7 Things You Should Do After A Spouse Asks for Divorce

Marriage ring left with message concept for when a spouse asks for a divorce.

The days leading up to the start of a divorce can be fraught with anxiety, anger, and frustration. The conflict that often comes at the end of a marriage can take all your energy, leaving little bandwidth to develop a plan or strategize available options. Other times, the news that a wife or husband wants a divorce can be a surprise. Knowing the things you should do after a spouse asks for divorce can help you work through your feelings and choose the right Maryland divorce process for you and your family.

What to Do When Your Spouse Asks for Divorce

When your spouse tells you they want a divorce, that declaration will set in motion a variety of emotional, practical, and financial changes for both parties. You need to respond thoughtfully on each level to protect yourself, and your children, and to maintain the degree of relationship you choose with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse.

1. Take Time to Process Your Feelings

Finding out your spouse wants a divorce will likely be hurtful, even if both of you are committed to reducing conflict. If your spouse asking for a divorce leaves you in a state of intense emotion or shock, take the time immediately to treat yourself well through self-care. Depending on when and how you find out that your spouse would like to end your marriage, you may need to leave work, cancel plans, or even get a baby-sitter, so that you can have time alone to process the emotional and financial implications of what you’ve heard.

As you work to process the pending divorce, expect to feel grief, anger, guilt, and even fear about the uncertain future. These emotional responses are normal and will continue to arise throughout, and even after, the divorce process is complete. When these feelings arise, take a step away, breathe, and give yourself space before returning to your deliberations. We often recommend seeing a therapist during these difficult times so that you have a confidential space to work through your emotions rather than funnel them back into your divorce. It is important to remember that the communications that you have with friends and family members – your informal support system – are not confidential or privileged and could be used against you in court.

2. Understand Your Spouse’s Reasons for Asking for a Divorce

Take the time to listen to your spouse and get a clear picture of why they want a divorce. This conversation could include a discussion of possible reconciliation, and also allow you to gauge their interest in pursuing non-adversarial divorce options like mediation or collaboration. In certain cases, a family therapist or couples counselor may help to either heal the marriage or reduce the conflict within the divorce.

On the other hand, if your spouse is motivated by anger or is acting on a belief that you have wronged them, it may be wiser to prepare for litigation from the start. As much as it may hurt to listen to your spouse’s complaints, the information will make it easier for you and your divorce attorney to plan trial strategy and address perceived concerns as the divorce process progresses.

3. Talk to a Maryland Divorce Attorney

Do not wait for your spouse to file divorce paperwork to talk to a Maryland divorce attorney. Speaking to an attorney who offers both divorce litigation and collaborative law services early in the process of separating can help you choose the best divorce process for your family. An attorney can lay out the pros and cons of the various process options, and help you consider whether to pursue litigation or viable out-of-court collaborative options.

In addition, under the new Maryland divorce laws, you must live separate and apart from your spouse for 6 months (physical separation is no longer required); describe irreconcilable differences in the complaint, or fit into certain permanent physical or mental health situations, before you can file for divorce. Until recently, that 6-month separation period was even longer and you were not permitted to sleep under the same room for even one night during the separation period! What all of this means is that in many cases, you may want to negotiate a Settlement Agreement that controls issues like temporary child custody, visitation, and support before asking the Courts to intervene. An agreement reached between you and your spouse can create a predictable schedule and set the status quo that will carry you through the divorce process. When you can take some of the uncertainty out of the divorce process and ensure that both you and your children will be provided for in the future - it may help your children maintain a close relationship with you and your spouse. An agreement on parenting and all other issues is also likely to make it easier for you and your spouse to work together for co-parenting in the future.

4. Talk with Your Children

Telling your children after your spouse asks for divorce is a delicate thing. Depending on their ages and relationships with both parents, you may find that they are confused, scared, angry with you, or even blame you for the divorce. However, there are ways to reduce the emotional impact of divorce on your children.

In the best circumstances, both parents should tell the children about the divorce together, without assessing blame. It is often preferable to defer telling the children about the divorce until you have made a plan for physical separation, where they will live, and the access schedule they will follow in their new homes. In high-conflict divorces, conversations with the children must sometimes happen with each parent separately. However, whether the conversation with your children is had together or separately, you should avoid casting blame on your spouse or making your children feel like they need to choose between parents. It is also a good idea to tell your children as soon as possible, so that they have time to process their own emotions about divorce and you and your spouse have the ability to answer any questions they may have.

5. Step Back from Social Media

It is very tempting, after your spouse asks for divorce, to complain about it to your friends on social media. Remember - the internet is forever and it is best to get the support you need from family and friends offline. Nothing is truly private on social media. Even restricted posts can be captured and shared with your spouse or children. In addition, your spouse may be able to obtain your posts – even the private ones – by sending a subpoena to the company running the social media platform. This could hurt you if your divorce case goes to trial because it could show that you are disparaging your spouse. Ideally, you may want to limit your social media activity while your divorce is pending. If you feel isolated or unable to refrain from social media, at a minimum you should commit to never discussing your spouse, your children, or your divorce online.

6. Get Your Financial Matters in Order

Except in cases with a prenuptial agreement signed prior to the marriage or a postnuptial agreement signed afterwards, divorce is likely to involve a financial separation. When you physically separate from your spouse (especially if you are the one moving out), it can also separate you from important financial information. After your spouse asks for divorce, you need to make sure you have physical or digital copies of statements for each of your bank, credit, and retirement accounts, as well as any tax returns that were filed during the marriage. Otherwise it may be expensive to get them later.

Once you have separated, be certain to monitor your credit too. Sometimes, spouses may take out new loans or stop paying existing debts, which can hurt your credit score. It is not uncommon for a person to think a debt or liability is joint when it isn’t or vice versa. Once you and your spouse have agreed on the division of financial assets, you may also want to close joint accounts and transfer funds into your name only. However, it is best to make financial moves by agreement or as part of a calculated strategy. It is important to speak with an attorney about the timing of financial changes to avoid claims that you are hiding assets.

7. Educate Yourself About the Maryland Divorce Process

It is important for you to understand how the Maryland divorce process works and how long it takes to prepare, file, and complete the divorce. The timeline for the process can vary depending on the level of conflict and circumstances in your case. Your divorce attorney should explain the process options to you and help you develop your priorities and goals based upon the timeline and costs with a goal to help you prepare emotionally and financially.

Responding to Surprise Divorce Documents

In some cases, the first notice you receive that your spouse wants a divorce is when you are formally served with the divorce complaint. While the above steps still apply, surprise divorce filings put you on a tight timeline that can make it hard to handle the emotional aspects of divorce and comply with filing deadlines. If you live in Maryland and are served with divorce paperwork filed here, you will need to file an answer and perhaps also a counter-complaint for divorce within 30 days after being served, 60 days if you were served out-of-state, or 90 days if you were served internationally. In this situation, you should contact a Maryland divorce attorney as soon as you are served with divorce paperwork from the Court.

Being unexpectedly served with divorce papers leaves you with considerably less time to process your emotions and formulate a response. In such instances, when divorce documents have already been officially filed and there's no prior agreement, you'll find yourself needing to navigate the emotional aspect of this situation, ideally with the guidance of a therapist, while concurrently your attorney is diligently preparing your response and building your case.

Get Your Maryland Divorce Process Started Today

If your spouse asks you for a divorce, or if you have been served with divorce paperwork, we are here to help. At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce attorneys know how to respond when your spouse asks for a divorce. We can guide you through the Maryland divorce process from start to finish, giving you the options and the knowledge you need to resolve your marriage quickly and on your terms. You don’t have to go through your divorce alone. We will help you through the process. Contact us today or call (301) 658-7354 to schedule a consultation with an attorney.