Breaking the News About Divorce

Breaking the News About Divorce



How To Tell Your Spouse You Want A Divorce

How You Commence Your Case May Define It’s Conclusion.

Judge Michele,

I have been thinking about divorce for over a year. I waited till after the holidays, and now I am scared and at a loss how to go about telling him.

At a loss
Newark, NJS

Dear At a loss:

You have waited to have ‘the conversation’ with your spouse and you have gone over it in your mind endlessly. You can no longer pretend that the marriage is working. It is show time! You have watched other divorcing people go through a house of horrors but you want to be the exception. Therefore you should know this; after being a judge in divorce court for 15 years I can tell you how you begin your case may define how your case unfolds and what the emotional and financial costs are to you and your family.

You don’t know how your spouse will act, or who will they become. One friend of mine said, “You can’t really know who you are married to until you divorce them.” You want to think that you are not capable of the emotional brutality you have seen in others. After all you may have children to protect not to mention the wear and tear on your own heart.

You may think you are embarking on a logical legal process, but most cases result in tremendous emotional consequences. I have rarely seen a court battle over different interpretation of the law. It is most often about some emotional need, or the need for vindication.

No matter how much you have argued with your spouse you may imagine they will not be surprised. But after the words “I want a divorce” are released they circle around the conversation like the lash of a whip and will dominate all clarity of thought. No matter how quietly spoken they are like a bugle blast, loud and shrill. You have probably thought about this awhile so no matter how painful it is for you, you don’t have the destabilizing component of shock. In that moment the bonds of trust can snap as he or she assesses; are you now an ally or an adversary? The pressure for you to re-establish some trust is on!

Their reaction will probably be either a combination of anger, frozen and shut down, or perhaps an unrecognizable display of pain. They may understandably try to bait you into a holy war but your job is not to take the bait, even if they lash out unfairly. There is a purge of their emotions that must take place. They have not had time to process or reflect as you have. You have to give them a chance to catch up. Just like grief states there are many emotions that have to run their course, including emotional negotiation, bargaining, pleading and anger. Rarely at this stage will you see the acceptance you are hoping for.

Ten crucial things to know about ‘the conversation’;

  1. Never stop communicating
    To keep some control over your case the most important thing you can do, is if at all possible keep communicating with your spouse. If you get to the stage where you can only speak through attorneys, miscommunication and misinterpretation will happen which increases mistrust and anger.

  2. Make a plan for how to tell the children
    Plan a time, with your spouse if they cooperate, to discuss this topic with your children as soon as possible. Your children will sense something is going on, and it will be worse for them not to understand what is happening to their lives. Assure your spouse that you will not interfere with their relationship with them.

  3. Discuss method options
    Discuss the possibility for mediation or using the collaborative law model as soon as possible before you start disagreeing. At the very least try to reach an agreement to work towards avoiding a difficult court fight and taking more peaceful paths.

  4. Offer therapeutic options
    Ask your spouse if they want to go with you to a therapist or clergy to help you both get through the divorcing process.

  5. Be smart about the timing of serving papers
    Unless there are issues of physical abuse or hiding of assets I would have ‘the conversation’ with your spouse before serving them with papers. I would not tell them ‘I have already filed’ because that amps up the distrust because they wonder what else you have done they don’t know about. Ask them how they would prefer receiving the papers.

  6. Don’t use bargaining and denial
    Your spouse may be still holding onto the hope of saving the marriage. They may be willing to do everything that for years you have been asking for. Try not to give them false hopes if you are sure the marriage or relationship is over. When they finally realize your were being disingenuous they will become even more angry. If they are in denial don’t let their denial inspire you to up the ante by reinforcing how bad the marriage. Resist the urge to create a huge fight to prove the marriage isn’t working.

  7. Don’t bring up settlement negotiations
    Don’t start dividing property or insisting that attorney meetings happen right away. You may want it over with and to get on with your life, but if you push to hard they will come up with reasons or behaviors to slow down a process that they are not ready for. The grieving process is usually two years, so you can’t be the one to decide when grieving should be over.

  8. List the reasons you want a divorce
    Before starting ‘the conversation’ make a list of the reasons you want a divorce. Try to keep the reason simple and ones that don’t blame and accuse. Remember that they will remember what you said for a long time. Remind them of the efforts you have made to save the marriage.

  9. Emphasize future relationship
    Make it clear that even though you want a divorce your ongoing relationship with them is still important. That getting a divorce does not make you their adversary. Believe it or not the ball remains in your court, to reassure them that you are not turning your back on them.

  10. Monitor your reactions
    You will find that you will also experience some intense emotional pain that will affect your delivery, patience and compassion in this conversation. Your reactions will also be very ripe and risky. When you are feeling the challenge remember; the way you begin your divorce may well set the tone for the rest of your case. The tone for the rest of your case may impact the rest of your life and your children’s.

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Posted: 01/20/2011 3:30 am EST | Updated: 05/25/2011 6:25 pm EDT

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