If you’re considering ending your marriage, the road ahead can seem overwhelming, paved with financial, emotional, logistical, and domestic challenges. Walking out abruptly in a heated moment can only result in making things worse in the long-run for both you and your partner. Being prepared with a deliberate exit plan to set yourself up for self-sufficiency can help protect you from potential legal losses and emotional hardships.
When you’ve made the decision to leave your spouse, don’t just pack your bags and walk out the door without having any other plans than, “I’ll be at my mother’s/friend’s.” This is a major life decision. Craft your exit strategy carefully, make a plan, and prepare for the road ahead.
When should I start preparing?
Start preparing 2-6 months before you separate. Even if you think your spouse will handle the news well and not cause the problems typically thought of, setting yourself up for success after the separation will put you in a better mental position to handle the complexities of the divorce process.
What are the steps to leave my husband/wife?
In general, plan for your children, division of property, and financial arrangements to be worked out. Remember to think clearly and rationally — do not make hasty decisions made out of anger or sadness.
Here are some immediate steps to take and things to start doing as soon as you’ve made your decision:
1) Gather Documents & Keep Records
Make copies of all your important documents. Keep records of everything – notes, email, text messages – no matter how trivial you think it is. The more information you have, the better.
Read our article on gathering documents for divorce or separation.
Review the list of documents needed in our separation agreement questionnaire.
2) Open a Separate Bank Account & Create Your Own Budget
Go ahead and open up a separate checking and savings account at the bank. You’re going to need to handle your own finances and become accustomed to drafting a budget for monthly expenses. If you’re expecting a change in lifestyle, consider adopting a budgeting technique.
3) List Property & Other Assets
Start listing your assets and property. Taking inventory of what is marital property vs. separate property will help you prepare for equitable distribution.
4) Plan the Logistics of Your Exit
Consider all aspects of leaving – before, during, and after. Where will you live – with family, a friend, an apartment? Will you need a PO Box to receive your mail? When will you pack your things? All of these things must be well thought out before you actually separate.
5) Contact a Divorce Lawyer
Separating from your spouse, whether permanently or temporarily, can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. If children are involved, their health and well-being depend on how tactfully you handle the situation. When it comes to child custody or child support, forgoing the representation of a divorce attorney can have lasting effects.
Do not take any actions or sign any agreements that could later complicate the divorce process, until you’ve spoken with a family lawyer.
This is a lifelong decision. An experienced family law attorney can help you navigate the legal process and take the pressure of an already stressful situation.
6) To Tell Your Spouse Or Not
This moment can be freeing, nerve-racking, or even terrifying in terms of coming right out with it.
When should you tell your spouse that you’re leaving? It’s usually best to tell your spouse of your intentions when you’re ready to physically leave. Telling him/her sooner invites complication – legally, emotionally, financially, and more. It’s best to keep your decision to yourself until you leave.
Do it at a time when you both can discuss it (so, not right as they’re running out the door for work) and at a safe place. As much as you may want to rip the band-aid off quickly, and just say your piece and be on with it, you’re going to have to allow for an open discussion with your spouse.
In some circumstances, it may be better to move out prior to the date of separation without informing your spouse. If this is your plan you should discuss how to proceed with a family law attorney prior to taking this action.
7) Tell Your Children
When it comes to telling your kids the news, tell them together with your spouse if possible. With our without your spouse, avoid the blame game, and let them know it’s not their fault. Wait until you know for sure that you are leaving to tell them. Including uncertainty will only make children, especially young children, more unsure and confused.
Stay strong for your children. You need time to deal with your own emotions from this major life event, but your children will need comfort and assurance (even if you don’t feel so sure, yourself).
Understanding the various forms of custodial arrangements will help you to feel more confident. Review our Child Custody & Visitation page.
For more on post-divorce family communication, read our “6 Tips for Successful Communication for Raising Your Child”.
Actually walking out the door and leaving can be more emotional than anticipated, even if both parties wanted the separation. Have a friend or family member you can call or spend time talking with about it.
Support & Guidance
Don’t feel you’re in this alone. Seek guidance from an impartial party or professional. Tell a few trusted close friends or family members who are able to keep things under wraps what you are planning to do.
The Full Picture
These are only some of the steps necessary to protect yourself and your family as you make this life decision. There are numerous other aspects to address when you’ve decided to separate or end your marriage: Change the beneficiary on your insurance policies and estate plan. Consider your own health insurance policy. Obtain a copy and monitor your credit report to make sure your spouse isn’t spending excessively or vindictively, making sure all bills are being paid, and that there is no negative activity on the report. The list goes on.
An experienced divorce attorney can guide you through the steps of divorce, and make sure you dot your i’s and cross your t’s (in a legal sense). Proper preparation and handling of divorce will also help minimize emotional or financial struggle.
If you are thinking about separating from your spouse, please contact the divorce attorneys of Alexander & Doyle, P.A below.
Please keep in mind that these are NOT the steps for every situation and you should consult with an attorney prior to taking any action. For example, an abusive relationship, which require another level of changing phone numbers, carefully concealing information like your new address, and so on. In cases where verbal or physical abuse is present, extra steps may be necessary to protect oneself. If you have any questions about handling an abusive relationship, please contact our experienced, compassionate domestic violence attorneys.