How to Talk About Joint Divorce

Posted: 10 October, 2023

We have clients who know their spouse will agree to a divorce, but haven’t talked about filing a divorce.  You might think this is peculiar.   We did too, at first.  What we learned is that many couples are ready for a divorce, but neither know how to bring it up, or what to even bring up.   Bringing up the subject of divorce is not easy.  Even when both spouses are ready to file.

The easiest divorce is a joint divorce, also known as an uncontested divorce, or joint petition divorce.  This process starts with both spouses agreeing to the terms of a divorce, and filing a few documents with the court.  It can be that simple.

How do you bring up the subject?  While there is no perfect way to ask your spouse for a divorce, there are steps you can take to help the process of divorce run more smoothly or more amicably. Here are a few tips on what to say, how to say it, and when to say it.

How to Say Divorce?

There is no “perfect” way to tell your spouse you would like a divorce.  Divorce is the death of a marriage. Some people look at it as a failure.  No one likes talking about death or failure.  However, how you begin this conversation may have the potential to shape the divorce proceedings.

Being compassionate is always a good way to approach the situation since most people will not respond calmly when confronted with anger, blame, or frustration. Saying something like “I know this may be hard for you to hear and may come as a surprise, but I believe we should consider a divorce”, will allow you to get your message across without being harsh or abrasive.

Phrasing your statements as “I” statements instead of “You” statements can help alleviate some of the blame and may prevent an uncomfortable fight. Examples of this may be “I feel that we have grown apart” or “I am have not been happy in our marriage for some time” instead of “You never do nice things for me anymore” or “It is your fault that I am so lonely.”

If you are unsure or anxious about what to say, it may help to consult with a therapist, a close friend, or religious leader who may give you different advice.   Some therapists may be willing to help you become comfortable with the conversation by role playing or helping you to write a “script” to follow.  Here is a list of our recommended divorce therapists.

No Screaming

During the actual conversation, it is important to be calm and collected. Screaming at your spouse is rarely productive, and blame only makes the conversation worse. Be prepared for an unexpected reaction.   Even when you know they want the divorce, the first discussion can cause anger, fear, tears, or all three.   You may have spent a lot of time planning for this conversation, he or she might not.   Allow them a little bit of time to catch up with you, and for the reality of the situation to sink in.

Timing is Important

Picking an appropriate time to have the conversation is key to having a rational, calm discussion.  Talking about a divorce on your anniversary, on their birthday, or Christmas morning is not what you want.

Avoid situations when the spouse is sick or when some terrible event has occurred. Have any major life events occurred recently that may be adding stress or pressure to your spouse’s life? Has there been a death or serious illness recently in the family? If you can, give some time in between major events.

Discussing divorce with your spouse and a therapist is a good idea.    This gives the conversation a referee who can break-up any fights.

Be Prepared

Prepare for your partner’s reactions to your announcement. Your spouse may be blindsided by your decision and may react with anger, confusion, or shock. Remember that you have had months to come to terms with your decision to divorce while your partner probably has not had the same luxury. They may need time, space, and patience as they sort out their own feelings.

If you sought the guidance of a therapist or religious leader, it may help to suggest that you visit them again, but this time with your spouse. This may help to keep the lines of communication open as you move forward with the legal aspects.

Discussing Divorce Details

Refrain from discussing the specifics of the divorce until after you have retained legal counsel. Speaking to your partner about the details of “who gets the house” while you are both emotional may cause problems during mediation in the future. Seeking the advice of a trusted divorce lawyer will protect you from making consolatory statements that may harm your chances for an equal division of assets.

The first conversation may not be the best time to discuss the details of the divorce. Speaking in broad terms will likely be easier for both spouses at this point. You can hammer out the details after you have both had some time to absorb the situation. Ask general questions about custody, selling the home, credit card debts, etc.   Take some notes and then use these later to work on exact details.

Divorce Worksheet

After the subject is open for discussion, the details of your divorce should be discussed.  We have found a good way to discuss details is to review our Joint Petition Worksheet with your spouse.  The worksheet is a useful document because it shows all the details you should be discussing.   Almost all of the significant terms of a divorce are listed on the worksheet.    By completing the worksheet you can easily see which terms you both agree on, and which ones need some discussion.

Denial is not a River in Egypt

You have approached your partner and informed them, gently but firmly, that you want a divorce and you would like them to agree to an uncontested divorce, or a joint divorce.  But, they won’t actually do anything or talk with you about filing the divorce. What now?

Just because you have talked to them about a divorce doesn’t mean they understand what a divorce means for them.   How is a divorce going to change their life?   Have a divorce lawyer draw up detailed terms you would like to offer in the divorce.  This way your spouse to look at what this means to them.  They will know more about how the assets are going to be divided, how much in spousal support is being discussed, the custody schedule with the children, etc.

You could seek out a divorce mediator or marriage family therapist. Meeting with a therapist may help your spouse process the emotions blocking the rational decision to participate in the negotiations of the divorce.  It is important for your partner to know that you aren’t “out to get them” and that you want the final divorce decisions to be fair to you both.   A therapist may help them understand this.

Ultimately, a spouse cannot stop you from getting a divorce.  They can only make it easier by agreeing to the terms.   You always have the option to retain a lawyer, draw up papers, and serve your partner with them.  This forces them to react, because they must respond to the divorce papers.   Sometimes this approach is good for the divorce, as it  forces your spouse to contact an attorney, who then negotiate a final divorce.