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You may have seen it coming, or you may have been blindsided. Either way, it’s never easy to hear your spouse say the words out loud: “I want a divorce.” What you do next matters: for your finances, for your mental health, for your children, and for your future.
Before we talk about an action plan, let’s clarify one thing: by “asking for a divorce,” we mean telling you they want a divorce—not actually serving you with divorce papers. If you’ve been served with a petition and related papers, you have a very limited time to answer, and you need to find a lawyer quickly (more on that below).
Now, here are five things you should do when your spouse asks for a divorce.
Hearing that your spouse wants a divorce can feel like a slap in the face, and it can be hard to respond rationally. You may feel like you have a million questions, and you deserve to have them answered—eventually. But right now, your questions should be few, and targeted to figuring out your next steps. Are they committed to divorce, or are they willing to consider trying to save the marriage? Has your spouse consulted a lawyer? Have they filed for divorce already?
Your spouse asking for a divorce may seem like it’s coming out of the blue to you, but some sources report that on average, it takes two years for a spouse to go from first considering separation or divorce to actually asking for one. That means that your spouse may have already reached a decision, while you’re scrambling to catch up. Staying calm during this conversation can help you get the information you need.
Now that your spouse has broken the news that they want a divorce, they may be ready to move full speed ahead with the process. Meanwhile, you’re still sitting dazed and confused in the wreckage of the life you had planned. This is a bad time to make any agreements you could regret later.
Your spouse has had time to think about your divorce and what they want; you deserve time, too. Be prepared that your spouse could push back angrily, but remain calm. A good script to use is, “Please understand that you’ve had more time to adjust to this than I have. I want to do this in a way that is best for us and for our kids, and that requires time to think.”
After your spouse asks for a divorce, it is natural to seek comfort and support, especially if the news came as a shock. But be careful: the easiest way to get the support you crave may be the worst. We’re talking about social media.
Posting about your news on social media is a quick way to get words of support from far and wide, and (as you may be secretly hoping), words of condemnation for your spouse. But venting your feelings on social media can come back to haunt you in your divorce. You may delete a post you regret, but screenshots are forever.
The best move is to stay off social media altogether if you can. Seek support from a few trusted (and discreet) friends or family members, a divorce support group, and a therapist.
Especially if you don’t want the divorce, there may be a temptation to drag your heels, bury your head in the sand, and in general, pretend it’s not happening. Frankly, that’s one of the worst things you can do. If your spouse is determined, this train will leave the station with or without you—and it’s better to be on it than under it.
Use the time you’ve asked for (you DID ask for it, right?) to gather financial information from your marriage and learn about the divorce process and your options. Being prepared will help you deal better with your divorce from an emotional standpoint, and will help you get a better outcome.
If you read that last section and wondered what information you should gather, or how to learn about your options, an experienced family law attorney can help you with both. If you don’t want a divorce, sitting down with a divorce attorney may feel like an admission that your marriage is really over. In reality, it means you are taking control of your future.
If your spouse has already filed for divorce, you have only a limited time to respond to the petition for divorce. You should let any attorney you contact know that you have time limitations so that they can schedule you accordingly. If your spouse hasn’t yet filed, you have more time, but you should still speak to an attorney as soon as possible.
Divorce can be daunting, but your divorce attorney has probably handled hundreds of them. That means that she can answer your questions about the process, advise you of your rights, and help you explore your options. She also understands what you’re going through, and can help reassure you that you will be okay—and you will.