DIVORCE CAN LEAD TO THE LIQUIDATION OF THE FAMILY FARM

No family or community is exempt from the disillusionment of marriage. In other words, everyone knows someone who’s been divorced. Considering that roughly 40% to 45% of all North American marriages will end in divorce, the law of averages is barely in our favor.  

A few counties over, a friend of mine had been married for over 25 years, and after celebrating their silver wedding anniversary with family and friends, she realized that another quarter century was going to slip by, and she’d wake up an old lady who’d lived half her life in misery.

Since both kids had graduated high school and had gone on to live their own lives, she found herself alone, living on the farm with only her husband. This was supposed to be a good time according to everything she’d read, but she was starting to dread the mere thought of waking up and facing another day and the ensuing routine.

It wasn’t a physically abusive marriage, and as far as she could tell there wasn’t another woman or any trouble with alcohol or drugs, their personal relationship just didn’t exist. Their marriage, or whatever they’d had, was long dead.

Nancy and Steve, as I’m going to call them, barely spoke unless it was farm related. Conversations only consisted of what needed to be done, or what had been done wrong. This had been going on for so long that neighbors didn’t even see a problem, as Steve had always been a bit of a crabby sort, and Nancy seemed to be able to handle him, and his fluctuating moods.

What neighbors didn’t realize, is that days would sometimes pass where Steve only uttered grunts and commands, Nancy continuing on with her household duties and outside chores as if being personally punished for the inclement weather or the dipping grain prices.

When Nancy suggested marriage counselling, Steve nearly choked on his supper, a meal he always took in front of the television after he’d removed his chore clothes and showered for the night.

Again, the topic wasn’t up for discussion. Steve didn’t see any problems, Nancy was just being ridiculous, and they had better things to do besides driving to the city and talking to some ‘head-shrinker’.

Summer morphed into fall, and harvest didn’t allow time for the frivolities of relationships and feelings. There were never enough hours in the day to bring in the crops and simultaneously take care of the barns. Life was a race against the clock and the impending frost, even weekend visits from the kids rarely putting a dent in the harvest rush.

As the snow finally blanketed the land, and the pace slowed to normal, Nancy once again began pondering her situation. Nothing had changed, if anything, Steve’s moods had only intensified this last year as his frustration with the harvest continued to hang over their house like a cloud of fog. Age was not bringing out the best in her husband, and her ability to handle his moods was wearing thin.

Steve was noticeably disappointed with the kid’s lack of help, angry that they’d chosen to go camping on a few weekends instead of moving bales or hauling grain as they’d always done in years past. He couldn’t understand their need to break away from the farm, and he passed on his frustrations to his wife.

Consciously spending her spare time in the city under the guise of Christmas shopping, Nancy took the opportunity to visit a divorce lawyer, a name she’d secretly found on the internet. He was more than willing to work with her, and when they started discussing common property and marital assets, her stomach began to churn.

When you live and work on a family farm, divorce isn’t just the termination of a marriage contract, it’s the division of assets and liabilities. Your land, equipment, livestock, grain, retirement savings plans, stocks, and all outstanding debts are all part of the discussion.

In other words, everything including the doghouse will be put on the table.

Nancy tried one last time to talk to Steve, but the discussion ended in an argument. He made it very clear that if she wanted to leave so damn bad, if she didn’t appreciate everything he’d given her, and everything he’d built for the family, she could pack her clothes and leave.

The yelling only ended when Steve accused Nancy of going crazy during her change-of-life, stomping up the stairs to spend the night in the spare bedroom.

By the time Nancy’s lawyer, and the lawyer Steve had reluctantly hired were finished their initial meetings, it was clear that neither Steve nor Nancy were sitting in a financial position to buy the other out.

With a portion of the land still mortgaged, and the remainder held as bank collateral for equipment loans, the only option would be to sell the farm, have an auction sale, and divide the proceeds for the legal division of marital assets.

Nancy didn’t want this, and was willing to take a quarter share instead of her legal half, just so Steve wouldn’t have to liquidate. She just wanted enough to buy a house in a neighboring town, and going against her solicitor’s wishes, she proposed this to Steve, forced to have the conversation in the middle of an empty calving barn.

Steve hated her now, she could feel it as he glared across the pens he was reinforcing with recycled lumber. Choosing to mutter profanities instead of engaging in an actual conversation, the meeting quickly disintegrated as Steve finally kicked her off the farm she’d obviously chosen to abandon.

Nancy was noticeably rattled by his anger, having moved out months prior, she wasn’t used to being yelled at like a petulant child anymore.

When the dust finally settled a year later, Nancy was able to buy a house in town, and Steve was able to hold onto the homeplace, and the livestock. The grain land was sold to a neighbor, the proceeds coupled with money from privately selling a few bigger pieces of equipment were all bundled together to pay Nancy off.

I know that Nancy dearly misses the farm, her days now spent tending her rural garden plot, and working as a prep cook in the local senior’s lodge. She tries to see her kids as much as possible, but splitting their weekend visits between their mother and father doesn’t leave a lot of time for either.  

Steve won’t even speak Nancy’s name, unable to drive by the land he’d been forced to sell because his wife went ‘woman-crazy’, as he’d reluctantly confided in a neighboring family.

The retirement years where Steve and Nancy were supposed to enjoy the fruits of their labors, all the decades of back breaking farm work would not be materializing for either.  

Nancy would have to work fulltime until her pension check was able to cover her household bills and daily living expenses. Steve also continued to struggle with his cow/calf operation, his grain checks no longer available to cover fluctuating livestock prices.  

The marriage had dissolved, and so had their family farm. Last I heard, Steve had sold most of his herd due to his own failing health, and it looked like he was going to have to sell the homeplace too.

Nancy and I still stay in touch, but with her changing shifts at the lodge, it’s not always so easy to arrange face-to-face visits.

I understand that when a marriage is falling apart, and either the husband or wife are unwilling to try and repair the relationship, there is little that one side can do.

As a proud member of THE FIFTY CANDLES CLUB, I mourn for Steve and Nancy’s loss. To some it may just seem like a business, but a farm is so much more than just that. It’s your home, your livelihood, and your passion. I pray we’re never faced with a similar situation in our home, or you in yours.

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