Readers of this column for the past 27 years know I am willing to embrace hard topics, and farm divorce fits that category. The four farms touching ours have all experienced divorce. Country Guide, September 2022 issue mentioned the average age of divorce in Canada is 46, and the length of the marriage is 32 years. In the past 2 years, I have had more calls from folks divorcing on their farms than in the past 20 years.
I have a friend who separated from her farmer until he got sober, went to AA, and embraced their “redemptive separation”. She sought counselling, and 3 years later enjoyed a consolidated relationship with her husband, until he passed with cancer 7 years later.
Divorce stories are tough, but how can we embrace lessons to help family healing?
- Seek Counselling to repair the marriage. If not, then divorce Coach Bob Blank is at 250-477-2662
- Get financial support. Sara McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org is a fee-for-service planner who has worked with my divorcing farm clients.
- Have excellent legal advice early in the process. One legal professional suggested drawing a large sum of money $100K, to navigate the financial roadblocks before you separate. Nasty credit bill stories abound. Get clear on how you are going to manage during the process.
- Solidify your emotional support group. Divorce crystallizes who your true friends are in small towns. Local or regional self-help groups can support you without judgment.
- Practice extreme self-care. Listen to the OYF podcast for free encouragement. Find a mental health worker.
- Be transparent with your accountant and know your personal assets.
- Ask for help, this is a long journey. Be a courageous friend to support the kids. Listen well.
We need to seek more understanding to learn how to walk alongside farm families who are experiencing the breakup of their marriage and the farm business. Tara Driggs has graciously spent hours compiling her insights from her farm divorce to educate all of us.
Here is her story:
“When asked to share my experience, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Writing this article has been hard and has brought layers of grief and tears I thought were behind me. But through the tears, the belief that my story has the potential to help someone else has propelled me forward.
I grew up in Montana, a 4th generation ranch kid in a family that embraced and encouraged education and contribution by men and women in our operation. I married into a 3rd generation grain farm in Saskatchewan with different beliefs and roles. I embraced my love of agriculture and the mutual dream my spouse and I shared. We built an operation with combined efforts and the help of his family and mine. We focused energy where we were skilled, and together we were successful.
I believe in multi-generational agriculture. It can be a wonderful way of life. It DOES take hard work, a lot of it. You must be willing to DO the hard work. In the end, when I made the choice to leave, it was heartbreaking and scary. These are some of the steps I went through in the process.
- Recognizing I needed to leave
There is a tipping point when you decide you need to leave, whether that’s the marriage, the farm, or both may not be clear. We had struggled with issues in the marriage, but our common goals kept us moving forward. The day I wrecked a knee in the lambing field was when I recognized something needed to change. Physically I could not continue with livestock in the fashion I desired which forced me to consider other options. Seeking legal and financial advice at this stage helped me prioritize my health and the well-being of the children.
The next steps focused on obtaining finances for and locating housing, getting the kids started in new schools, and continuing the operation of the farm. At the time it became apparent the marriage would not survive. The process that followed was the most difficult I’ve ever been through.
- Fear, isolation, and finding help
I went through an uprooting of my values. If I had truly married for life, for better or worse, what did that mean? What about my faith commitment? Even with a strong family background, education, and skills, I was terrified. I lost my sense of belonging, my sense of self. I spent over 20 years as part of his family and community. It was the only home my children had known. Statistics of the impact of divorce on kids is scary. What was I doing to my children? It weighed heavy on me that I was the first in my family to divorce, as was he. Was I was letting down my parents?
He was surrounded by immediate family and his home community. Moving into town meant I was starting over. I was 500 miles from my closest family. Whether true or not, the perception he had ample support, and I did not, worsened the feeling of isolation. Further, I felt outcast and judged by many people in the community, including family members, for a decision that was private and extremely painful. The fact that many said nothing was harder than I imagined. I was in pain and my children were in pain. For those who aren’t sure, a simple hello can be an act of compassion. I fully acknowledge and remember those who did express compassion to me. I am slowly and gratefully reestablishing some of those connections.
I have a deep love for rural life and moving was hard to grasp. Moving meant leaving everything behind, home, work, family & community. Having a support system was crucial. I obtained support through my family doctor, mental health and addictions support groups, and personal counseling. I sought support for our children through counseling options, school staff, and other local resources.
- Finances and finding work
My partner and I had mutual trust and good communication about financial decisions. With a business degree, I understood the finances and was primarily responsible for managing them. Most of our accounts were joint. I didn’t foresee that as a problem but as trust eroded It became problematic.
Initially, I continued my role with finances, and we began decisions about the livestock. Eventually, we chose to sell my sheep flock. When loading 17 years of your life’s work on semis, it’s a hard day. It’s another layer of grief.
With 15 years of teaching experience, I thought I would return to teaching. That proved difficult. I was re-entering the job market at age 50, with multiple degrees, subsequently higher pay, and outdated skills from leaving 7 years previously to focus on our farm and children. Additionally, it was difficult to return to employment after successful self-employment.
- Legal Steps and obtaining a settlement
Three years later, after mediation, then collaborative law, we ended up in the costly courts. Ultimately, I wanted a settlement that allowed everyone involved to continue forward. I did not want him or his extended family to suffer because of a breakdown in our personal relationship. The reality is everyone hurts.
In the final days of reaching what I believed to be an equitable settlement, these are the values I focused on: He loves to farm and so does his family. I wanted them to be able to continue. They were my family and remain a part of my children’s family. Everyone involved has value. I HAVE VALUE!! I contributed over 2 decades of my life, skills, love, sweat, and tears to our dream and now I didn’t get to live out that dream. Further, continuing the farm legacy to the next generation was potentially in jeopardy. I accepted that, but equitable settlement remained a must. I believed that was possible and that I would do everything in my power to help that happen. Equitable does not mean equal. You MUST be flexible to an arrangement that allows both of you to continue forward. That does NOT mean the person leaving should have to start over completely to make sure the family farm continues.
Through the years of raising children during marriage breakdown, personal health challenges, difficulty obtaining work, financial uncertainty, and the legal and costly work of settlement; my goal was to stay true to those values. I had no idea the 6 years following my departure from the farm would pull on every ounce of strength to accomplish that goal. And when I thought I had nothing left I would have to dig deeper. Hard decisions were made. Eventually, a settlement was reached. In June of 2022, the pasture I began loving and nurturing in 1995 was sold. More tears flowed. More healing is ahead.
- Where do I go from here?
We are all moving forward. My oldest son is in Saskatoon working and deciding about further education. My daughter is in Halifax pursuing her dream of dentistry. My youngest started high school loves welding and continues to spend half his time at the farm. The farm continues and both my sons helped with the harvest. I am still trying to get my feet under me. I accept temporary teaching contracts when available. My finances are more stable, and I am developing a new direction. My path led me to business coaching certification and the joy of contributing to the success of other business owners. I am a healthier, happier person. My passion remains with agriculture and has evolved to encompass women in business.”
Did you enjoy What I learned from my farm divorce? You might want to check these articles out too: