure there is abuse, then keep reading.
Is your husband really trying to overcome his problems?
This is an all-important question. Most well-off men got where they are by great self-confidence and motivating people to do things their way. Their thoughts and vocabulary are not filled with "I am wrong" or "I am hurting someone else". Yet it is God's will that your husband confesses and becomes cleansed of all his sins (1 John 1:9-10). God is a God of miracles.
Statistically, you can consider how big of a miracle you will need. How many marriages has your husband had previously? How many relationships that produced a child? How many other sexual partners has he had? If the numbers you know about now are larger than they were when you first married him, that means he, you and God have more work to do. If you have worked very hard to keep those issues and your husband's abuse a secret from close family and friends, that also works against you. What is most important to you, the image or the substance of your family? Sin can hide in the dark. The light of God exposes it and cleanses him from it. You do not need to waive his sins around like a flag in front of everybody, but when you are having serious conversations about where you are going with your life, hiding the truth will not help either one of you.
You need to ask those same questions of yourself. If you have multiple prior marriages, children (abortions count!) and sex partners, you are going to need power from God to overcome this destructive kind of relationship—either in this marriage, or if it fails, in a future marriage. If his numbers are substantially higher than yours, there is a greater chance that you can have a good "next marriage" and he will repeat the same thing.
But everyone is an individual, every situation is new and God works with individuals. Do not let statistics make your decision, but consider where you and your husband are right now:
Will your husband, when he is calm and communicative, admit that he has unacceptable behavior? Can he say, "I am sorry that I hit you sometimes"? Can he say, "Yes, I have had sex outside our marriage"? You know what your husband needs to see in himself. Sure, these admissions often come with excuses, maybe even blaming you for "causing" him to be abusive. And you probably have done things that hurt your marriage. But can he admit that his actions are wrong, also?
If you husband refuses to admit his abuse, try talking to him about it at different times and in different ways. Get other mature Christians or counselors involved if he will accept them. If this goes on several months and he will not admit to the problem, let him know the next step is divorce. If more time and more efforts do not bring him to confess some of his sins and start to improve, then it is time to go through with it. Skip to "Why did you marry, anyway?".
But most husbands who want to keep their wives will probably admit to some faults—maybe because they know they have them, or maybe because they know that is what their wives want to hear to convince them to stay. Figuring out the truth is your all-important task. You need to know if your husband is really going to try to change or if he is just promising to get a few more months or years from you—maybe hoping you will eventually give up on trying to change him.
If you have been with your husband a lot, you probably know him pretty well. Have you seen him convincingly lie to business associates or his own relatives? Can you see that he is doing the same thing to you? Super-honesty with yourself is all important. If you want to preserve your marriage so bad that you are willing to ignore the truth, you will not get the solution you desire—the disappointment will just continue.
This is not to say that all husbands are hopelessly deceitful. Most men do not think about relationships near as much as women do. They may intellectually believe their wife is supposed to do whatever they want as long they pay the bill. So, think it out well. Here are some other clues. In an effort to admit his mistakes and reconcile, does your husband...
Is there any hope for the wayward husband?
There are men who change and make a serious effort to become better husbands. It almost never happens as quickly as their wives would like, but it does happen and it is worth the effort when it does. What will work for you may not work for the next couple. It is up to you to find it. Here is the cardinal rule that must always be on your mind:
When one effort to improve fails, do not repeat it expecting better results.
Change your methods to be more impactive, more time consuming, more public, more effective. For example, if your husband promises he won't do something again, then does it, just don't accept another promise and repeat the cycle. The second time, write the promise down. If it happens again, post it somewhere in the house where he can see it every day. If that doesn't work, write down consequences that will happen—maybe going to a friend or counselor to talk about the problem. (Economic consequences are not as good for a well-off man. He needs to change, not simply "buy off" his problems.)
Beyond this cardinal rule, there are numerous things that can help your marriage get better. The Internet and marriage books are full of detail, but these are some ideas of what to look for.
All of this should be approached from the standpoint that it is making both of you better people—for yourselves and for the Kingdom of God. You must continue to respect your husband even as he struggles through these things. Realize that there are other women who have a completely different set of circumstances: they never doubted that their husband loved them and wanted to please them—but they spent most of their marriage wondering if he would earn enough money to keep them alive.
Which brings us to a good question:
Why did you marry, anyway?
While the reasons for entering this marriage—and the reasons you might marry again may be far, far from your thinking right now, they are the key to your solution. Even if you were divorced tomorrow with a very good financial settlement, the reasons why you married in the first place will still be a part of you. Some may change; some may disappear, but some will probably remain. People marry for
The last point is one people do not think of often, but it is a vital part of the Christian life. We can hide our faults from most people most of the time—but there are few we can hide from our spouse. You know that about him. He probably knows that about you. Nobody ever marries a perfect person who never offends you and gladly endures all of your faults. We both see them the other's faults well, and our own no so well. But we also help the other overcome and become the better person they should be. This process is what God is interested in and what we should be interested in as well.
You might want to think about which of the above eight points were part of your decision to marry. You might add some of your own to the list. Which ones has your marriage fulfilled? Which are lacking? If you do divorce, what will you do in the future? Will your desires for the reasonable expectations on this list just go away? We realize that looking for a new relationship may be the furthest thing from you mind right now, but what you do right now will tremendously affect the rest of your life. Do you plan to be single till you die? Is that realistic?
You need to ask these questions right now because a very common outcome for divorcees is finding themselves, a very few years later, involved in another relationship that has nearly all the same problems as the one they left. If that happens, you will again be facing the very same questions you are facing right now—except you will be a little older, a little more tired, and a little more skeptical that a good marriage is even possible. You may have children from more families, more step parents and more lawyers to deal with. You are much better off going all out to save a first marriage rather than a second—better saving a second marriage than a third, etc.
This is why this article is asking you so many tough questions. You cannot stop your husband from being abusive toward you, but you can stop yourself from accepting and choosing an abuser.
The eight-item list, above, began with shallower desires and ended with deeper spiritual needs. Which were important to you when you were first married? Which were important to your husband? Has that changed? In order to help your husband overcome his difficulties, you will need to focus on the more spiritual purposes of marriage. If your husband is caught going out on you or abuses you, will you accept a fun night out and an expensive gift to reconcile? Does that help him become a better man or you a better woman? Or is he just buying off his character flaws? Jesus taught us to focus on the important spiritual issues:
"So don't worry about these things, saying, 'What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?' These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT-SE)
If you divorce this abusive husband, you probably will think about looking for a new spouse some years into the future. How will you meet this man? Will you go to the same sort of places, wear the same type of clothes and jewelry, act the same way and essentially be the same person you were to meet the man you divorced? This is vital. Unless you ask God to give you strength to change your life, you are likely to attract the same kind of man and repeat the same mistakes over again. Again, you would be better staying with your current husband and working to overcome your difficulties together , rather than finding a new but similar man and going through the same problems over again. The more often you repeat the marriage/divorce cycle, the harder it is to stop it and find a happy, life-long marriage.
Not all marriages have children, but the importance of making a good decision is at least 10 times greater when children are involved. If you make a bad decision for yourself and your spouse, you were certainly struggle to some degree for the rest of your life. But you can grow to understand it, repent, forgive and avoid making the same mistake again.
Even when parents are cooperative and do their best to avoid dragging the child into their disagreements, divorce is still devastating to children. You must think beyond "What is most convenient for me right now?" Children will almost never understand their parent's divorce until they are old enough to have potential marriage relationships of their own. Then they are usually angry. They learn what it is like to be attracted to someone. Then they also realize that their parents did not care enough to control their desire to give them a full-length two-parent childhood.
If your own parents divorced, think about how you felt about it back then. If you had close friends as a child whose parents were divorced, think about how they felt and talked about it. Do you remember children who hardly knew one parent? Do you remember those who hated a step-parent? Do you remember kids who missed a lot of school activities and social events because they were constantly going back and forth between two houses? Two "half-time" circles of friends are nowhere near as good as one full one.
This writer was blessed with parents who remained married for 58 years, then passed away two weeks apart. I grew up thinking everybody's home should be that way. I can still remember the puzzled and hurt looks on some children's faces when somebody would ask a trivial question like "Does your dad go fishing?" or "Does you mom bake cookies?" Sometimes no answer came—there was just the look. Other times: "I don't have a dad" or "Which mom?" or sometimes a long-winded excited explanation about the one time that they were actually with their parent and they did something together. Before I surrendered to God and He put His love in my heart, I thought these children of divorce were "weird". I probably said that to them sometimes. I am sure they felt it from me—and from others. The saddest thing is there was absolutely nothing they could do about it. They did not create the problem. But today, with your children, YOU are the one who can do something about it.
You should want to make the very best decision possible for the benefit your children—and you husband's children. You need to pray, get help and find the godly answer for your situation:
Hear the Bible on the matter
A thorough Bible study on marriage and divorce would require an article many times this size. Here are the scriptures that best address your situation. First of all, Jesus accepted sexual immorality as a valid ground for divorce:
"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I [Jesus] say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32 ESV)
Jesus did not utterly require a person to divorce a spouse who was unfaithful. Except in the case of premeditated murder, the Bible allowed the victim to have mercy on the perpetrator. "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13 ESV). The Bible commands Christians to work out their marriage differences in mutual love and respect, so that it reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5—read this chapter together if you have not!) The Bible further teaches that believers should stay married to unbelievers as long as they are willing to continue to live together in peace:
If a fellow believer has a wife who is not a believer andshe is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. And if a believing woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. For the believing wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the believing husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy. (But if the husband or wife who isn't a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such casesthe believing husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.) (1 Corinthians 7:12-15 NLT-SE)
If a person is a believer, they ought to be willing to submit to the judgement of the church (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 6:1-11; Hebrews 13:16-17). If they do not Matthew 18:17 says to treat them as an unbeliever. An abusive spouse—violent, substance abusing, etc.—may claim to want to continue living with his wife, but if the abuse prevents her from living in peace because she is frequently under attack, then she is no longer bound. This is not a decision that one should make likely. Elders, older mature believers, should be involved. But usually, abusive spouses do not want anyone else involved.
Since this article is about dealing with wealthy abusive husbands, we need to deal with the wealth aspect. It is a special challenge for wealthy people to even be able to enter the kingdom of God:
And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23-24 ESV)
Most rich men believe they will be able to keep their "image" when it comes time for eternal life. But the Bible teaches otherwise. The Apostle Paul, talking to believers, said:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV)
on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:16 ESV)
For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. (Jesus in Mark 4:22 ESV)
But it is possible for wealthy people to have successful marriages and to achieve the Kingdom of God. The Bible does give us examples of wealthy men and women with whom God is pleased:
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. (Acts 10:1-2 ESV) [The story continues and Cornelius and his family become the first group of non-Jewish believers in Jesus.]
And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. (Luke 19:8-9 ESV)
Joanna, the wife of Chuza, [King] Herod's business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. (Luke 8:3 NLT-SE)
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:14-15 ESV)
Never give up hope. Even though Jesus cannot be fooled, he can change you, whoever you are. The above stern warning to rich men in Matthew 19:23-24 concludes like this:
When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:25-26 KJV)
One last chance to save the marriage
If all of your honest efforts to save your marriage have not worked, it is time for a legal separation or divorce. Sometimes, going through with all of the legal process reaches men with the message that their problems are serious and only then are they willing to make the necessary life changes (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). States vary widely on their legal separation laws, but virtually all allow or require a certain waiting time on divorces, so you can file for divorce, then physically move out and use that time until the legal case is closed to see if your husband will change.
Unless you feel your husband is a physical threat to you, do not get a protective order stopping him from communicating with you. Some mendable marriage situations have been stopped by such orders.
In many states, if the husband is the one who files for divorce, he may have to pay more alimony or child support than if the wife does the filing. Sometimes, husbands will treat their wives badly, just hoping they will file. In nearly all cases, if an abusive husband is not trying to overcome his difficulties and he also files for divorce, the marriage is beyond repair. If you have been honest with yourself and close friends and your abusive husband wants a divorce, it is time to do it, even if he wants you go file—skip to "Exit strategies". If you have lied to yourself to convince yourself your marriage is beyond repair, you will almost certainly find yourself in the same situation again with your next serious relationship.
Most husbands who love their current wives and want to keep them, when faced with divorce, will privately admit to having some difficulties and will promise to change. They may even want to change. The question, of course, will the impending divorce really change them or is it going to just evoke another round of false repentance and empty promises. This is a time to go back to the "Is there any hope for a wayward husband?" section and write down a list of changes and consequences you expect. Do not simply accept verbal confessions and let yourself feel good about them. If it took written divorce papers to compel your husband to admit his faults and change, it will take written goals to remind him how close he got to losing his marriage and what he needs to do to keep it. These are not "punishments", but tools to help him become the person he needs to be—for God, for his eternal life, and for you. If he wants you to have written goals, too, do it!
If you have received good counsel and rightly decided to go through with a divorce, there is still some long and difficult work to do. You will need to plan for your financial future, choose the best arrangements for your children (if any) and probably escape an angry, soon-to-be ex-husband.
If your financial plan is to get as much money as you can out of your husband, even if you have to put on an act, lie cheat and steal to do it, you probably should stay married to him—so you can both learn to overcome your greedy, manipulative inclinations together.
On the other hand, when a well-off husband is not interested in overcoming marital abuse, it is reasonable to expect to provide for his ex-wife to make a transition to a new life. If you signed a prenuptial agreement, it will probably control what you get. (If the "prenups" gives you a modest but reasonable amount when you divorce, it shows he did not trust you—there are women who marry then take a man's money. If it gives you nothing, he probably intended to use it to control you in this very situation.) Without a "prenup", every state has different laws controlling alimony and child support. The money and resources you will receive will depend upon how long you have been married, your past financial contribution to household income, your past standard of living and your future needs.
While our legal system makes an effort to be fair about these things, it is commonly known that wealthy people are much better served than poor people. Unless you have previous experience representing yourself in court, you will probably need an attorney to represent you. Sure, the court will probably order your husband to pay for your attorney, but that does not solve all your problems.
Any honest person who knows our court system will tell you that the attorneys in a particular jurisdiction tend to know each other and work together for their own benefit, which often includes staying on good terms with the wealthy and powerful people in their community. To them, there is no particular long-term benefit in bringing justice to a divorcing woman who will fade from their future financial picture. But the wealthy man will continue to have business and legal dealings with them, so there is a tendency to favor him. Unfortunately, this can also be true for judges.
Pray about which attorney to choose. You are best with someone that specializes in representing women in abusive marriages—who has a personal stake in trying to bring justice, rather than just "in it for the money". The biggest, most expensive law firm that equally represents both men and women in divorce cases is probably the most likely to be swayed by the financial, political environment of your city or county, which probably favors your husband.
Even with lawyers on your side, be wary they want to go to the court to get things for you that the law does not usually allow. The lawyer may not get anything helpful for you, but he or she will certainly get paid for trying. Even when a lawyer is doing a good job working for you, there is a tendency to drag out cases, especially where children are involved, because there is a wealthy person who can pay their fees.
The safest way to exit a marriage from an abusive, manipulative, possibly vengeful, man is for him to turn his attention and energy away from you toward something or someone else. If he starts a big, time-consuming work project, or pursues another girlfriend, it will be much easier to peacefully depart. Yes, it will feel bad that he so quickly deserts you, but this is a part of divorce. Your marriage will be over—he will not help or care about you anymore, and you will not be able to effectively help or care for him. God and others will need to do that. Be glad that he is on to something/someone else and not making your life difficult. If you have this situation, thank God for it, and "don't upset the apple cart". Let your attorney negotiate a reasonable settlement and get out of the marriage.
Even with attorneys and courts involved, divorcing a vengeful man can be a dangerous thing. If your husband has already threatened you with physical harm or financial ruin if you "dare divorce him", having your lawyer get a Personal Protection Order is a good idea. But that does not solve everything. If you know your husband has done "dirty deals" to business competitors or people he does not like, you can expect him to do the same or worse to you. He can hire people—in a way not traceable to himself—to assault you, damage your vehicle, rob you or even plant evidence to make it look like you committed a crime. Do not make the mistake of thinking you can solve it by telling the court how bad he is. If you do not have clear evidence of criminality, and if he does not have violence in his criminal record, he will effectively deny all your accusations and his attorney will agree with him. Unproven accusations you make can be used against you to claim that you are incompetent or mentally unstable. If this is the type of person you are married to, it is another reason to leave him.
Do not give in to fear. Secretly get help. You should probably get a separate phone for that communication—he can probably track you, maybe even listen to you though the phone he gave you. Work with family and friends to find a safe place to live while the divorce is in progress and to move you all at once. If your fears are real, they will help you. Do not work with anyone whom he knows well unless you completely trust them. Your attorney can appear in court for you in most situations. To retain child custody, you will need a definite address of a dwelling suitable for children. Your own place is by far the best, but you can stay with relatives or friends provided the court would not see any of them as a "danger" to your children.
Tell your lawyer that you want a settlement that gives you the least future entanglements, rather than the most money. In most states, if you have shared child custody, you cannot normally move more than 100 miles away from your spouse or out of state. If your ex-husband is willing to give you these arrangements in exchange for less money, that will make your future so much better. You can always earn money, but it is difficult to get an angry ex-husband out of your life if you are court-ordered to interact with him.
Many husbands will insist on shared child custody simply so they do not have to pay child support. Others will do it just to harass you. If you know that he spends very little time with the child, but when he has the child, he gives them to another family member or baby sitter to care for, this is an important thing to bring up in court to help get custody. If he is substance abusing or physically abuse in the child's presence, that is also important. But this will have to be proven in court—it cannot be just your word against his. He will certainly be angry with you for trying to prove it. But if there are witnesses to this behavior, who also might not want to be drug into this, now is the time to stand up strong and ask your lawyer to do it. You have been with him and you know what he does and who the witnesses are. Once shared custody is granted, it is not easy to get full custody yourself—you no longer live with him and he can easily keep negative information from you.
Telling your family and friends
In the hopeless cases where divorce is the best solution, there is a tendency to want to hide it. But that is impossible in today's modern world. If you do not explain what happened, they will talk to each other anyway. People find out about friends' and relatives' divorces by looking them up in on-line court records. It is better to circulate a true story, told in as positive of light as possible, than to let others circulate a negative, possibly untrue story. It is better for your close family and friends to hear that you understand your mistakes as to who you married and how you handled it.
Telling the truth helps you realize who you are in the sight of others and ultimately the sight of God. Our society looks positively on women who marry wealthy men. You had a chance to live in that glory for a while. You also had to live in the abusive side of it. You now have a better appreciation of why some pretty and capable women happily live their entire lives married to a poor but loving and Godly man. You will change your future for the better by asking, "Were they wiser than I?"
Telling the truth about a divorce will ultimately help your ex-husband as well. If he is the type to circulate false stories about you, it is good for the truth to be out there. Do not get into a competition trying to get all of your mutual friends to see it your way. Just put the truth out there when appropriate and discerning friends will figure out which story is true. You want to drop all of the friends that are taking "his side" largely for financial or political reasons.
May God bless you!
This writer has prayed for every reader of this article to grow in this difficult situation. He has prayed for wisdom for you to see who you are, who you married, and what is the best course of action for the both of you and for the children involved. May God bless you at this difficult time.