How to Ask for a Divorce

Talking to your spouse about getting divorced can be difficult. There is no “right” way to ask for a divorce. How you ask will depend on the relationship you have with your spouse, whether you have children, whether you have already separated, and many other factors. However, there are some things that you should keep in mind no matter your particular circumstances.


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    Ask in person. Don’t leave a voicemail message, send a letter through email, text a “Goodbye,” or ask your parents to do it for you. Asking for a divorce is an adult decision that demands you behave as an adult in the asking. Sit down with your spouse face-to-face.
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    Keep it cordial. The tone of this initial conversation will likely set the tone for all future divorce negotiations and proceedings. You can gain short-term satisfaction by yelling and pointing fingers, but if you keep your conversation calm and rational, you stand a better chance of protecting your long-term interests.
    • Don’t play the "blame-game." Don’t accuse and attack. You don’t need to score points or compare lists of wrong-doings. It’s not productive and the victories you win from it are short-lived. Instead, be respectful and sincere.
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    Consider the time and place. Your goal is to make this conversation with your spouse go as smoothly as possible. Will your spouse prefer a private discussion at home? If you fear an outburst of violent anger, would you feel safer talking to your spouse in a public space? Is there a large project at your spouse's work coming up that is already stressing him or her? Is there a time when children can be at school, with friends, or with other family to allow you and your spouse privacy? You probably already know the time and environment that would be most appropriate for this conversation. Go with your gut.
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    Stay honest. Your spouse will likely want to talk about your reasons for wanting a divorce. Rather than rattling off a list of painful occurrences, it might be better to keep your rationale clean (e.g. “I don't feel romantically attracted to you anymore.”). However, don't lie. If you can answer a question, do. If you can't answer (either because it's too emotionally difficult or because you don't know), explain that you can't answer. Note, however, that this is not the best time to talk about any new people you may have met. Bringing an affair into the conversation will throw the discussion into a tangent and it will be hard to bring it back to the topic of the relationship between you and your spouse.
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    Know yourself. Your spouse may make promises of better behavior, may ask for marriage counseling, or otherwise try to sway your position. If you have not previously considered alternatives to divorce, ask yourself now if you would be willing to give them a try. Go into your conversation with your spouse knowing how you feel and whether you would be willing to postpone your request for divorce depending on their reaction.
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    Know your assets. It is a very good idea to go into your conversation with your spouse knowing about the family finances. What do you have in savings? Is your health insurance through your spouse's work? Do you have life insurance naming your spouse as the beneficiary? How is your children’s school or childcare paid? In whose name is the house? Who is listed on the rental agreement, the utility bills, and other household services?
    • You do not necessarily need to start cancelling services and transferring titles to assets away from your spouse before you’ve even asked for a divorce, but you should go into the conversation knowing what your family assets are.
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    Plan for the consequences. Despite previous advice, if you anticipate your spouse reacting poorly, it might be a good idea to cancel jointly-held credit cards and apply for your own credit cards. Further, it can be a good idea to move half your jointly-held savings into a separate account. As much as you can, avoid touching or spending that savings until the divorce proceedings are finalized.
    • Many assets are not as easy to protect. For instance, perhaps your family has stock or bonds that would incur a penalty or loss to sell or transfer. In these cases, be sure to discuss with your spouse what you'd like done.
    • Even if you anticipate a more collected response from your spouse, there are still a number of issues for which you should have a rough plan. What happens to the children? Who keeps the house? Should the car be sold? Remember that you've known in advance that you would be asking for a divorce, and that this may come as a shock to your spouse. It is therefore appropriate that you have some initial thoughts and plans for the aftermath.
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    Talk with a therapist. If you think it can help, talk to a therapist. During your conversation (if not before), let your spouse know that you are seeing a therapist. It might be a good idea to recommend they also find someone to talk to. However, be clear with your spouse about whether you are going to a therapist with a goal of eventually reuniting with your spouse, or not.
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    Consult a lawyer. There are a multitude of issues to consider, assets to transfer, and papers to file. A lawyer can help you navigate it all.


  • Do not clean out bank accounts or damage property. Do not slander or libel your spouse to friends, to family, or (especially) to a wide audience over the internet. While your spouse might deserve such punishment, remember that a judge will see your vindictive behavior as evidence against you (not as evidence that your spouse deserved such treatment).
  • Replacing the word "we" for "I" keeps the conversation calm and directed. Your spouse won't feel accused or attacked if you add yourself to the mix. Using the term "we" when asking for a divorce means you are accepting some responsibility for the breakdown of the marriage. Here are some non-attacking phrases to use when asking for a divorce:
    • "We don't get along anymore."
    • "We don't communicate well with each other."
    • "We seem to want different things out of life."
    • "We should probably talk about divorce."
  • If there is a history of domestic violence, you should speak to professionals before having a conversation about divorce with your spouse. You should have a safety plan in place for you and your children (if any) to ensure your protection.
  • Your spouse will question why, but, often, what they really want to know is if you are having an affair. As stated above, it’s a good idea to deflect away from talking about an affair. However, if you can’t avoid the subject, consider answering that you are looking for someone who can love / respect / care for you, but you are unable to continue / fully commit yourself to that relationship until a divorce is final. Then, turn back to a discussion of your relationship with your spouse.

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Categories: Divorce