How Do I Tell My Spouse?

Every so often a potential client calls my office asking how she/he should break the news of wanting a divorce to the other party who might not be aware of or in agreement with a crisis in their marriage. My first question is always, have you gone to counseling? Followed by my second question, alone or together?

As a mediation attorney people are usually surprised, asking “you are a divorce attorney, right?”  I assure them that yes, I am. But as a mediation attorney, I believe in keeping families together, under one roof or two different roofs. I do my best to save relationships, perhaps not as husband and wife but as parents, business partners or friends.

Inquiring about a divorce because one has been unhappy and has tried to resolve issues for some time, or that there has been financial or marital infidelity, are some of the reasons marriages break down. Divorce mediation does have some counseling component to it. I never encourage or direct any potential client to pursue a divorce unless I hear the magical phrase over the phone, “we have tried reconciliation for some time.”

This is my advice to the unhappy potential client; tell the other spouse about your unhappiness with the marriage and desire to resolve the marital issue with kindness and in peace. Avoid assigning blame or listing the shortcomings of your spouse; avoid the exchange of whose fault it has been or who has contributed what share of the blame. I have been told that sometimes the other spouse is equally unhappy but has not been expressing it.

Sometimes the other spouse, who is not prepared to confront these conflicts, may start threatening the unhappy caller with financial consequences, especially if he/she is the primary income earner. Although I encourage communication about spouses financial situation, stay calm and don’t start your negotiations from that angle. You can suggest that discussing all financials yourselves ahead of seeing the mediation attorney is economically and emotionally preferable to each hiring an attorney and taking it from there. It is your decision to do this jointly or separately. In order for this conversation not to fall into the “cracks” again, it is important to set a time frame for the honest discussion of your financial outlook.

Again, if you have been contemplating a divorce, discuss it with your partner directly rather than letting an attorney informing your spouse about your decision. I have been told by angry spouses who have been SERVED, that these kind of surprises are not fruitful and usually generate more anger and mistrust. If there has been domestic violence, I refer the caller immediately to Family Justice Center, a domestic violence organization in Buffalo as a starting point towards protection and divorce.

Remember, divorce, like marriage, needs two consenting parties. Otherwise, the result has the potential of emotional devastation and financial nightmares, for not only the immediate family but also the loved ones around them. So, do everybody a favor by putting your heart and brain together when asking for a divorce. After all, it should take two to divorce.  

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