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What Should I do if my Spouse Wants a Divorce?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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It can be a difficult thing if a spouse wants a divorce, particularly if you are not in agreement with your spouse about divorcing. Such a decision may grow out of a marriage that is already in trouble, or it may be sudden, and be particularly shocking to the spouse who wants to remain in the marriage. Sometimes, when the marriage has been particularly troubled, the fact that a spouse wants to get a divorce is actually a relief. This article will mainly focus on some steps you should take when this news comes as a surprise, in order to protect yourself, your right to portions of the marital estate, and your consideration of continued support of self and children.

In all of the United States, there is virtually no way to stop a marriage from ending, since every state allows a no fault divorce. This can be interpreted differently from state to state, but in the end it usually means that if a spouse wants a divorce, you may be able to stall it, but you can’t stop it. You can waste much time and money attempting to stall a divorce, but it’s unlikely that you can actually prevent the divorce from happening from a legal perspective.

When the news that a spouse wants to divorce is sudden, it’s suggested that you don’t leave your home, particularly if you have children, unless you feel that you or your children are at personal physical risk. Though you may be technically entitled to half of the property, in community property states, leaving may be construed as abandoning some if not all of your possessions. When a spouse wants a divorce, let him or her leave instead, so as not to lose these rights.

After you’ve listened to a spouse’s initial reasons for wanting a divorce, suggest counseling for you both. Even if you don’t want to continue the marriage, counseling may still help settle issues of custody, child support and division of assets. It’s natural to feel very angry, abandoned, hurt, and rejected. However, if you retaliate in any manner when a spouse wants a divorce, you could damage your rights to custody of your children or to a fair division of assets. It can be very difficult to rise above these terrible times. Even when your spouse won’t go to counseling, seek it for yourself and your children to help you through this difficult period.

You also will want to take some stock of your assets, especially liquid ones. If you feel the spouse may cheat you, you should remove, especially in a community property state, half of your liquid assets to a secure bank. Also know that should finances be very tight, you can apply to the courts in many cases, for emergency financial assistance from the spouse leaving the marriage.

You should also recognize your legal responsibility for half or more of any debt. Be sure to contact any credit card companies and remove your name from any joint credit accounts. Explain the situation; most people are very understanding. You can assume half the debt and ask it be placed on a new account you solely hold, or you can ask that your name be removed and inform the company you do not authorize any new charges. This may be helpful when it comes to determining share of debt in divorce proceedings.

If money is tight, at minimum, research and read the divorce code for your state and get well acquainted with your rights. In some cases it is more advantageous for you to be the initial filer for a divorce, and in others, it’s easier and cheaper to respond to the spouse filing for the divorce. If you can, consult a few lawyers and ask them questions about their cost, custody issues, and any issues regarding divorce that you do not understand. Most lawyers will give you a minimum half hour free consultation, which may help answer some of your questions. When money is not an issue, you should seek legal counsel immediately upon learning that your spouse wants a divorce.

For extra support, rely on friends and family, and check out the many Internet chat rooms for people experiencing these same things. These can all be helpful during this difficult time. Do take any legal advice from other folks and verify it with a lawyer or by looking up divorce code in your state.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon298459 — On Oct 20, 2012

Quick question if one doesn't mind me asking. Why is it that the man has to move out? Why can't the woman?

By anon298397 — On Oct 19, 2012

My husband of 12 years and I are in an unhappy marriage. I feel that he is mean spirited and angry the majority of the time. Consequently, I no longer find him attractive. We have two kids aged 4 and 10. I feel our relationship is affecting their well being.

My husband is very confrontational and I choose not to argue anymore, despite him trying to cause arguments. I have told him that I would like him to find somewhere else to live, but he just says I will have to make it formal if I don't want him there. He does not wish to buy me out of the mortgage and I do not feel that I could afford to pay him half of the equity and pay the remaining £100,000 left on the mortgage.

What do I need to make him leave as I do not wish to live in this atmosphere anymore. We are beyond marriage guidance as I no longer love him. Neither of us have anyone else on the side as far as I am aware. I just find his angry behavior, calling me horrid words and swearing in front of the children unacceptable. What do I need to do? --Anonymous of Sheffield

By j1980 — On Jan 02, 2011

can you please tell me what saved your marriage? i love my husband so much and i don't want to lose him. but i don't know what to do to ask him want to stay with me. please help me.

By turtlez — On Sep 27, 2010

@bbpuff - I agree with the counseling, but don't agree with separation. If children are involved this can be the beginning of a very long process. In some cases, I have known people that have separated and then claimed in the divorce that abandonment took place with their spouse having abandoned their children. I am not sure how that all works, but it seemed fishy to me since separation is a legal process. (Maybe they didn't file the papers...?) I have also known people to become very vindictive during separation and divorce, plotting how to literally pull a fast one on the other spouse. Such a shame.

By bbpuff — On Sep 27, 2010

@wecallherana - I agree with you and definitely think couples should seriously consider marital counseling before finalizing a divorce. I also thing that legal separation spares divorce in many cases as many couples feel they have just lost the love. Separation is a temporary split of the couple and can really help you realize how much you love the other person.

By wecallherana — On Sep 27, 2010

@bobsmith0227 - That is a good thing to hear because so many people forget the whole point of marriage. I wish you would have elaborated a little more on the resource you found, though. I'm not married, but am a child of divorce and it was not a pleasant experience.

I think that any couple considering divorce as an option should definitely think again and take a step back to re-evaluate their marriage, their problems, and considering marital counseling - especially when one spouse wants a divorce... or think they might want one.

By bobsmith0227 — On Apr 13, 2010

This was very interesting. When my wife met with an attorney a few years ago and asked me to move out, I thought my marriage was over. A resource online absolutely saved our marriage!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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