How to Ask for a Divorce

Making the choice to get a divorce is a difficult one. First, think about what’s going wrong, get advice, and see if you and your spouse can work things out. If you still choose to get a divorce, prepare yourself for a very delicate conversation. State your desires honestly and directly, without playing the blame-game. After that, take the next steps to proceed legally and get the support you need to move forward.

EditSteps

EditBroaching the Issue

  1. Get some distance to think. Give yourself some time to process things before making a decision. Sometimes, getting some space—physically, mentally, or emotionally—from the issue can help you see things more clearly. You can also use this time to consider the ramifications of getting a divorce.[1]
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    • Maybe you need a weekend away at a hotel or with relatives or friends to think things through. Perhaps things aren’t as bad as you are making them and getting some time to yourself can help shift your perspective.
    • On the other hand, getting some distance from your spouse may also help you clarify that you are not happy in the relationship. You might use this time to better identify what’s going wrong.
    • You might also spend some time pondering the potential fallout of ending your marriage, such as experiencing financial instability, not living with your children or only living with them part-time, or breaking from your religious beliefs.[2]
  2. Make a list of your reasons. Take some time to think over why you want a divorce. Help build your argument by listing out your reasons on paper. Some of the most common problems that lead to divorce include:[3]
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    • Having poor conflict resolution
    • Experiencing a lack of intimacy (i.e., emotional and physical)
    • Seeking satisfaction outside the marriage—like with work or extramarital relationships
  3. Seek advice from someone you trust. If you’re on the fence about getting a divorce, reach out to a trusted friend, mentor, therapist, or spiritual adviser. Share your reasons and see if this person can help you figure out what it is you really want.[4]
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    • Simply talking to someone compassionate can help bring to the surface your reasoning for wanting a divorce and help you reach a decision.
    • Choose someone who is unbiased, like a friend from your parent support group, rather than talking to your mom or your spouse’s sibling.
  4. Try couples therapy or spiritual counseling. Getting counseling ensures that your marriage has its best shot. Even if it doesn’t work out, you can walk away with a sense of peace afterwards—you gave it all you had. Say to your spouse, “Why don’t we meet with a counselor to see if we can work through our problems?”[5]
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    • If you are a spiritual person, consult with an adviser or see a marriage and family therapist.
    • If your spouse refuses therapy, go on your own to discuss what’s going on in your marriage. A counselor can help you reach a decision about whether you want to end things.

EditHaving the Conversation

  1. Have a preliminary talk with your spouse. Even if you are unhappy with the marriage, try not to blindside your partner, particularly if they think the relationship is in a good place. Speak with them about what’s bothering you and give them the chance to resolve things before calling it quits.[6]
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    • For instance, you might say, “I haven’t been happy for a while” or “I feel disconnected from you lately, and I’d like to see if we can work through this.”
    • Have a heart-to-heart discussion about what needs to happen in the marriage for it to continue. If both of you are on board, you might give it some time to see if you can improve things and avoid divorce.
  2. Plan a private discussion when you’re both calm. Tell your spouse you need to have a serious talk. Ask them when the best time would be to sit down and talk. Choose a time when you are both sober, calm, and alert.[7]
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    • Get out of earshot of your kids and remove any distractions like cell phones or TV.
    • If there are safety concerns, have this conversation in a public place.
  3. Be tactful but direct. Tell your spouse your decision is certain in concise terms. If you’re sure about the decision, you don’t want to come off as tentative or open to negotiation.[8]
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    • Say something like, “I have some really upsetting news to share…I have decided that our marriage is over. I have tried to forgive your indiscretions, but our trust has been irreparably broken.”
  4. Use “I” statements to avoid blame. Be sure to stay away from “you” statements that point the finger. These statements may incite anger in your spouse and make the divorce process more stressful than it has to be.[9]
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    • For example, don’t say, “You cheated!” or “All you do is work.” Instead, simply say, “I feel like we have different values now. It’s not working for me anymore.”
  5. Hear your spouse out. Certainly, your spouse will have some remarks, so listen actively to what they have to say. Don’t interrupt or try to defend yourself. Simply let them talk. [10]
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    • Try to make your spouse feel understood by summing up what they said after they’re finished talking.
    • You might also restate your choice after they’ve finished talking to let them know that your mind is made up.
  6. Steer clear of fault-finding or arguing. If your spouse begins to place blame or start playing the “you did this, you did that” game, end the conversation. You’ve made up your mind and getting into the technicalities will only make the process harder.[11]
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    • Say, “I’ve told you my decision and I’ve heard you out. I don’t want to argue with you or point fingers, so I’m going to leave now.”
  7. Delay talking about logistics. Although you might be desperate to find out what the next few weeks will look like, put off an immediate discussion about the future or any logistical details. This conversation is tense and emotional—it’s unlikely you’ll come to an agreement on anything right now.[12]
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    • Putting off such a conversation also protects either of you from agreeing to something that you later regret.
    • Take some time to process your emotions before coming back together to discuss what will happen next.

EditHandling Consequences

  1. Have a discussion with your children. After talking with your spouse, you’ll need to break the news to your kids. If you and your spouse are in agreement that your marriage is over, talk to the kids together. If not, you can do it alone—just be courteous and give your spouse a head’s up first.[13]
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    • Stick to the basics during this initial conversation, but give your children enough info to help them understand what’s next.
    • For instance, you might say, “Kids, your mom and I have chosen to live separately. We’re still working out the details, but we plan to keep your lives as normal as possible. You will continue to live here and go to the same schools.”
    • Try to give your kids a few weeks notice before initiating any changes, so that they can adjust to the idea before their lives are upturned.
  2. Move out if necessary. If you will be leaving the marital home, make plans to find a new place of your own. Managing a household and finances can be a struggle for some people after divorce, so be sure to make wise choices. This may involve living with family or friends for a time, or selecting a home that’s significantly lower than your usual standards.[14]
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    • Turn to your social network as well as a financial advisor for guidance and help with this matter.
    • Be sure to consider your children when choosing a new place. For instance, you may choose to live nearer to them if you don’t have full custody. You may also prepare spaces for them when they come to visit.
  3. Seek out social support. Going through a divorce— even one you initiated— can be incredibly upsetting. Surround yourself with helpful, supportive people who have your best interests at heart.[15]
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    • Spend time with people who make you feel hopeful and positive. If a person is overly critical or judgmental, steer clear for a while.
  4. Take care of your health and well-being. After a major life decision like asking for divorce, you may be overcome by powerful emotions that prompt you to make unhealthy decisions. Instead of using alcohol, drugs, or any other negative coping strategies, practice self-care.[16]
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    • Get at least 8 hours of rest each night, eat healthy foods, and schedule physical activity into every day.
  5. Focus on the future by establishing new routines and goals. Reinvent yourself during and after your divorce by easing into new roles, setting powerful goals, and pursuing new hobbies. Feeling purposeful during this time of transition can benefit your well-being and help you adjust more smoothly.[17]
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    • For example, you might get a new job, go back to school, move to a new city, or pick up an old passion such as painting or writing.
    • A new routine helps you stay preoccupied and connects you with others who have the same interests.
  6. Don’t waver back and forth. After breaking the news, you might feel regret or uncertainty. Try to remain steadfast with your decision. If you thoroughly considered everything in advance, there’s no need to backtrack. Plus, changing your mind after having the talk is just confusing for everyone.[18]
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EditProceeding Legally

  1. Try a trial separation. If you’re on the cusp of making the decision, but want to see if your marriage can be saved, a trial separation may be an option. Such an arrangement mimics an actual divorce—you and your spouse will work out a custody plan and even meet with lawyers, but the ultimate goal is to get back together.[19]
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    • A trial separation offers you and your spouse time and space to recognize some of the core issues affecting your marriage and work through them separately and together.
  2. Consult with a lawyer. Prepare for your divorce by speaking with a local divorce attorney. Bring important paperwork, such as a prenuptial agreement or records of your assets to the meeting.[20]
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    • You may not know exactly what to do or what you want from the divorce, and that’s okay. This meeting is simply important to get the ball rolling and find out what options are available to you.
  3. Figure out what you want. Every divorce is different, so try not to get caught up in what others around you are suggesting you try to get out of the divorce. What’s most important to you? Maybe that’s getting full custody of your children, or the dog if you have one. Perhaps that’s not having to split your retirement accounts.[21]
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    • Make a list of what you most want from the divorce and make that your priority. This can reduce tension by helping you avoid fighting with your spouse over things that aren’t even important to you.
    • You might also count on your lawyer’s counsel to help you determine what you want out of the divorce.
  4. See a mediator to help you come up with an agreement. You may not require a lawyer if you and your spouse are mostly agreeable on the divorce. In such cases, you may be able to meet with a third-party mediator who can assist you in making decisions. [22]
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    • A mediator can help you decide how to split property, work out a custody arrangement, and decide how to handle pets or other unique issues.
    • Mediation can be less tense than battling it out in the courtroom. However, mediation may only be beneficial for those who are relatively savvy about their finances and who can come to agreement with their spouse.
  5. File the paperwork. Once you and your spouse have reached an agreement on what each of you wants from the split, go ahead and file for divorce. Depending on the state you live in and your circumstances (such as having kids), you may have to live apart for a certain period of time before a divorce is granted.
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  6. Remain calm and civil with your spouse throughout the proceedings. Put aside the emotions you feel to help the divorce happen more amicably and with less stress on yourselves and your kids. When you become angry, try counting to 10 silently and doing deep breathing.[23]
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    • Reacting with contempt and destroying your spouse’s possessions or arguing during court hearings can actually hurt your case.
    • If you have kids, behaving maturely and without strong emotion can help everyone transition through this time more easily. Plus, you’ll have to get used to interacting with your spouse since the two of you will be co-parenting.

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