Written By Kara Francis
“We need to talk.”
These four little words represent the first step you will take in starting the divorce process.
Talking about the “d word” for the first time can be a difficult conversation, whether you are the initiator or on the receiving end. It will set the tone for you, your spouse, your family members, and everyone involved in the case for the rest of the divorce proceedings. More likely than not, your spouse’s feelings will be hurt. But if you discuss divorce in the most compassionate and peaceful way possible, you should be able to avoid more stress from an all out war later.
Take it from me: As a former divorce lawyer, there were several cases in which one spouse’s reaction to the other spouse’s manner of asking for a divorce was so negative, the entire process was tainted from the start. Instead of an uncontested divorce, the parties went to battle over every issue, which took a long time, required the assistance of many other professionals, and cost them a lot more energy and money.
While one size doesn’t fit all, generally speaking, if you prepare in advance and have some talking points, it will make a big difference. If you want to do your best to divorce peacefully and are ready to move forward with this big decision, here are a few tips when you ask for a divorce. You should start thinking about these issues sooner than later.
Find a quiet location ahead of time that ensures privacy for each of you to have the emotional reaction you need to have, without worrying about others seeing or overhearing you. Make sure there are no children involved or in the vicinity. Caveat: If there is a history and/or fear of domestic violence from an angry spouse, pick a public place that still provides some privacy, but makes you feel safe and allows you to quickly seek help if necessary (such as a park bench, a quiet coffee shop, or taking a walk in a well-populated area).
There is no “perfect time” to ask your spouse for a divorce. However, there are certain times that are more conducive to a healthy conversation. For example, you may want to avoid discussing divorce at the end of a long work day, when you are both exhausted. And it’s not a good time if one of you has an event to attend or guests to entertain later that day. Both of you will need some time to process these big changes to the state of your marriage. Tell your spouse when both of you have plenty of free time and sufficient energy, and when neither of you has any immediate obligations, responsibilities or events to attend.
Sharing the news via letter, email or text message tends to be the “easy way out” and avoids an uncomfortable and painful situation. But if you want a chance at a peaceful divorce, then telling your spouse in-person is the most respectful way. A live dialogue will ensure that both of you feel heard and are on the same page moving forward, such as whether you will attend marriage counseling / family therapy, and when each of you will hire a family law attorney. Doing some role play with your divorce coach or a mental health professional beforehand is appropriate guidance and may help you feel more comfortable. Caveat: If there is a history and/or fear of domestic violence, then sharing the news in-person may not be the appropriate method for you.
In formulating what you want to say, remember The 3 C’s:
Calm: Even though both of you likely knew the marriage was struggling, keep in mind, there will still be an initial shock when you say you would like a divorce. One party may really feel blindsided. In such cases, one spouse will likely react quite strongly, from crying, to threatening, to yelling, to storming off. All of this is normal and expected, but avoid meeting the energy level of your spouse. Respond calmly. This allows your spouse the space to have the reaction they need to have, without fanning the flames.
Clear: Don’t beat around the bush. Use a direct communication style: tell your spouse you are getting a divorce, period, end of story. Do not give any indication that you are still considering your decision, because your spouse may feel like they can talk you out of it.
Concise: Avoid placing blame on your spouse. Neither of you is perfect, and each of you contributed to the decline of your marriage in at least one small way. The best way is to keep your reasoning short and sweet. If you get too far in the weeds or over-explain, your spouse may latch on and either turn the blame on you or promise to fix the issue.
AVOID DISCUSSING LEGAL ISSUES
The initial divorce conversation is not the right time to bring up where you stand on specific divorce law issues, such as a parenting plan, child support, spousal support, dividing property and financial assets, divorce mediation options, or what the divorce papers will look like. If you make positional statements like this when your spouse is having an emotional reaction to the mere topic of divorce, this will only cause more hurt and will not keep things peaceful. (And if you have a prenuptial agreement, many of these issues are already provided for anyway.) Give your spouse sufficient time to process their emotions and potentially seek out professional help for their mental health needs, and save the legal talk for another time.