Love and marriage don’t always go together like a horse and carriage.
Although New Zealanders are getting divorced at lower rates than a decade ago – 8.6 divorces in every 1000 unions compared to 10.9 in 2009, according to Statistics NZ – it doesn’t mean we’re getting any better at staying hitched. Marriage rates have been in steady decline for decades – fewer marriages, less divorce.
Kiwis are also getting divorced later, with the medium age of marital demise occurring at 47 for men and 44 for women, an increase of eight years from a decade ago.
While there is an increase of two years in the average length of a union from 12 years in 1992, Kiwis are getting married later in life. In 2017, the average age of a marriage was 32 for men and 31 for women, compared to 1992, when men married at 29 and women at 27, on average.
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These are statistics that divorce coach Bridgette Jackson sees in her work, as well as in her own divorce, that started in 2014.
Jackson’s services stretch from practically supporting someone through a separation, mediation as an alternative to a costly legal battle, all the way through to bringing on forensic accountants and lawyers to assist clients in court.
These days, “there’s a lot more pressure on people”, said Jackson, explaining why marriage could be harder than ever before.
“There is a lot more expected from people to be the perfect parent and to cope with the extra demands of the world.”
Jackson has noticed a tendency amongst her clients to end a marriage while kids are young, rather than the older mindset of persevering until the parents have an empty nest. However, women still tend to be in the dark when it comes to family finances, even if they have successful careers.
“Eight [times out] of ten, it is the male who controls the finances,” said Jackson, who is also a trained lawyer.
While statistics paint in broad strokes, divorce is complicated and unique. Here are three recent stories from Jackson’s clients. Names have been changed to protect identities and interviews were edited for clarity.
Tom has been married for over 25 years and finally separated from his former-partner last year.
My extended family have all been pretty supportive and pretty anti the relationship for a while, because they could see how it was affecting me.
Nothing I could do, or my family could do, was ever right. I had this person who was always chipping away in a narcissistic way.
I’ve tried my best for a long period of time, but it came to the point when I couldn’t stand being in this person’s company any more. My brother separated in his 20, and I should have, too.
My children thankfully are in their 20, and they can deal with me on one side and their mother on the other.
We came to an agreement pretty quickly on our assets. The first two or three weeks after the separation were horrible. I went into a period of stress and anxiety, which I got medical help for. Going through renting again and thinking, “I’m never going to have a house again”, was hard.
I got into exercise and ended up losing 10kg. You can burn off some of your energy and frustration. It helps you mentally and physically.
Now, I’ve come a long way and I think I bounced back pretty quickly. I’ve heard from relatives who’ve said, “We used to know someone who was very quiet and didn’t say much and yet here is this person who is alive and well and joking and kidding [around]”.
I’m now the person I used to be 20 or 30 years ago. I feel like I won the Lotto everyday.
Linda was in a relationship for 18 years, including 11 years of marriage, with someone from a wealthy family.
We had known each other for years and bumped into each other when we were both living and working overseas. I worked in human resources, as well as a personal assistant in London and on oil rigs running logistics.
We came home in the early 2000s to get married and have our beautiful children. I didn’t return to work after my first child. We had a few properties that I helped manage, besides taking care of the kids.
I would say there were cracks in the marriage for years before I left in 2014. I was not privy to accounts or how the finances were run. I had signed things, including a pre-nup, without understanding what they were. When you marry into a wealthy family, it doesn’t really feel like it is a partnership of equals.
The year I left was probably the most traumatic of my life. I moved to Lake Tekapo without my children and started working in a management position in the hospitality industry while I managed two rental properties. I was able to tap into skills that I had forgotten. It was quite an empowering time for me.
In the six years since I decided to leave, I’ve spent more than $300,000 on legal fees. I had to sell the two properties to fund that. The custody aspect only wrapped up last year and the final settlement was agreed upon this year.
It has basically been taking baby steps and also being a solo mum, working out how I was going to support myself off of my settlement. I now do that by managing my own investments in shares, Bitcoin, gold and silver.
Jackie, a medical professional, doesn’t regret calling an end to her union after less than 10 years, when her kids were still at home.
I married in my early 30s and we had a lot of stressors in our marriage like IVF and bereavement. However, the marriage really started to dissolve when my husband started a successful business.
We started the marriage as equals. We ended not as equals due to me having kids and taking a big hit with my career, and him controlling the finances.
Thankfully, the law wasn’t written by him. After a significant fight, and a lot of money, we are basically equal financially now.
I should have left sooner. That way, I would be five years down the track, instead of three.
I stayed because I was scared of him and scared of how it would impact the children. But there came a time when I just knew that anything was better than what we were living in and subjecting our kids to.
There was verbal, emotional and drug abuse. I didn’t want that life for me – or the kids. The life we lead now is infinitely better.
I get a lot more me time now which wasn’t part of my plan. But when I am with the kids, I am twice the parent I was when I was in the marriage because it was a full-time job to manage such a dysfunctional relationship.
If you have to invest that much time in another relationship, your kids are not getting the best of you. That’s a reason to work out whether you want to stay or not.