Want a divorce?: How to tell your husband (or wife) you want a divorce

Want a divorce? Want to tell your spouse that it is over? Spitting up can be hard…


First of all, making the decision to get a divorce or to ask for a divorce is not easy. Sometimes it takes years to achieve clarity as we pointed out in this post  But then, once you have achieved clarity, once the decision is made, now you have to figure out how to actually ask for the divorce. This is what this post is about: helping you actually tell your spouse the bad news.

 So. You’ve decided that you want to file for divorce and you are wondering how to break the news to your spouse. Asking for a divorce, or telling your spouse you want a divorce is serious business, not to be handled in a blasé fashion. If you think your spouse will be blindsided, you really need to think about when and how you break the news for any number of reasons. For example, if your spouse is prone to violence, suicidal tendencies or obsessive compulsive behavior, it is wise to really think about how you do this and where and under what circumstances for your safety as well as theirs.

Our advice is that you try to adopt the right tone when you ask for the divorce. That’s very important. Try to keep in mind that you had once loved this person and you probably have children with this person so he or she is likely to be in your life for a long time to come.

 I would advise you to exercise all other options before even asking. Give the marriage enough respect to try counseling or some form of therapy by a third party. (I don’t say that to be condescending or to preach but I honestly believe all marriages can be saved if both parties are willing to do what is needed to be done)  So make sure that divorce is really the only option that is left. Ask yourself, Is the marriage really THAT bad? Before you even approach a divorce attorney to file a divorce petition. Read this post on How long does the divorce process take.

After you have made absolutely sure that this marriage cannot be saved and that it has “irretrievably broken down,” you have to think about the right time and place to tell your spouse you want a divorce. Chances are, if you are so unhappy, your spouse probably is too (even though many spouses claim they never saw the divorce coming), so it won’t usually come as a big shock to most people when the word “divorce” comes out of their spouse’s mouth.

But I am sure it is still a very unpleasant word for anybody to hear. So don’t yell it from the mountaintop. Try not to ask in anger. Try to ask on a day or moment when you are feeling zen-calm. Put it to your spouse in such a way that the divorce is the best thing for the entire family – you, him, (her) and the kids. This strategy can help to decrease the stress that comes when one party is broadsided by the request for a divorce. Not to mention the rage, violence and criminal assaults.
Emphasize that the divorce only involves the two of you, not the kids. But if you expect to have custody, say so during your zen-calm speech. So that you will know right away how your spouse intends to deal with that bit of news. We advice that post-divorce parents should try to share custody wherever possible. We believe in co-parenting and encourage divorcing couples to eschew custody battles at all costs.
If you fear anger from your spouse, maybe you should try to have another family member in the house, or another adult, or if that is not possible, orchestrate a situation where you are both out of the home, in a place where other people are. But you still want to be sensitive to the other person, so you are going to choose a place with enough privacy and publicity to achieve both your objectives of communicating you want a divorce, but not putting yourself in physical jeopardy, and at the same time, being sensitive to how your spouse will take it.
Do not equivocate. When the conversation is over, the other person should understand beyond doubt, that the marriage is over. Use clear language: “I want a divorce. I have started the paperwork.” Telling your spouse something like, “I think we should be apart for a while,” is not clear language. This could be misinterpreted and you will open yourself up to more angst and stress in the long run. “I don’t love you anymore, and I want a divorce. I think it is the best thing for the two of us, and for the kids. I have (or will) start the paperwork. I hope we can work this out amicably,” that is clear language. That is how you want to tell your spouse you want a divorce.
At the end of the discussion, it is better if you have already secured alternative living arrangements – if this is a volatile situation. And if there are no children or assets, it will not really matter. However, if there are children and assets, you do want to be careful about moving out. Because if you leave the kids and then you say you want custody, you run into the problem of your husband (or wife) saying you have given him (or her) “de facto custody” when you walked out and left them. (So you may want to engineer a situation where you take them when you leave.)
The same is true for the marital residence. If in fact you want to stay in the home while the divorce is being processed, it is better not to leave because your spouse can say you gave him or her “de facto possession.” That is not going to affect your marital share of the estate at the end of the divorce but it does affect what happens during the pendency of the action. Remember that you want to do the Math before you actually ask for a divorce. By that I mean, calculate how much this divorce is going to cost you. Can you afford a contested divorce? Or do you both need to try to work this out amicably?
Yes, asking for a divorce is sensitive. You have to weigh and assess your personal situation. If it is more favorable for you, you might want to get your spouse to be the one to agree to leave the marital residence during the pendency of the action. Some couples continue to cohabit throughout the divorce. This can be stressful if there is antagonism that is not fully overt. In other words, some husbands (or wives) are able to conceal the fact that they are essentially a menace to their spouse from the court. If the judge does not have a basis to grant exclusive possession of the marital residence, you are unlikely to be able to get the spouse out before the divorce is adjudicated. And if, god forbid the judge hates you (this happens, by the way) she may just order that you two cohabit just for kicks.
And, of course, some divorces can take years to adjudicate…Are you in one of those situations where there is more than one house? High net worth spouses and billionaires don’t usually have this problem of having to cohabit during the pendency of the divorce. That is a very good thing if you are in this group. If not, there will likely have to be some negotiation.
Notwithstanding these caveats, you should really consider when, how and where you ask for the divorce. (And if all else fails, have your therapist tell your husband or wife that you want a divorce if you can’t do it yourself.)
Originally published November 27, 2008
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Read about the hidden costs of divorce here