Many times, I am the first person a client tells when they want a divorce. As a divorce lawyer, clients trust that I will listen with a sympathetic ear and help them plan out the best course of action to get them through the New Jersey divorce process. If they have not discussed the situation with their spouse, they often ask “how do I tell my spouse I want a divorce.” I then help guide them through that first conversation.

Unless you fear for your safety or even your life, a divorce conversation is necessary. This isn’t the type of news you deliver via text or on a post-it note. A marriage is a living breathing entity that is in its final stages and while it wasn’t a success, the relationship is worthy of a conversation. You have the opportunity to establish a clear line of communication which can be carried into your post-divorce / co-parenting life.

I always start out by saying that this is not going to be easy. I have never heard a client report back that the first conversation was “no big deal” nor have I heard anyone say “gosh that was so simple.” In the most extreme cases it is a shock to an unexpected spouse, but even when there has been marital trouble, it is always a difficult and awkward conversation. Getting the strength together to utter the words “I want a divorce” can be monumental, but we can get you there.

Having a plan is essential, and my best advice is that this first conversation should be rather short. You and your soon-to-be ex-spouse have many more conversations ahead of you to discuss details. Your plan for this first one can include notes or even a more detailed script you use to rehearse. I suggest you be as clear and brief as you can. Do not include blame, attempt to lay on guilt, or tell your spouse what you think he/she did wrong in the relationship.

Find a convenient time and quiet place to meet. This should not be discussed while the children are awake, and if at all possible, not when they are home. If not in the house, I advise my clients, you want an uncrowded public space that offers you some privacy. This can include a park or even the end of a boardwalk. You might meet for coffee at a diner or dessert at a restaurant.

Remember, you have no control over your spouse’s reaction. Remain calm if your words are met with anger. If you anticipate your spouse is going to be blindsided by the news you could face a full range of emotions including disappointment and even uncontrolled hostility. Be prepared to handle these situations including the possibility of safely walking away to allow the other party to calm down a bit. Additionally, he may beg for you to give it another try, she may promise to do better. Are you willing to give it another try? What would need to change? Would therapy help? It is best to explore these questions beforehand so you have answers prepared.

Your spouse, acting out of anger, is probably going to want specifics and you may be peppered with questions like “how much alimony do you want or do I get,” “where are the children going for the holidays?” Be prepared to say that all these issues will be resolved through the divorce process. This isn’t the time to discuss dividing up the 401k or who gets the kids on Thanksgiving. Emotions are too high and you need the help of an experienced legal professional to help you explore the best scenarios for you.

Acknowledge to yourself that even though you are the one initiating the conversation and the divorce, it is not going to be easy and you may become quite emotional. You certainly didn’t enter your marriage expecting it to come to an end. You may also be filled with cultural, religious, and personal issues surrounding your status a divorced person. It is natural that these outside entities can weigh heavily on you.

Lastly, prepare for the fact that your spouse might be relieved. He or she may realize it isn’t working out as well but not strong enough or ready to make the decision. They may be thankful you have the strength to start the process.

Many of my clients come to my office looking for assistance before their spouse has any idea the divorce is coming. No matter where you are in the process, if you need any legal support, please call our office and schedule an appointment. We can offer creative solutions tailored to your personal circumstances to make the process of divorce as easy as possible for you.