Why Won’t He Take Steps To Finalize His Divorce?

I have been with someone for six months. He and I are very compatible and have a great time together. He has two kids who I’ve grown to adore. The only problem is that he’s still married. 

He’s been separated from her for three years (she cheated on him). He wants a divorce from her and she’s a massive pain to him, but he just won’t take the steps to begin his divorce. Until recently, he was still paying her bills on top of his own (she refuses to get a job because she’s a “musician.”) She has custody of the kids and all he can talk about is getting custody of them, but I can’t get him to begin to take the steps he needs to go through to get to what he wants.

On top of this, any time I bring it up, he accuses me of being worried he wants to go back to his wife. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I just want him to be happy and it is obvious to me that he’s not happy in his current situation. Please help me. I love my boyfriend and he loves me. I love his children. I just want him to take the steps towards being legally separated from her. -Caitlin

There’s absolutely nothing preventing your boyfriend from getting a divorce.

Your question reminds me of one I got a year ago, in which a man wrote in that his girlfriend wanted him to get a divorce, but he wouldn’t because he was on his wife’s healthcare. In that instance, I sided with him. He was clearly in love, but he was caught between a rock and a hard place, because getting married would cost him tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

It was one of the rare instances in which the majority of my readers disagreed with me. And while I haven’t changed my position one bit, it’s always stuck in my craw that I couldn’t get more people to see his point of view.

And that’s why I chose your dilemma, Caitlin. Because while your situation is similar, there’s a very important distinction that tilts my sympathies in your favor:

There’s absolutely nothing preventing your boyfriend from getting a divorce.

In the previous case, a divorce wouldn’t benefit the man at all. In your case, a divorce would free him officially from his ex and allow him to start over with a clean slate.

So that begs the question: why would a man who has been separated for three years from the wife who cheated on him NOT want to divorce her?

Beats the hell out of me.

Which is why your question is better directed towards HIM than yours truly.

I can’t omnisciently declare what’s going through the minds of all men, especially when it’s not clearly rational.

The best source of clarity, therefore, would be your boyfriend.

When he says, “You’re afraid I’m going back to my ex,” and you say, “No, I’m not. I’m afraid that if you never get divorced, we’re never going to get married,” you’ve ended his false line of reasoning and put the ball back in his court.

Now, instead of letting him wiggle out of it with another non-answer, nail him down and get an answer to the following $64,000 question:

I can’t omnisciently declare what’s going through the minds of all men, especially when it’s not clearly rational.

“Why don’t you initiate divorce proceedings and get legal shared custody of the kids? What’s holding you back?”

You may learn that he’s financially dependent upon her.

You may learn that he still hopes to get back together one day.

You may learn that a divorce will cost him a lot more money in alimony than he wants to pay.

You may learn that the status quo is fine and that a divorce may hurt the amount of time he has with the kids.

Or you may just realize that he’s a doormat – a man who is willing to pay the bills for his cheating ex-wife and play entirely on her terms.

No matter what you learn, Caitlin, at least you’ll get some clarity moving forward.

And if marriage is your endgame and he’s not playing, it’s time to walk.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Teri

    One excuse could be:  why should he?  he doesn’t want to marry again, there is no reason to.

  2. 2
    Diana

    Your boyfriend may genuinely want a divorce, but he lacks the motivation to do anything about it. It’s easy to want something, but it’s an entirely different process to act upon it and to do the hard work it takes to bring it to fruition. The reason(s) for his lack of motivation could be many. You don’t explain how you bring the issue up or specify what you’re asking him, so it’s difficult for anyone to know how to advise you.
     
    As difficult as it may be to understand, there is some kind of payoff or satisfaction he’s receiving by not moving forward which is greater than his state of unhappiness. He may not be insightful or self-aware enough to recognize this.
     
    At the end of the day, no matter how great your love, support and encouragement are, they are not going to be able to get him to change this part of his life. He is the only one who can release himself from a way of life that he has chosen to live. It has to begin and end with him. In fact, your best intentions could actually push him farther away from dealing with the issue. Your continual, loving presence in his life, despite the circumstances, might make him feel that he doesn’t really have to change anything. It’s status quo.
     
    The decision you have to make is whether you’re comfortable waiting for a hoped for outcome that may not happen, and for how long. How much do you love him? More importantly, how much do you love yourself?

  3. 3
    Gem

    Look, it really doesn’t even matter what his reason is. You got involved with a married and unavailable man. It may have been acceptable to you at first if you thought divorce was coming, but you now can see it’s not a priority for him.

    I’d tell him that since he has unfinished business and is unavailable (emotionally, psychologically, or whatever) for a new relationship, I’m leaving, and when he is free he can look me up.

    But since you’re not, IMO, being completely honest with yourself due to your reason for wanting him to get things moving that you “just want him to be happy,” I suspect you’ll be strung along for years. 

    Don’t do that to yourself, run, date others, and let him figure out what he intends on doing without dragging you into this drama as well. 

    1. 3.1
      tennillewade

      this helped me a lot and it wasn’t even my story.

  4. 4
    Kim

    Caitlin, I saw the title of this post and I thought uh-oh, this sounds wayyy too familiar to me.  I was involved for two years in a similar situation with a man whose wife not only cheated on him, but moved out and moved right in with the guy three years earlier.  He didn’t want to get a divorce and would say the same thing … “I’m not going back to her, so why are you worried?  Its a non-issue.”   He was paying for her health insurance, life insurance, and cell phone.  Finally, she hired an attorney and went after his house, retirement and alimony (he had custody of the 1 child still living at home).  He waffled about getting his own counsel until things looked bad for him, and then in the end, she ended up getting his entire retirement savings, but not the house or alimony.  I was there for him all through this, supported him emotionally and listened to his rants against the soon-to-be ex wife.  The end of the story?  Right before his divorce was final, he broke up with me, and then two months later, after the divorce was final, started dating this woman whom he works with, and he threw me out like last year’s trash.  He basically cut off all contact with me, saying his new gf wouldn’t like him talking to me, and that our friendship “wasn’t worth it.”  Now, I’m not saying that your guy would be so cold and callous as this jerk, but be careful.  I thought this was the love of my life, and in the end, he used me as a salve for the pain of going through the divorce.  My guess is that the new woman wouldn’t date him until his divorce was final, and when he saw that it was imminent, he got rid of me as fast as he could. 

    Be very clear as to whether there is a commitment from him, and what happens to the two of you post-divorce.  Be listening for statements of the future that include the two of you, like “we will do this, or that,” and “our lives,” “our home,” and so on.  If you aren’t hearing sounds of a commitment in the future, and he isn’t making a move to get the divorce, you should be wary.

  5. 5
    Monica

    Caitlin, I do not know if the reason a woman will not divorce her husband would be the same for a man, however, I have been separated from my husband for 7 years now. The reason I have not divorced him is because I havent found anybody that I want to marry yet. Of course I am looking, do go on dates, and have had boyfriends, but none have lasted long enough for a serious relationship. In your case, since you have been with him in a serious relationship for 3 years, I think that it is time for him to divorce if he wants to have a future you. It took me along time to finally get over him. I think I was also hoping that maybe by staying married to him, one day soon we would get back together. Maybe he would beg me to come back to him. He never did. You should tell him to divorce asap. If he still refuses, he may not be ready to move on.

  6. 6
    Margo

    Caitlin, this is a BAD situations because no matter what his excuses are for delaying the divorce, you want to be married. Tell him if he won’t divorce her, you’re leaving.

  7. 7
    Lance

    As everyone on this forum should know, divorces can be super complicated and take a long time. There may be factors that Caitlin hasn’t listed, especially financial ones. I have a friend that has been separated for 3 years and the divorce, while in the works, is incredibly slow and tricky because of all the financials: two kids, co-owned property including a foreclosure, they live in different cities, he changed jobs etc. They’re both dating other people and the fact that they’re still legally married hasn’t been a roadblock. This requires good lawyers and accountants to work through, not dating advice. 

    On another note, Caitlin should find out what the real considerations are and respect his timeframe is it’s legit.

  8. 8
    Angie

    Hi Caitlin,

    I can empathize with your situation, but seeing that it is YOUR feelings and emotions, I don’t think you should go to your boyfriend with the idea: “I just want him to be happy and it is obvious to me that he’s not happy in his current situation.”

    YOU aren’t happy, whether or not you believe that he is unhappy, and YOU aren’t happy because he has a massive roadblock up that is obviously impeding your relationship from progressing.  Make this about YOU.

    If he is financially unable to get a divorce at this time (which seems questionable if he is footing his wife’s bills) OR even more important, he feels this will damage his relationship / the time he gets with his children, back down and decide if you are in it for the long haul.  

    I agree with Lance… find out his timeframe.  If there is no gameplan, you better take some time and think.

  9. 9
    SS

    I agree with Angie. (Well, I agree with almost everyone so far.)
     
    This statement.. “I just want him to be happy and it is obvious to me that he’s not happy in his current situation,” seems to be a bit of reaching on the letter writer’s part to make it seem as if she’s not ONLY thinking about herself, but about her boyfriend too. I find that women (yes, I am one) do this a lot… like if a woman knows a man she’s dating is seeing someone else, she’ll say, “Well, I should tell the other woman too for HER sake.”
     
    But is that really it, or is it more of a need to get some semblance of revenge? And in this case, is it really about wanting the boyfriend to be happy or the fact that SHE is unhappy and wants things to change? Own your emotions instead of trying to put up a seemingly altruistic front to deflect from the real issue here.
     
    Anyway, right now, this man seems to be perfectly fine with the state of his relationships as they are. He might not be happy or the situations might not be ideal, but he hasn’t finalized his divorce for a reason — and that reason doesn’t matter. The question Caitlin should be asking is why she’s bothering with this. Six months is not terribly long to cut her losses and move on, and no, no ultimatum needed.
     
    I wish people who choose to date folks who are still married would think about these things before they get themselves emotionally involved. It’s very likely that your married boyfriend/girlfriend has no plans to divorce for a long time and if marriage is what you want, you’re chances of that are immeasurably better with a man or woman who is NOT married when you meet him or her!

  10. 10
    Kate Candy

    I’m separated and have no plans to divorce my estranged husband.  We are not romantically involved, but we are close friends.  People who date me want me to get a divorce.  I explain that I have no plans to do so and ask what my being divorced would change.  That stumps the men I’m dating and they realize that our relationship would be no better, no worse if I were divorced.

    In the case of the LW, she sounds very angry to me.  She is angry that her boyfriend is spending so much money on his ex, and that he has not moved forward to get custody.  I think the LW has no idea how complicated divorces can become.  Even simple ones require time and a few hundred dollars.  As Terry (#1) posted earlier, why should he?  Men love to complain about their ex-wives.  It’s best to shut that down.  After all, he married the woman and had children with her.  So she cheated on him.  That doesn’t make her an evil person.  

    As everyone here has noted, this is about the LW, not the man.  He doesn’t want to get divorced.  If he wanted to, he would be.  It also sounds to me that this relationship is flawed and his being divorced will not change that.  

    The LW should move on to another relationship.  She’s learned what she needs to from this one.

  11. 11
    JB

    The question really is…….with a hundred million SINGLE(not married,seperated etc…) men on the planet why do SOME women have to get involved with married men and then piss and moan when it’s complicated and doesn’t work out smoothly?

    I date seperated women all the time,ya know why? Because I don’t want to get married and they can’t ask anything of me because THEY’RE  M A R R I E D !!!

  12. 12
    Steve

    He has been dating her for 6 months.   If he is very interested in her it would seem that he would have voluntarily and proactively explained why his divorce is taking more than 3 years.
     
    Am I being naive in thinking this?

  13. 13
    starthrower68

    I am not without compassion for Caitlyn because she loves this guy but it’s time for them both to fish or cut bait.  I suspect that while the dude in question loves Caitlyn, he’s holding on to the situation for as long as he can and recognizes that it has a shelf life.  He may be sad if Caitlyn leaves but deep down he knows he wasn’t willing to do anything to change the situation.

  14. 14
    Ruby

    “She has custody of the kids and all he can talk about is getting custody of them, but I can’t get him to begin to take the steps he needs to go through to get to what he wants.

    On top of this, any time I bring it up, he accuses me of being worried he wants to go back to his wife.”

    If he really wanted a divorce, he would take the necessary steps. Perhaps he really would like to go back to his wife, even though he may realize that it isn’t possible. He may really want custody of his kids, but he isn’t ready to cut the cord with his ex. Or -and this might be the most likely scenario – he just doesn’t want to remarry, so staying tied to his ex gives him a convenient excuse to avoid it.

    He hasn’t even started the steps towards a legal separation after 3 years? Something is very wrong here. How much time has Caitlin got, because she’s got a long wait ahead of her. Being separated and actually being divorced are two different things.

  15. 15
    Venus

    I agree with Terri @ 1. 

    He’s probably not interested in getting a divorce.  This way he can keep his make-believe family intact and avoid making a commitment to another woman.  Chances are he still secretly harbours hopes of getting back together with his ex.   How much more time are you willing to spend on this?

  16. 16
    InsertPseudonymHere

    ” Even simple ones require time and a few hundred dollars.”

    Wow.  What state is this in?  In Cali it takes several hundred dollars in court fees just to file the initial petition. Maybe a short term marriage with no children, property or support payments can be this cheap. I came out of a divorce with essentially no contested property claims and near complete agreement on parenting and custody. It did take about $6k in mediation and individual consulting lawyer fees before we both had a clear realistic picture of what support would look like. After that, we spent a total of another $10k before the agreement was completely drawn up, all the little details were hashed out and various fees were paid.  Oh, it also sucked up about 200 hours of rather emotionally draining hours of my time over a period of several months(*).

    Why the long tale?  His divorce is is going to be expensive. His divorce will take an emotional toll over a long time. This is why people dread the task.  Relationships with pre-divorced folks are harshly tested by the process. Oh, and even if the relationship survives, the divorce process can be a time of self-evaluation and some people come out of it with a different direction in life. This is the reason many people on Match.com treat “separated” as a deal breaker and filter them out of their searches. When I was separated several potential dates declined to meet me specifically because of that. I never understood why until I came out the other side of the tunnel. Good luck. 

    (*) Part of that soliloquy is venting about how f**d up it is that you can get into a contract so easily without appreciating the 20+ pages of legalese needed to end it. :-( Also that even a non-adversarial mediation process feels like a scam. They bring up details we never would have considered and probably would not have missed from the agreement, yet they became talking points at hundreds of dollars/hour.  Oops!!  Still venting! :-D

    1. 16.1
      Frozentc@yahoo.com

      It only cost $150 for my divorce here in Alaska. We agreed on everything and I have custody of our son. 

  17. 17
    Zann

    Oh come on. Sure, divorce is usually a very unpleasant thing. It can be emotionally wrenching while at the same time tedious, all while ripping up your self-esteem.  But this doesn’t sound like a case where divorce proceedings have simply gotten bogged down in the fine-tuning of custody/property/financial issues.  This guy hasn’t even started the ball rolling. I agree that the reasons don’t really matter, and it likely has nothing to do with love or a lack of it. But he’s still in a marriage, still complaining about it (victim), and yet not taking any steps to get himself out of it. That tells me he feels quite safe and secure in his self-made prison, while enjoying the company of Catilyn. And not to put too fine a point on it, but you have to admit, there’s nothing quite like still being married to make you marriage-proof in the dating world.

    I know the last thing I want to be doing in a developing relationship is trying to convince my man he should really, really get divorced.  That’s something he should want to do because he wants to be free to get serious about me. But he should also want to do it so he can get on with his life in general, instead of just complaining about it. As for Caitlyn, I just hope she believes that her discomfort with this situation is reasonable and that she’s not responsible for his happiness — he is. I’m sorry, but he sounds like he’s got some serious whiner-blamer potential to me. And I’m sure it’s no picnic for his kids, either, being in this limbo for 3 years, while mom and dad do their immature feuding and complaining about each other instead of getting on with their lives.  

  18. 18
    morgan

    Maybe he’s just delaying the inevitable trip to the cleaners.  It’s no fun facing the fact that you’ve been a cash cow to an entitled princess (which is what she sounds like).

    Or maybe he hasn’t moved on emotionally. 

    Or he has moved on and sees no particular reason to get divorced, like some people see no particular reason to get married.

    You won’t know until you push the issue, which after three years seems like a reasonable thing to do.

    There’s another version of this story where he’s divorced but still hasn’t moved on emotionally – it isn’t always about the piece of paper.

  19. 19
    nathan

    I was involved with a married woman for about a year recently. There was a lot of wonderful things about the relationship, but she was also stuck when it came to making things final with her husband. It was all quite complicated.
    But my main point in this discussion is that while I believe these situations can sometimes work out, what my own experience as well as what I have seen for others, is that the whole ground upon which the relationship is built isn’t stable. When one or both partners come into a relationship with this kind of unfinished business, they tend to be muddled and unclear. So, even the best expressions of love and desire for a future together are mixed with tangles from the past.
    I think you do have to be direct and find out where this guy stands. And even though it might be terribly hard, if he doesn’t want to make a plan, take steps, or offer some really good reason for why things are as they are, it’s best to leave.
    I was basically forced to leave, which maybe was just as well. Whatever you do, Caitlin, don’t let the same thing go on for years on end. It will be much harder to break free the longer it goes.

  20. 20
    JB

    For the record….it’s usually women that won’t date separated men or filter them out online.I’ve never met one guy that has said they wouldn’t date a separated women just because her divorce wasn’t final etc….especially if the said woman was attractive.

    Every online dating site can track and prove that men have no problem contacting “separated” women about 100X more than women will even respond to an initial contact from a separated man.

  21. 21
    Steve

    @JB, post #20,   why bring that up in the conversation?   Do you have a problem with men?   FWIW,  to put it crudely,  I could probably go to bed with a different woman each week from the pool of married friends I have who have let  me know that they are there for the asking.   To spoil your rule, I am one man who does not date married or separated women.

  22. 22
    m

    “I’d tell him that since he has unfinished business and is unavailable (emotionally, psychologically, or whatever) for a new relationship, I’m leaving, and when he is free he can look me up.”
    What Gem says.

    I am usually hesitant to be harsh about my own gender’s choices — we get enough of that from the general population — but I really wish we would stop dating people who are not yet divorced.  If that just stopped, separated men wouldn’t have all these fancy little options to encourage them to drag their feet, and if they really wanted the new woman they’d met they’d step up and get a move on with the divorce. 

    It’s a lady’s scarcity mentality that breeds that “I’d better snap him up right away before he becomes fully available” mentality, and men prey on us as a result.

  23. 23
    Steve

    The common wisdom is to not get involved with someone until s/he is complete divorced and has had time to sort their lives out.   EMK has a nice saying that tells people to look at what people do, not what they say.   These two ideas seem to cover all bases of this situation.

  24. 24
    Starr

    As a recently divorced woman, I couldn’t WAIT to get the final paperwork and move on.  Could it be possible that these people who don’t get divorced may still want to be together?  I would not date a man who was still married, i.e. separated…too many loose ends and potential problems (like this).  

    Based on the responses here it is clear that relationships are complicated and we all vary in what we deem acceptable and if a person is happy with whatever situation they are in, then great, but this women is clearly not happy with the situation and may benefit from broadening her prospects.  If this guy is really serious about her, then he’ll take steps to proceed with a divorce.  Or not.  And then she’ll know if he’s the one for her.

  25. 25
    Margo

    @M #22, agreed. This is just a bad situation. The OP should run from this fast. This man refuses to go ahead with the divorce. He is only concerned about himself and his own emotional and financial needs right now. Whatever he chooses to do at this time, whomever he chooses to live and spend time with, He’s still married! What don’t women understand about that?? Another dating coach has said, “If he’s still hers, he can’t be yours!”

  26. 26
    Laine

    Gem at #3 summed it up succintly. Separated men are unavailable as they have unfinished business emotionally, legally and financially despite them often believing otherwise. They may feel ready to move onto another relationship, when infact what they are doing is covering up the pain of the marriage breakdown. They move from having a sense of being part of a couple, straight into still being a couple. Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you that you need time alone between relationships to find yourself as an individual again and not transfer problems in the marriage onto the next relationship. Separated is just another way of saying”still married”. Move on and tell him you can no longer see him whist he remains married. Good luck to you.

  27. 27
    Janet

    When a relationship lead to this kind of situation, there is usually something else involved rather than purely love. I think there is something about financial issue and getting divorce would be super complicated with the legal system.

  28. 28
    Lance

    @Kate Candy, love your response. If you’re still reading these comments, what are your reasons for NOT ever getting a divorce? That’s interesting information.

  29. 29
    Kate Candy

    Lance, thank you for the compliment.  Here’s why I don’t divorce: 1)  I was the defendant in a very ugly lawsuit.  I can’t deal with going to court again.  2)  I planned and paid for the wedding.  If he wants a divorce, he can file the papers and pay for it.  3)  I really liked being married.  Before I got married, everyone (and I do mean everyone) wanted to get their two cents in on my being single.   “Have you met anyone” and “Is it going anywhere” were frequent questions and I felt bad for not living up to everyone’s expectations.  Now, people ask if I’m married, I say “Yes,” or “Yes, I’m separated” and it’s a different conversation. and 4) I’m an orphan without siblings.  My ex is my emergency contact.  When I tell people I date these reasons for not divorcing, they say, “Yeah, but….”, but what?  My ex has a girlfriend.  They live together.  We’re all cool.  What’s the big deal.  And ps, I don’t have any problems getting dates.  As someone here said, guys aren’t that reluctant to date someone who’s separated.  At least, they know I won’t pressure them to get married.

  30. 30
    Goldie

    @ Kate #29, I guess I do understand your reason #4, but not the other three. ##1 and 2, if you guys are all cool, you can settle out of court for a very low amount. And #3, first of all, who cares what people say? Second, yeah when I was 20, everyone was in fact asking why I was still single and whether I had found someone and there was this really nice boy they knew… no one asks me now. I guess after a certain age, provided you’ve already done your time, you’re allowed to be single ;) And finally, if you want people to think you’re married, well just tell them you’re married – what are they going to do, ask for your marriage certificate? ;)
     
    As far as getting dates, heck I could get dates (if I wanted to) when I was still married and living together… A serious LTR is another story. If a man has not finalized his divorce, doesn’t have a good reason why, and cannot tell when it is going to be final, I’d be leery of entering into an LTR with him, because to me it’d be like living on a ticking time bomb – anything could happen any day, from him going back to his wife to his wife suing for alienation of affection, cuz guess what, I am living with her husband… unless there is a compelling reason for him to be separated and not divorced, I’ll pass.
     
    Not trying to convince you or anything, it’s just that three out of your four reasons don’t sound compelling to me.

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