How to Ask for a Divorce (Without Ending Up in Court)

Posted on January 20, 2021 in

You didn’t think you’d find yourself here — feeling the way you do right now and reading an article like this. You’re afraid of what comes next.

You’re not alone. More than 780,000 people get divorced each year in the United States.

And they’re not all messy, sensational events. In fact, thousands of couples come to mutual divorce agreements without ever entering a courtroom.

Knowing there are others going through the same thing may give you some comfort. But it doesn’t always provide the tools you need to actually ask for a divorce. And if you’re looking for ways to start this conversation peacefully, some planning and preparation will definitely be useful. 

There’s no one right or perfect way to go through a divorce. But there are options that focus less on hashing out the past and more on moving forward with as little pain and drama as possible.

You may have heard of an amicable divorce, low conflict divorce, or uncontested divorce. They all allow couples to come to a productive agreement without involving a judge.

That usually means less expense and fewer arguments.

Will you and your spouse be able to strike that peaceful and productive tone throughout your divorce? It depends in part on how you set the stage in that first conversation. 

So let’s talk about how you can prepare yourself to begin this process with the ultimate goal of a peaceful resolution.

Set your goal for the conversation

We’re all human. We all have emotions that are completely valid but don’t necessarily serve us in a particular moment. You may be feeling hurt, angry, and resentful.

Leading with those emotions about what’s happened in the past can often push discussions into hostile territory.

Ask yourself what your goal is for the initial conversation. Understanding what you want to accomplish can help you plan what you’ll say and how you’ll approach it. For instance, if your goal is to punish your spouse for the pain they’ve caused, you may speak or behave with harshness, sarcasm, or blaming. These will almost certainly cause your spouse to gear up for a fight.

On the other hand, if your goal is to set the stage for an amicable divorce, you may take a gentler, less combative approach. That approach might leave the door open for your spouse to do the same.

Remember, divorce is not about winning or losing. Look toward the future you’d like to have and think about what you need to do to get there.

Learn more: 5 Benefits of an Uncontested Divorce

Choose a comfortable time and place

Unfortunately, this is going to be a hard conversation. There’s no way around it. But it will go better if it’s not whispered in the guest room at your in-laws’ house. Or shouted in the middle of a crowded restaurant where you keep getting interrupted by a waiter.

Unless you have concern for your safety, talking alone in your home is generally the best place to start. If you have kids, make sure they’re out of the house.

Try to avoid beginning this discussion in the middle of a particularly difficult time for your spouse. If their parent just died or they just got overlooked for a promotion, they’ll have less emotional bandwidth. Of course, there’s never a perfect moment to have these difficult conversations. So if you find yourself waiting until your spouse is calm and happy, you might have to pick the least bad time.

Whenever you choose, make sure there’s space for each of you to walk away if you need to. And leave enough time for you and your spouse to process the conversation. Don’t try to fit it in during a quick lunch break or right before you have to leave for a meeting.

Balance firmness with kindness

Your goal is not to instigate a fight, but you also don’t want to back down if your partner argues with you about divorce. Telling your spouse that you’ll reconsider (unless you really will) isn’t helpful to either of you.

Ensure them that you’ve thought this through carefully, that you respect them, and that you’re sure that you want a divorce. This is a good time to think about the golden rule. If the shoe were on the other foot, how would you want your spouse to share the news with you?

You can let your partner know that you’re hoping for an amicable divorce. Tell them you’d like to avoid going in front of a judge or making your personal information part of the public record.

That doesn’t mean you’ll have to figure it all out by yourselves. Attorneys who specialize in uncontested divorce can help guide you through the process. They’ll keep their focus on creating a fair resolution that allows you both to move forward as soon as possible.

Give your spouse time to process

Even if your marriage has been rocky, when you start a divorce conversation, you’re taking a step that your spouse may not expect.

You may have been thinking about this for weeks, months, even years. But it may be news to them. Give them time to process their emotions. That might mean they need to walk away for a while, take some time alone. Let them. Don’t push for a resolution to the conversation right away.

Bringing up the topic of divorce can create a new power dynamic in a relationship. Your spouse may feel blindsided and vulnerable. Vulnerability often shows up as anger. They may need to vent — to tell you all the ways you’ve hurt them or ask you to reconsider. If you find yourself wanting to argue back, take a breath and remember your goals.

The more you’re able to listen without arguing, the more likely they are to feel heard. And people who feel heard are less likely to fight and seek revenge.

(There’s a difference between your spouse expressing anger and your spouse physically or emotionally abusing you. If you think you’re at risk of being physically or emotionally abused during a divorce conversation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline)

Avoid getting too far ahead of yourselves

This first conversation is not the time to talk about who gets the house, the kids, or the bank accounts. Negotiations can come later, after your spouse has an opportunity to process this new information.

They may feel panicked and overwhelmed about all the ways their life is about to change. They may ask what you plan to do about details like child custody or alimony. They may make demands. A useful response is “I don’t know the answer to that right now. That’s something we can talk about once we’ve had the chance to process this conversation.”

Do your best not to commit to any terms in this initial conversation. And avoid asking your partner to come to any agreement. Emotions are likely running too high at this stage to make well-informed decisions.

Learn more: Top 5 Things to Avoid During Your Uncontested Divorce

What to do after you’ve asked for a divorce

If you haven’t already contacted an attorney, now is a good time to do so. If you want a peaceful resolution of your marriage, choose an attorney who specializes in amicable or uncontested divorce.

These attorneys are committed to helping you achieve that goal. They avoid turning the divorce process into a win/lose competition. Instead, they focus on creating a fair resolution so both parties can move forward as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

You may also want to seek guidance from other professionals. For instance, a co-parenting counselor can help you and your spouse parent together during and after the divorce.

Talk to your spouse about when and how you’ll choose to share this news with your friends, family, or children.

Just like every relationship is different, every divorce is different. These are guidelines for starting a difficult conversation with the long-term goal of a peaceful resolution. Use them in the context of what you know about yourself, your spouse, and your own relationship.

Most importantly, remember that you are not at the mercy of the divorce process. You have some control over how your divorce progresses. You can choose a more peaceful and productive path forward.

Contact Porchlight at 678-435-9069. We can help you complete your divorce without all the drama.