Think back to some of the most important conversations you’ve had in your life. How many have there been? For most people, the answer is just a handful. There is no doubt that the conversation you have with your spouse informing them that you want a divorce will make it to the list as well. And like all important matters, it requires some preparation and thought.
The manner in which you choose to begin the divorce process is significant in that it sets the tone for the entire divorce, and for your relationship with your ex afterwards. Some people opt for an aggressive approach, filing for divorce without informing their spouse and creating an element of surprise. Others choose to begin their post-marriage story with a collaborative and amicable approach. Unless they are in an extreme situation, such as domestic abuse, I always recommend to my clients to have an honest and respectful conversation with their spouse at this stage. Because less conflict means a less costly divorce and a better outcome for everyone.
My recommended approach to having “the conversation” revolves around 3 pillars which conveniently spell out “GPS”.
G stands for “Get yourself organised”
It is important to take a bit of time upfront to educate yourself about divorce. The best way to do this is to speak to professionals such as family lawyers or divorce coaches who can answer your questions. Avoid asking divorced friends or family as every case is different and their experience may be misleading. Search engines are also to be avoided due to the risk of obsolete, unverified or inapplicable information. In speaking to various professionals, I encourage you to explore the different divorce options that exist in your country (mediation, litigation, collaborative law…) and understand potential alternatives to divorce, such as separation. This will allow you to build a divorce or separation budget for the divorce costs themselves, but also for sustaining yourself after divorce.
The second consideration when getting yourself organised is safety. I always recommend to my clients to create a new email account with a different password, to which their spouse has no access. This email should be used for all divorce-related matters and must remain confidential. In the same vein, I would encourage you to change any passwords and passcodes on devices your spouse has access to and ensure your phone doesn’t have a tracking option enabled.
Unfortunately, there are many cases where divorce announcements lead to one party trying to hide financial information and documents. This is especially relevant if you are not involved in the financial management of the household expenses and income. Before speaking to your spouse, ensure you have gathered relevant financial information that might be easily hidden later, on such as bank account balances, mortgage providers, recent utility bills, your spouse’s income over the past few years… You may want to speak to a financial advisor for advice on the right information to gather at this stage.
P stands for “Prepare for the conversation”
If you are having this conversation, it probably means that you have a degree of respect for your spouse. It is important to have empathy too. Remember that while you may have been thinking and planning for divorce for months (or years!), they may not be in the same place as you at all. It can help to prepare for various potential reactions from your spouse and to have a defined course of action for each scenario. Role-playing or scripting what you are going to say ahead of time can be useful tools to explore with your divorce coach when preparing for this.
One of the fundamental pieces here is to make the conversation constructive. Remember that this is a forward-looking conversation, not an opportunity to assign blame or revisit past feuds. The objective here is not to have another argument but to leave the past behind you and start thinking about how to create separate futures in a non-destructive way.
At this stage, you may already want to start thinking about your expectations regarding the way you want your separation to unfold. How soon do you want to file for divorce? Will you continue to cohabitate during the divorce or live in separate houses? Do you want to try to resolve things together informally or do you need legal advice? How do you envisage your relationship post-divorce? How do you want to look back on your behaviour during the divorce a few years from now?
This is also a good time to start thinking about your expectations with regards the final divorce outcomes and arrangements. Early budgeting will help you get a good idea of how much maintenance you may require (or be able to provide, if you will be the one paying it) or whether you can afford to stay in the house without your spouse.
S in GPS, which stands for “Setting yourself up for success”
While it goes without saying, people often forget that the time and place to tell your spouse you want a divorce should not be improvised. Thinking through the actual setting for the conversation can help provide a sense of control and avoid mishaps. You will want to consider 3 elements: the form, the time and the place.
- The form: I always recommend having these conversations face to face as this type of announcement requires some personal contact. Avoid emails or text messages, in particular, as they do not allow you to hear the other person’s tone of voice and can often be misinterpreted.
- The place: Choose a place that is neutral, safe and allows you to have a potentially emotional conversation without interruption. If you are afraid of your spouse for any reason, consider meeting them in a public place or having someone else present.
- The time: It may seem obvious, but it is always better to have this conversation at a time when there is no live argument between you and your spouse. This needs to be a calm and rational conversation and it cannot be managed properly when emotions are already riding high. Something else to keep in mind, if you have children, is the importance of choosing a time when they are not in the house nor likely to return unexpectedly. It is very difficult to predict how long the conversation will last and how your spouse will react. You would not want your children overhearing your exchanges or walking in halfway through.
With regards to the conversation itself, make sure you keep it short and decisive. Be clear about your decision and try to avoid justifying it too much. As mentioned earlier, your spouse may be taken by surprise or simply not as prepared as you are to take this step. If you sense that they need extra time to process what you have just discussed, stop the conversation there and keep your initial thoughts about the next steps for a follow-up conversation when they are ready. You will have plenty of time to discuss the logistics of the divorce at a later time. The objective of this conversation is to inform your spouse of your decision and set the stage for a collaborative divorce resolution.
I hope this three-step approach will be useful to you as you embark on your own divorce journey. Remember that the way you behave has a significant influence on the outcome you will reach, as well as on the amount of grief and expense you will incur along the way.
About Chloe O.
“My name is Chloe O., I am an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) professional and a Certified Divorce Coach. I specialise in working with women to help them reduce conflict during and after divorce by improving their negotiation and communication skills with their spouse. The objective is to work towards an amicable divorce outcome in order to minimize the emotional and financial cost of divorce. I work with all types of clients but I have extensive experience in supporting expatriates and international families who are dealing with the unique situation of living abroad during and after their divorce, with limited local family support, language barriers and relocation considerations.”