Ready to take action? Learning how to handle everything involved with starting your divorce is Step #8 in the process of your divorce strategy education.
You have taken the time to carefully determine that divorce is the best option for you. You know the basics of the law and process. You know what you want, and you’ve worked carefully to develop your Best Divorce & Best Life strategies.
Now it is time to put your plans into action and move forward. It is time to have the Best Divorce possible. It is time to move on to the better life you desire and deserve.
What happens next is starting your divorce. Your lawyer will initiate the legal process needed to dissolve your marriage and resolve all related legal issues.
As part of starting your divorce, your spouse and the children are going to be informed that the divorce is actually happening, and eventually other people will find out too. Although you may not look forward to informing your spouse or children, or confronting friends, family, or colleagues, doing so is inevitable.
In this section you’ll learn how to understand how to deal with announcing (and not announcing) your divorce to your family and others, and how to handle your spouse between now and when your experience with the legal system is complete.
Telling Your Spouse About the Divorce
For many, telling a spouse about the divorce ends up being a liberating experience. After starting the divorce and informing your spouse, you are able to focus on executing your Best Divorce and Best Life strategies and complete the “mental check out” from your unhappy marriage.
All that is really left at this point with the divorce will be the legal work for the lawyers, which means you are largely freed up to continue following your carefully crafted plans to create the better life you desire and deserve.
But yes, at some point your spouse will need to be informed. And informing them is usually not an experience to get excited about.
The process may not be pleasant, but it has to happen. The sooner it does, the sooner life starts to get better. The longer you wait to inform your spouse the longer you delay living the Best Life possible. Understood? Action is key. Action means progress. Hesitation means delay. Hesitation means more unhappiness. Don’t hesitate with this or you will just disappoint yourself.
The most important things when it comes to informing your spouse after starting the divorce are (1) the method; (2) the timing; and (3) the word choice.
Ways to Inform Your Spouse of the “Big D”
There are four primary ways that I instruct my clients to tell their spouse that they are getting divorced. These ways are:
- The “direct method”: You tell your spouse, face to face, that you are pursuing a divorce. In most cases, this is the best approach to utilize as long as there are not any anticipated domestic violence issues.
- The “therapist approach”: You inform your spouse, face to face, that you are getting divorced in the presence of a therapist (who should know in advance this will be happening). This approach can work well if you have been in counseling with your spouse and you expect them to need extra emotional support upon you informing them about the divorce.
- The “attorney phone call approach”: Your divorce lawyer will inform your spouse that you want a divorce (usually by a phone call). This approach is appropriate if you fear your spouse’s reaction, if they are living in another geographic area, or you just want the divorce lawyer to have the difficult conversation for you.
- The “process server approach”: Your spouse is informed about the divorce by a process server finding them and serving them with divorce papers. Sometimes this needs to be done to “send a message” for a strategic purpose involved with your Best Divorce strategy but in many cases this approach is not necessary or appropriate.
Which Way Is Best?
Overall, with most of my clients, the best method for informing their spouse about the divorce in terms of supporting an overall purpose of resolving legal issues on fair terms as soon as possible is to directly inform their spouse themselves (but see below on the timing of this). I find that the benefit of this is two-fold.
First, the “direct method” of having a face to face conversation is therapeutic for my clients. They realize divorce is really what they need in their life when they are able to stand in front of their spouse and tell them they are moving forward to dissolve their marriage.
I find that my clients are more prone to “second thoughts” or “regret” about starting divorce when they use me or a process server to “break the news” to their spouse about the divorce. From my perspective, you should only pursue divorce only when there is no other way for you to have the Best Life you deserve. If you are firm in the belief that there is no other path to your Best Life besides a divorce, you will not have a problem standing in front of your spouse and telling them that the marriage is over.
Second, the “direct method” of informing your spouse is also the most “direct method” of helping your spouse ultimately respect your decision to end the marriage and not hold a long term grudge against you. In my experience, making the choice to be direct and honest with people will always get you more respect in the long run.
In the context of divorce, this translates into higher odds of your spouse cooperating to resolve the legal issues on fair terms, as soon as possible, while minimizing collateral damage to your family and finances. When you spouse learns about the divorce through other people, they are more prone to resent you for not being able to tell them directly (they’ll say things like “he/she didn’t have the decency to tell me to my face” when they are in their lawyer’s office plotting world war three against you or trashing you to anyone who will listen).
Also, they will be more likely to believe that you deep down really do not want the divorce, which can lead them to “litigate like a jackass” to make the divorce “hard for you” with the hopes that you’ll realize you want to stay married in the process (I see this as one of the largest root causes of heavily litigated divorce cases).
Timing Is Everything
As far as timing goes, in most situations I advise my clients to hold off on saying anything to their spouse about the divorce until the point where the divorce lawsuit has already been filed. I usually take this approach because it assures that my client and law firm is moving forward (as opposed to “preparing to launch”) when the other spouse is informed.
Further, informing your spouse that you want a divorce after having already filed the lawsuit sends a clear message that you are serious and are moving forward, which puts your spouse in “reactive mode” and feeling like they are rushing to keep up with you. Creating this dynamic makes it much easier to settle your case on fair terms sooner rather than later.
Of course, talk to your lawyer about the timing to make sure you act consistent with their strategy for helping you.
Then there is the issue of “what to say” to your spouse when telling them about the divorce.
You should be direct, honest, and to the point when you tell your spouse that you want to dissolve your marriage after starting your divorce. If you have already filed for divorce by this point as is usually best, than find an appropriate time, in private, to speak to your spouse and tell them the following:
After a lot of careful thought and reflection I have made the decision to file for divorce. I have already hired a lawyer who has filed a divorce petition, so you will need to find an attorney. The lawyers will help us determine a fair and reasonable settlement. At this point, you either need to hire an attorney in the next couple of days who can receive the divorce papers or I will arrange for my lawyer to send them to you directly if you determine that would make things easier.”
Then, give your spouse the business card for your divorce lawyer, and say:
This is the contact information for my divorce lawyer. He/she will be expecting to hear from you or your lawyer.”
After saying these words, end the discussion, leave the room, and give your spouse some space. In nearly all cases any further discussion at this exact point will not be productive.
How About Telling the Children?
You need to realize that starting your divorce is going to have an impact on your children. You would be well served to get professional help on this issue to make sure everything goes as well as possible with your children.
Ideally, both you and your spouse will jointly consult with a children’s therapist about how to inform the children about the divorce and then follow the therapist’s recommendations for monitoring your children.
If you end up needing to inform the children before you have engaged a therapist, you can, but be careful. Most of the experts suggest that parents jointly tell the children about the divorce. Whether the conversation is with your spouse or is only coming from you, it must be emphasized to the children that both parents love them and will continue to love them after the divorce.
Make it clear up front that the divorce is not anyone’s fault, and was not caused by the children. This is extremely important because children tend to blame themselves for causing the family to break apart, even though there is not any reason for them doing so.
Tell the children they will get to see both of their parents after the divorce, but eventually the parents will be living in separate homes, where the children will each have their own bedroom.
As far as the reasons for the divorce, the experts suggest staying away from giving any specifics, although more details can be given depending on the age of the children. Further, you should avoid telling the children that the other spouse is to blame for the divorce.
Handling Family, Friends, & Coworkers
There is nothing to be gained by telling anyone about starting your divorce. Most friends and extended family (especially if they know and like both you and your spouse) would ultimately prefer to be kept out of your private situation unless you truly need their help.
Otherwise, you should do everyone a favor and pay a therapist to give you advice about your personal life. Talking about your divorce to others can expose very private details that down the road you will probably wish you never told some people, especially if you change your mind and reconcile with your spouse.
When it comes to colleagues and business associates, you should almost always tell them nothing. Let them find out about the divorce after it is over from someone else. Otherwise, you put yourself at risk for others making unfair assumptions about your ability to perform in the workplace.
Further, if you are in the process of negotiating any significant business deal, knowledge of you starting your divorce can scuttle the entire thing as many people would prefer to do business with someone else instead of subjecting themselves and their company to subpoenas from divorce lawyers.
If you are confronted by friends, family, or coworkers / business associates about whether you are going through a divorce the best course of action is to be honest about the issue and then project an image of integrity and stability by saying something like:
I am keeping this matter private. Everything is under control and we each have a lawyer helping us handle everything in a fair manner so that there are minimal distractions for the both of us. Out of respect for [name of your spouse] and our families I am not going to talk about the divorce.”
Dealing With Your Spouse During the Divorce
For most of you, one of the core reasons for pursuing the divorce is an undesirable relationship with your spouse. This should change beginning with you starting your divorce.
The good part about all of this is that you can dictate the future relationship with your spouse by the way you handle them in the period of time between informing them about the divorce and the end of the legal proceedings/negotiations. If your spouse has historically been a controlling jerk, has always ruled you through their selfish demands, or has generally shown a lack of respect for you and your goals, you have the option of ending those relationship dynamics now.
Here is how:
- Be Assertive but Don’t Be a Jerk: You need to show that you, and only you, control your life from here on out. When you do this, you will exude confidence. When your spouse sees you as a “man/woman on a mission” they will be less likely to get in your way. Obviously this is all within reason. You do not want to be unreasonable/unrealistic in settlement negotiations, or start acting like a jerk.
- Stand Strong to “Boundary Testing”: Be aware that early on in the divorce your spouse might test the limits of how much they can control you, and the divorce process through you. This is especially the case if your spouse has historically displayed controlling or selfish tendencies. The way to handle this “boundary testing” is to show your spouse that you are not going to be controlled. The sooner you stop reacting to your spouse’s undesirable behavior the sooner the behavior will end. This can be easier said than done but is imperative.
- Do Not Allow Your Spouse to Control Your Lawyer: One of the ways your spouse might attempt “boundary testing” is by trying to use you to control your lawyer to sabotage your legal strategy. This is a separate point because of the potential disruption this will bring to your divorce. Do not get in the habit of having your lawyer make strategic case decisions based on instructions from your spouse. Please re-read the last sentence. Doesn’t allowing your spouse to control your decisions and strategy seem a bit absurd (and maybe like the marriage you are trying to leave)?
- Handling Emotions: You should not be your spouse’s therapist during the divorce. You can try to occasionally give them confidence that they will also have a better life after the divorce, but that is it. If your spouse is continuing to use you as a shoulder to cry on you need to tell them to go to a therapist. Similarly, you should keep your feelings about the divorce private, and avoid showing your spouse any signs of frustration or anger. You do not want to allow your spouse to see how the divorce might be hard for you, or any sign that you want the divorce to be over as soon as possible. Otherwise, your spouse might feel that you are “having second thoughts” and adopt a “settle nothing” litigation strategy out of hopes of you calling off the divorce if they make it “hard.” Other spouses might sense your desperation and use it against you in settlement negotiations in an effort to get you to accept less money in a settlement.
You are usually “over the hump” and on a downhill path to the “divorce finish line” once you’ve started your divorce and informed your spouse what is happening. From this point, if you’ve chosen the right lawyer and legal strategy, most of your work should be done and your professionals should be handling the legal work.
Although you should be primarily be “leaving the law to the lawyers” you should still have a familiarity with the litigation strategy required to facilitate settlement at the earliest possible point. You can learn about how to do this through “Resolution Focused Litigation” in the next lesson.