How To Tell Your Spouse You Want A Divorce

how to tell your spouse you want a divorce

The moment you officially tell your spouse you want a divorce, and the aftermath of that conversation can never be completely undone; even if you change your mind, it’s a freeze-frame experience you’ll remember for the rest of your lives. 

If you have children, the energy and words exchanged during and after that conversation must be thoughtfully planned, as children are unwilling bystanders to an emotionally devastating change in their reality. How you approach the communication process – before, during, and after the initial announcement – can make the difference between an affordable, streamlined, and less stressful divorce – and one filled with drama, emotional harm, and lasting financial consequences.

6 Steps To Telling Someone You Want A Divorce & Simplifying The Process

After 40 years working as a family law expert specializing in divorce and child custody mediation, I believe how you tell your spouse you want a divorce is a key predictor of how the rest of the process will unfold. 

Here are six steps I advise for anyone considering or tottering over the fence around divorce.

Be very clear and 100% sure before you breathe a word

The words “I want a divorce” are weapons, and they trigger a myriad of powerful emotions and experiences for anyone who hears them – including your children. I recommend never uttering this sentiment unless you are 100% sure you want to proceed with a divorce and have a semblance of a plan in place. 

Outside of more extreme situations (unmitigated domestic abuse, addiction, unmanaged mental illness, etc.), couples can overcome and grow through incredibly challenging periods – often lasting for years – when they can let go of their personal agendas and utilize their resources. 

Ensure you’ve tried EVERYTHING:

  • Is there identity work that needs to happen now that you’re in a different stage of life/relationship/family building/etc? Growing pains, rather than irreconcilable differences, can be deviously misleading. If so, giving each other permission to grow with a commitment to redefine the relationship and how you view one another can be powerfully freeing. A good therapist can help tremendously with those new agreements.
  • Seeing a reputable family therapist you both like and trust (this can take a while to find, but is worth seeking).
  • Review your prenuptial agreement with a family law professional. 
  • Made a list of what life will look like before/after a divorce – including the pros and cons for everyone involved.
  • Realizing that while the grass may not always be greener, there is no perfect person. The traits that drive us the craziest in our spouse will rear up in other ways in future relationships.

If you have no doubt this is the right move, it’s time to proceed with respect and dignity for both parties.

Decide whether a legal separation may be a good first step

The idea behind legal separation allows couples to experience what divorced life is like without the realities of divorce in play. They involve all the same features of a divorce – division of finances, living arrangements, child custody/visitation orders, child or spousal support if applicable, and so on. 

For many, this experience is a huge wake-up call, and couples find their way back to a healed and new “whole.” Others learn that separation has supported a higher-quality life for everyone and is the healthier way to proceed.

Think long and hard about your children’s needs

Children are the priority in any divorce. Perhaps it’s true that – overall – children fare better with parents who are happy and divorced than miserable and married. However, after working with hundreds of families over the years and redrafting child custody/visitation orders as needed, I can say that children are always haunted by their parent’s divorce, no matter how “good” or “bad” things were.

If you have opted to forgo therapy for yourselves, I highly advise getting family therapy for your children (again, focusing on one you all like and trust). The therapist can support your children’s emotional well-being while supporting both of you in maintaining healthy co-parenting boundaries and communication.

Review all of your divorce options

The media would have you believe that every divorce is contentious and turns into a court battle. This is only true for individuals and couples who are poorly advised by their divorce lawyers OR who don’t heed their lawyers’ advice.

These days, most people prefer to use divorce mediation or a collaborative divorce proceeding. Either way, you’ll experience far less stress, emotional upheaval, and financial drain than if you go the old-school “me vs. you” divorce battle.

Divorce mediation

With the divorce mediation model, you visit the same family law attorney together (and separately) to process your divorce fairly and equitably. This saves you thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars while also providing a neutral opinion on your situation. So, let’s say you believe your spouse owes you spousal support and they refuse to pay, or you want to take the entirety of a particular investment or asset rather than split it. Anything you tell the mediator will be shared with the other party (and vice versa) as the mediator works with both of you and holds an informed but neutral position.

A divorce mediator will let you know what a judge is most likely to rule in that case, and you can decide from there whether it’s worth a battle or not. Research proves that mediated (or collaborative) divorces are much healthier for all parties involved.

Collaborative divorce

With the collaborative divorce model, each of you hires a lawyer to feel personally represented (rather than neutrally represented), but the lawyers work with you both to come to the most equitable outcome in the least amount of time, minimizing the emotional fall-out. The lawyers are not required to share your information with the other side, but they are not interested in contributing to escalation or drama – quite the opposite. If this model appeals, you’ll look for lawyers specializing in collaborative divorces.

Set aside a clear space without the children around

You owe it to your spouse, yourself, and your children to have this conversation in a private and uninterruptible space. The calendar should be completely clear, with nowhere to go. Turn off any phones and gadgets to avoid interruptions.

If necessary, you may choose to have this final discussion in your therapist’s office or have a therapy session scheduled ASAP afterward to process what happened and keep a bigger picture and calm perspective on what is transpiring. 

Be calm and compassionate

Regardless of the water under the bridge, telling a spouse you want a divorce is a powerful and sad moment for your spouse – and you! Some people harden their hearts and are unkind in an effort to seem “in control” or “unaffected.” I don’t recommend that approach.

Perhaps you will both be far better off after your divorce. However, at this moment, you’re initiating the death of a dream, a marriage you got into “forever,” and – if you have children – the death of your children’s security in a nuclear family. If your spouse never thought this moment would come, they may be absolutely shocked or devastated – especially if their lives and identities are largely tied to their role in the family.

This conversation should not be filled with anger, resentment, or malice. It should be calm, compassionate, and tender. If things escalate, hold a strong boundary that you must stop the conversation and return to the table when you’re both calmer.

Schedule Divorce Mediation With The Law Offices Of Gerard A. Falzone

After a few years spent in contentious court battles, it was clear that divorce mediation and collaboration were the only ways for couples to divorce with the least amount of emotional fall-out for themselves and their families. I excel at helping couples process their own experience while working together to develop the best divorce settlements and child custody agreements for all involved.

Contact The Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone to learn more about your divorce options and for more guidance on how to tell your spouse you want a divorce.