steps to talk about divorce

How To Ask For A Divorce

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You’ve tried and struggled, gone to couple’s therapy and all the rest, but you just can’t make your marriage work. How do you ask for a divorce? That’s an awkward conversation no one really wants to have. Okay, it’s one you probably want to have. Or at least you want the result that comes from such a discussion. Still, that’s rarely an exchange most people look forward to.

But it’s an important talk to have. If you’re at the point you want to ask for a divorce, things are obviously not great in your relationship. This is also not a conversation to take lightly. Divorce is a decision that permanently changes almost every aspect of your life, from finances to family to your living situation.

How do you ask for a divorce?

There are a number of considerations to take into account when you ask for a divorce. This single conversation can potentially set the tone for the entire process that follows. Whether things are amicable or combative often hinge on the beginnings.


No matter what, no one is going to come out of this conversation feeling great. It may be a relief to get it over with, but odds are you won’t want to celebrate afterward. When you ask for a divorce, knowing the situation goes a long way to how you approach the talk.

Does your spouse know it’s coming or will this deliver a massive shock? If your spouse lives in blissful ignorance, refusing to see the signs, that’s a different conversation than if the writing has been on the wall for some time and you’re both basically just living in the wreckage of your marriage.

Pick The Right Time And Place

Whether or not there is truly a “right” time to have this conversation remains a subject of some debate. But there are steps to take to hopefully make it easier and more manageable. No time and place will be ideal, but there are times and places that are certainly preferable to others. Give serious thought to when and where you ask for a divorce.

  • Make sure there is time and space for you to have the conversation the situation requires.
  • Don’t just light the fuse and run.
  • Pick a location where you can have a calm, private discussion.
  • Choose a time when you don’t immediately have somewhere to be.
  • If there are crazy life events going on, maybe wait for a more opportune moment.
  • When your spouse just lost a parent or got fired from a job may not be the ideal occasion. 

If you have kids, you may want to send them to a friends’ house or to spend the night at a relative’s. That way there won’t be any interruptions and the discussion can have all your attention. Also, if things get heated, there’s no worry that the kids will see you fight or ask uncomfortable questions.

Be Strong And Direct But Calm

As mentioned earlier, how you ask for a divorce can set the tone of the entire process. If you start things off with antagonism, it’s hard to expect your spouse to respond with even keeled rationality. Many experts suggest using “we” statements instead of “I” statements—for example, “we don’t get along well anymore,” “we don’t communicate with each other”—so it doesn’t seem like you’re accusing or attacking.

Be calm and gentle, but also firm and steady. In reality, you’re not actually asking your spouse to grant you a divorce. What you’re saying is, “I want a divorce.”

California is a no-fault divorce state, so no one can force a person to stay married. All that’s required is for one party to declare that a marriage is irretrievably broken and the courts will grant you your divorce. Still, there has to be at least some level of cooperation throughout the process.

Consider How Your Spouse Will Respond

You know this person well, maybe better than anyone else in the world. At this stage in your relationship, you probably have a decent idea of how your spouse will react when you ask for a divorce. Prepare for that.

If this is going to come as a total surprise, expect a surprised response. If things have been combative lately, a combative reaction isn’t out of the question.

No matter what, there are a lot of emotions involved in ending a marriage. Even if this doesn’t shock anyone, hearing it like this may stir up all kinds of feelings. People don’t always respond rationally, so prepare for what you think will happen but also get ready for the unexpected.

Starting The Conversation

This is the kind of conversation you need to have in person. Don’t send an email, text, or leave a voicemail; don’t have someone else do it for you. Unless those are the only ways you can contact your spouse, then you don’t really have any other options. But face-to-face is the best choice if possible. It’s also a hard discussion to have. You may want to ask for a divorce, say what you have to say, and leave.

But it’s also important to let your spouse talk, to provide the opportunity to be heard. Starting off this way often helps lay the groundwork for more effective, efficient communication throughout the divorce process. So not only is it the right thing to do, it may benefit your cause down the road.

Plan For What’s To Come

Don’t start talking details in that moment, but it’s not the worst idea to think about what comes next. Though you probably don’t want to ask for a divorce then immediately start breaking down how to divide your shared assets, it’s a good time to examine your circumstances.

Know as much as you can about the family finances. What you have in savings, how much do you owe on joint credit cards, and that sort of information. Then there are other practical concerns to think about, like who’s name is on the utility bill and if your health insurance is through your spouse’s work. If you have kids, think about whether or not you want to pursue full custody.

This is a good time to take stock of your situation. Know what you have to divide. Decide if you want child custody. If you expect a contentious split, this is the perfect time to consult a divorce lawyer.

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