How to Tell Your Spouse It's Over (Nicely) Plus a Sample Script
- Sample divorce script or letter
- Preparation checklist: Before you break the news
- Divorce process 101
- Divorce tips
- Dealing with your spouse’s reaction
- Practice and prepare for your announcement
- Moving forward with your divorce after telling your spouse
Your relationship is over, but you've waited to have the "I want a divorce" talk. After all, it's one of the most difficult conversations you'll ever have. In this article, I'm sharing advice on how to tell your partner you want to end your marriage or domestic partnership (nicely). I also wrote a sample letter or email for you to use.
But first ... who do I think I am, writing your divorce-themed Dear John letter for you? You don't have to use it, but I wanted to create a script you could potentially use to break the ice with your spouse about important topics you want to discuss at the beginning of your divorce.
Maybe after reading it, you'll find your own "right words." But one thing is for sure: Reviewing this won't make things worse. How do I know? I've been a divorce lawyer for over 16 years, first at Levine Family Law Group and now as the CEO and Founder of Hello Divorce, an online breakup service that guides you through the legal process without the cost, confusion, and drama of a traditional divorce.
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I understand that no one can sleep soundly during the days, weeks, and sometimes months or years before they tell their spouse they want out. Hundreds of people have asked me how to approach this crucial step in the process. So, I created this guide. Feel free to copy, paste, and edit:
Sample divorce letter to break the news that you want a divorce
Last night was hard for me. I can't even imagine how you must be feeling since I shared with you that I want a divorce. This was the most excruciating and important decision I've ever made, and I want you to know that I didn't make it overnight. We've been struggling for a while, and I just don't see a path forward that keeps our marriage intact and both of us happy.
While I have had time to process what I want and why, it still feels quite painful, and I need you to know that I did not come to this decision lightly. I am certain that despite our ongoing struggles, this feels surprising to you, and you are flooded with a million different emotions. I want you to know that I am committed to making the divorce process as civil and amicable as possible. We began in honesty. Let us end in it, too.
I have done a lot of research on divorce, and what I've learned is that there are ways to stay out of court and keep costs down. While I want us each to have the support we need, I am confident we are not the kind of people who will fight about every last thing in a long, drawn-out court battle. I've decided to proceed with help from Hello Divorce. It's an online platform full of resources, articles, and worksheets that support people through the divorce process. It's been helpful to me, and I think it would be helpful to you, too.
One thing that Hello Divorce stresses is that in divorce, information helps people feel empowered and in control, which leads to less conflict. And I so very much want to work through this process with you with as much openness, honesty, and communication as possible. Here are some of the articles and other resources I found on their website that I found helpful and that you might like, too:
- Divorce 101 – a free 100-page download including essential worksheets, checklists, and tips for navigating the entire divorce process
- The Ultimate Guide to Divorce Mediation
- How to Calm Your Divorce Overwhelm in 6 Steps
- Steps to Take Before You Begin Divorce Mediation in case we need a little help along the way from a neutral third party
I confess I don't know how to end an email like this. But I do know that while the future for us isn't what we'd planned, I'm grateful for the life we shared. And I hope we can move forward in a way that gives both of us the freedom to focus on our next chapter without dwelling on the stuff that led us to this place. Not that we can't be angry or sad, but I am hopeful that we can remember the good, not just the recent struggles or painful memories.
[Your name here]
If you have kids, add this to your divorce letter:
Because I know we're both concerned about the kids, I sincerely hope we can agree to make every effort possible to come up with a co-parenting solution we can all live with and build upon. I've done a bunch of research, and from what I understand, kids are super resilient, and they do much better when we shield them from (our) conflict.
I think the worksheet Create a Thoughtful Co-Parenting Plan would be a helpful tool for us to both work through. It has some good questions for us to think about in advance. If we work through this, we can compare our thoughts/notes as we start creating our own plan. There are loads of other resources at this link, including 26 Ways to Win at Co-Parenting This Year (and Beyond).
Addressing co-parenting issues early communicates to your spouse that you want to maintain a united front for the kids. You don’t intend to rob your ex of precious time with their kids. Instead, you intend to work to preserve these precious family relationships. You are still a family; you just won’t be married parents anymore.
Preparation checklist: Before you break the news
Planning ahead goes a long way. Having a checklist to work with can help you minimize stress and anxiety over all the small details of your divorce process. If you can, take care of these important tasks before you share your intentions with your spouse.
Gather financial documents
You will need a lot of financial information to work out a divorce settlement. Gather it now, before you are flustered by having told your spouse, and before your spouse is angry or otherwise upset about the news.
- Pay stubs and income tax documents for both of you
- Bank statements for every account affiliated with your spouse, yourself, and the two of you jointly
- Property list (list major items that are marital property and personal property)
- Real estate records of your shared home and any other shared property
- Retirement account information
- Insurance policy information (life, home, car, etc.)
- Credit card statements
- Loan documents on your home, vehicles, etc.
- Passports, Social Security cards, and birth certificates for yourself and the kids
Take these actions
- Obtain some emergency cash. We’re not saying drain your shared accounts; we’re saying you should have plenty of cash on hand in case you need it.
- Change your passwords. Change all of them, from your phone screen lock to your social media accounts and email passwords. You might also decide to close or pause your social media accounts, for now.
- Secure valuables that belong solely to you. If there are certain photographs, pieces of jewelry, or other items you want to keep safe, get them now, and put them in a safe location.
- Figure out where you’ll live. After you break the news, you may not want to stay under the same roof anymore. If this is the case, you need to know ahead of time where you (and possibly the kids) will stay in the interim.
- Learn about the divorce process. Know what to expect. Your state has residency requirements and filing rules. There are different types of divorces, from uncontested (relatively easy) to contested. There are various grounds for divorce, from no-fault divorce to at-fault divorce. Learn about the process now, so you know how to proceed when the time comes.
- Have a strategy in place. This includes who you might hire or work with. For example, will you hire a mediator to help the two of you split your assets and make big decisions about things like child custody and spousal support? Will you work with a local attorney to file your papers and arrange your marital settlement? Or will you partner with an online service (like Hello Divorce)?
If you’d like to learn about our flat-rate divorce plans, legal coaching services, mediators, or any of the other services we offer, we invite you to schedule a free 15-minute phone call with an account coordinator.
Divorce process 101
Here’s an important truth: Most people don’t need a lawyer to finalize their divorce, and they can save a lot of money by not hiring one. You can understand the basics of the divorce process, and in many instances, you can handle this yourself – or with a little help from people like the professionals at Hello Divorce.
Here are the “bare bones” basics of the divorce process:
- You (the Petitioner) fill out a divorce petition and file it
- You officially notify your spouse of this pending legal action, usually by hiring a process server
- You and your spouse negotiate a settlement regarding your property, debts, children, and any spousal or child support
- A judge reviews your proposed settlement and approves it
- You receive your divorce decree
Of course, there are a lot more details to know. Here are some additional tips, along with links to helpful resources on the Hello Divorce website.
- Each state has its own laws regarding how a divorce works. This includes specific residency requirements. See our article, What Are Residency Requirements in Divorce?
- You will need to decide whether your divorce is uncontested or contested. An uncontested divorce is usually a lot cheaper and faster. See our article, What Is Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce, and How Does Each Work?
- You must state the grounds for your divorce. In some states, the only grounds are something like “irreconcilable differences.” In other states, you have the opportunity to allege fault. See our article, Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce: Understanding Both Options.
- You will need to make “financial disclosures” to your spouse. This may be a formal or informal process, depending on your state’s laws. See our article, Financial Disclosures vs. Financial Discovery in Divorce.
- You and your spouse will need to craft a marital settlement agreement. Some couples have an easy time of this; others struggle. If you struggle, you may be able to get help from a mediator. Working with a mediator costs less time and money than hiring a divorce attorney. See our articles, What Are Divorce Negotiations? And What to Expect in Mediation.
- The way you divide your property may depend on the state you live in. See our article, Equitable Distribution States vs. Community Property States.
- Child-related issues can be high-stress issues for divorcing couples. See our articles, How is Child Custody Determined? and Common Parenting Time Schedules: Which Is Right for You?
- Even if you work with a money-saving service like Hello Divorce, your financial picture will change post-divorce. See our articles, How to Create a Post-Divorce Budget and How to Trim Your Budget after Divorce.
Dealing with your spouse’s reaction
At this point in your divorce journey, one of your top questions may be, “How will my spouse react when I tell them I want a divorce?” Naturally, you will want to be prepared for any reaction. Here are a few reactions your spouse might have and ideas for how to respond if they do:
An angry reaction
You might expect your spouse to have an angry response to your request for divorce. They might yell, condescend, accuse, or threaten you with dramatic statements like, “I’ll take the kids from you in court.”
First and foremost, protect your safety and that of your kids. If someone’s physical or emotional well-being is in danger in the heat of the moment, respond to that first.
Otherwise, you might respond to a spouse’s anger in the following ways.
- Show a calm response, and encourage them to do the same. “I understand that you're angry, and I want to have a conversation where we can express our feelings without escalating things. Can we try to talk calmly about this?"
- Take an empathetic approach while clarifying your intentions: "I see that this news has made you angry. It's okay to be upset. My decision is not meant to hurt you. I believe it's the best choice for both of us, and I want to discuss how we can navigate through this with respect."
- Maintain boundaries while avoiding blame: "I don't want this to turn into a blame game. I hope we can do that without assigning blame. I’ll be ready to talk about this with you when you’re less angry.”
- Encourage communication, and introduce the concept of getting help from a mediator or therapist: "Let's talk about what led us to this point and how we can move forward. If you're open to it, maybe we could consider talking to a mediator or a therapist to help us find common ground."
A sad reaction
Your spouse, especially if they weren’t expecting it, may react with sadness and talk about how devastated they are. It's a challenging situation, and approaching it with compassion and sensitivity is crucial.
Although you cannot undo their pain with words, you may be able to soften the blow by expressing empathy. Try, “I know this is incredibly painful, and I’m sorry you’re going through this. It’s not easy for me, either.”
Reassure them that they are not (fully) to blame by making a comment such as, “It’s not about blaming anyone. We’ve gone through our share of challenges, and it’s time for us to both find the best path forward.”
You might convey your feelings of goodwill and caring, even though your marital relationship is ending: “Although our marriage is ending, I still care about your well-being, and I want both of us to find a way to move forward in the best way possible.”
If you’re willing to offer support, you might say, “I’m here if you want to talk about it. It’s okay to feel this way. Your emotions are valid, and I want to support you through this.”
Understanding your spouse’s perspective
It can be hard to have empathy for someone you want to cut ties with. You may harbor feelings of anger, sadness, and resentment against them. It’s unlikely that you made this decision lightly! Still, it helps to understand where your spouse is coming from, even if it’s hard for you to appreciate their mindset.
Showing empathy to your soon-to-be ex isn’t just about them. It’s also for you. By empathizing and anticipating their behaviors and reactions, you are better prepared for a range of responses. And the more prepared you are, the easier this process will be for you.
We understand that it isn’t easy. But it is doable – we’ve seen thousands of people through divorce, and they inevitably come out happier on the other side.
Anger and sadness are not the only reactions your spouse may have to your news. See our blog, How to Tell Your Nice, No-Conflict Spouse You Want a Divorce, for advice on how to deal with bargaining behaviors, shutting down, and even threats of self-harm.
Practice and prepare for your announcement
During your divorce discussions, you will also have your own emotions to deal with. How can you stay calm and firm in your resolve when you are feeling devastated yourself?
Rehearse your announcement
You can practice your announcement when you’re alone in your car when you’re with your best friend, or in some other situation. Say the words aloud, and get used to hearing your voice say them gently yet firmly.
Anticipate your spouse’s reactions – and your responses
Will your spouse respond with anger, sadness, or another behavior? Imagine how you would react to each scenario. What would you do and say if your spouse broke down crying? If they became aggressive? If they showed no reaction at all?
Identify your support system before you break the news
Who will you turn to for help and support after you go through this life-altering conversation? A close friend? A family member? Amid worrying about your spouse’s reaction, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Everyone deserves a soft place to land after a jolting event like this.
Moving forward with your divorce after telling your spouse
I hope you found this helpful and that you continue to use Hello Divorce's resources to support you throughout your journey. At Hello Divorce, our goal is to support clients before, during, and after their divorce process. Your goal is to start an exciting new chapter of life that opens new doors and fulfills new dreams.
Our clients get one-on-one help from our experienced, caring account coordinator team. Check out our Hello Divorce plans and extra services, or schedule a free 15-minute intro call to learn more about what we offer.