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My spouse wants a divorce. How do I handle that?

By Jaskiran Bajwa

Many marriages end in divorce. There could have been serious issues in your relationship and the request for a divorce is not unexpected, or perhaps it came as a complete surprise.

Whatever the circumstances, you must now deal with the impending end of your marriage and all the financial and emotional entanglements that come with it. Here are some suggestions of what you need to do, and not to do, if your spouse asks for a divorce.

10 steps to follow

  1. Ask for the reason. Give your spouse a chance to articulate why they want a divorce. Don’t argue but listen and try to understand what they think and feel. If you want to save the marriage, you may have to make lifestyle changes (drink less, be home more, be more affectionate, etc.). Your spouse may agree to give the marriage another chance. But if they are unwilling to back down, you have to accept the fact that divorce is inevitable and structure your life accordingly.
  2. Suggest alternatives. As you discuss reasons why your spouse wants a divorce you can suggest non-adversarial divorce options such as mediation or collaboration. At Demas Schaefer Family Law we have trained mediators who can assist you with a mediated solution to either heal the marriage or reduce the conflict within the divorce.
  3. Stay calm. Getting angry will not help the situation. You both may be highly emotional so don’t say or do things that you will regret later, especially if your divorce ends up in front of the courts. Many big decisions are coming your way and trying to manage those will be next to impossible if you are an emotional wreck. Talking to trusted friends and close family members about your situation will give you a chance to unload your emotions. Some of those people may have already been through a divorce and can understand your situation.
  4. Put your children first. Discuss with your spouse the importance of not involving the children in the divorce. Avoid having heated conversations in their presence or disparaging your spouse or their parenting ability. Once the divorce is in motion the children will need to be told, which will probably not be an easy conversation to have. Ideally, both parents should tell the child about the divorce together, without assigning blame or making your children feel like they need to choose between caregivers.
  5. Make plans for the children. When children are involved in a divorce the court always puts their best interest first. Parenting arrangements (formerly known as “custody” and “access”) are governed by the federal Divorce Act. Where the parents are not married or not seeking to divorce, the relevant law is Alberta’s Family Law Act. Since there is no simple template for determining the parenting arrangement, parents are advised to seek the advice of a family lawyer.
  6. Learn about Canada’s divorce laws. Divorce is a legal action with many defined steps. Knowing how the divorce process works in Alberta will make you feel more comfortable and increase the likelihood of being treated fairly.
  7. Get your finances in order. Make sure you have a clear understanding of your financial picture. What accounts and investments do you have together and separately? How can the joint ones be split? Assuming that one spouse leaves the family residence, how much will it cost for them to rent or buy another place? What is your monthly budget? Many financial issues must be considered with a divorce.
  8. Acknowledge your emotions. Divorce is an emotional process, where your emotions may include shock, anger, sadness resentment and confusion. Accept that these these feelings are a natural part of the process. Tell yourself that it is okay not to have everything figured out immediately. The advice of a family lawyer can be invaluable in resolving issues that may seem overwhelming.
  9. Take care of yourself. You cannot take care of your children if you are not looking after yourself. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with the stress of a divorce, which can lead to problems in both the short and long term. Take time for activities that you find relaxing and focus on your own physical and mental health.
  10. Consult a family lawyer. Meeting with a family lawyer can be the most important decision you make in the divorce process. They can guide you as you make many important decisions concerning your children, your property and financial support. You and your spouse should both obtain legal advice on the best way to move ahead. It is critically important that you obtain legal advice very early in the process, before taking any drastic steps, as those steps could result in prejudice to your ultimate position.

Five things not to do

  1. Ignore the divorce request. If your spouse is asking for a divorce you must address that issue, especially if you hope to change their mind. Ignoring the request or assuming they will not follow through will make the divorce more complicated.
  2. Emotionally manipulate your partner. A spouse asking for a divorce has likely given this decision much thought. Pointing out the good times you had in the past is not going to resolve the issue, nor is trying to make them feel the failure of the marriage is their fault.
  3. Badmouth your spouse. While it is important to find a support network of family and friends to help you through this time, don’t become vindictive toward your spouse by badmouthing or revealing details of your marriage that should remain private. Doing so could hurt your standing if the divorce ends up in the courtroom.
  4. Attempt to buy their love. We all enjoy receiving presents but giving lavish gifts will not repair a marriage at this stage, nor will it resolve the issues that led to the marriage breakdown.
  5. Spy on them. Even if you suspect your spouse is seeing someone else on the side, that does not give you the right to track their movements after they ask for a divorce. If you do, that could lead to stalking and harassment charges.

Contact us for advice

If you have been served with divorce documents (called a Statement of Claim for Divorce) it should be taken seriously. Some timelines must be met. The Demas Schaefer Family Law team strives to provide our clients with constructive and creative solutions to get through the emotional and legal challenges of divorce. We will listen to your wants, identify your needs and work together to help you reach your goals. Contact us for a free telephone or video consultation.

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