What to do ASAP when your spouse wants a divorce

I’ve seen plenty of clients immediately after their spouse has put divorce on the table, and not one of them had an inkling of ‘what to do’ next. The news is often unexpected, and feels – well, catastrophic.

When we’re in a crisis, survival-based emotional responses hijack our thinking brains. It’s fight or flight. Either you run away from the danger (denial), or you choose to battle. That’s where anger comes in – and it can be motivating.

Anger is a complex emotion – it is not a pure feeling. Peeling back the anger, you’ll find additional layers, including hurt, betrayal, confusion, shock, anxiety, shame, regret, denial, and grief. The question “how did this happen?” echoes tortuously – for a while.


The goal is to get familiar with these feelings, learn to live with the emotional onion.  When this happens, you will move forward with your life in spite of it. Those of us who have been through divorce know. To survive, and get to the ‘other side’, you deal with these feelings, rather than suppress them. And it can take some time, so keep at it.

It’s important to have someone to talk to who is not tied to the outcome of your life, other than your well-being and growth. Family members and friends are invested in the outcome of your life, one way or another. I can’t stress that enough! Find an experienced therapist.

In the meantime, while you are learning to manage this emotional ‘crazy time’ (link to recommended reading here) http://www.abigailtrafford.com/books/crazy-time.php, you ideally want to take some proactive steps on your behalf.

Though divorce is probably 90% an emotional event, you can’t ignore the fact that it will create a ripple effect of other changes – legal, social, psychological, and spiritual. There are decisions to be made which will effect your life for years to come. It’s best if you are the one who makes those decisions.

You are changing, like it or not. Be a butterfly, or lay dormant in the cocoon.

You are in information gathering stage. Stop, listen, and think. Do not commit to anything yet.

What to Do Now – 

*Investigate the different methods, or processes, for dissolving 01-red-question-marka marriage in the state where you reside. There are three main processes – litigation (traditional divorce model), mediation, and collaborative divorce. Knowing which process you and your STBFS will use to dissolve your marriage will inform your choice of an attorney. Do not let it work the other way around.

*Find an attorney you feel comfortable and confident with – Consult, consult, consult. Interview as many as it takes – some attorneys will give you time without a fee, if even over the phone. This is information gathering, not hiring time. Make sure to tell each attorney that you interview about your preference for a divorce model. Notice the attorneys’ reactions and responses. Take notes and make notes on your notes. Do not pay an attorney retainer fee until you’ve done this due diligence.

*Tell your inner circle – You need support from those closest to you. These can be friends, family, clergy, co-workers, etc.. Only people you deeply trust. Remember, they are not objective. Do not solicit or take advice from your inner circle about how to get divorced, choosing an attorney, etc. Remember, they are not objective.

*Depending on who is in your inner circles, (there are two inner circles), sharing with them may necessitate sharing the news with your children. If at all possible, I advise coordinating with your STBFS (soon to be former spouse), to minimize any drama. This is very important. Do some reading here before talking with your children http://www.webheights.net/dividedheart/teyber/hcc.htm. Do not share the divorce with your children without the knowledge of your STBFS.

*Get very familiar with your finances. Make a spreadsheet detailing your bank accounts, checking and savings. List the properties you own, what the mortgages are, and who holds them. This is not about mistrust of your STBFS, but about you having answers to questions. You need to know the financial picture. Get a snapshot of your credit accounts as well. Calculate your net worth as a couple. Learn about your insurance policies, the coverage, the cost, all the details. Do not make any changes to your finances, assets or debts, or insurance policies.

*Check out your credit report. Subscribe to one of those credit  monitoring agencies. This is not based on mistrust of your STBFS, but because you will need a good credit score to do anything in your future life. And it’s time to start protecting it if you haven’t already. Do clean up any mess that exists on your credit report.

*Find something that ‘feeds’ you spiritually. I have seen people uplifted by returning to church, reading scripture, reading Tao, singing in a choir, volunteering where you’re needed, or reconnecting with long lost family and friends. Do use your energy to nurture your spirit, and perhaps develop a new dimension to yourself. It is possible.

These things may take a little time, that is ok. The idea is to make sure you are taking steps forward.




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