Should I get a divorce? Signs you should consider divorce or a legal separation

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Covid and economic related stresses contributed to higher 2020 divorce rates, with U.S. numbers jumping 34% and newlywed separations doubling to 10%, according to a Daily Mail report. The 2021 divorce rates are expected to be even higher.

Thinking of divorce? How to make that very tough decision.

How do I know I’m ready for divorce? Valid reasons for divorce

There are a few times when you must get divorced:

  • Divorce is necessary if your spouse is abusive to you, your children, pets or anyone else. This includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and financial abuse.
  • You have to get divorced if your spouse wants to get divorced. You very likely can’t change his or her mind — and even if you could get him to stay, that rarely works out long-term.
  • Marriage breakdown that he or she refuses to address or work on. It’s over!

Other reasons are more subjective and personal. Here are some typical reasons you may be ready for divorce:

7 most common reasons to get divorced


Money is often cited by experts as the. No. reason couples break up. Differences can include:

  • Different spending, saving and investing habits, which reflect different values and priorities
  • Financial infidelity, in which one spouse secretly spends, gambles or accrues debt
  • Feeling that one partner is not earning his or her share.

Lack of respect

You are ready for divorce if you no longer respect him as a person, and have not for a while.

No sex, or bad sex

You are likely ready for divorce if there is no more sex or sexual attraction, and you are not OK with that. Couples navigate this issue in all kinds of ways, including acceptance and agreed-upon open relationships. You may find peace in one of these solutions, or you may be ready for divorce.

You grew apart

You may be ready for divorce if you changed and he didn’t, or vice versa, or — most likely — you both changed in different directions, and no longer fit.

You’ve fallen out of love. Physical chemistry dried up, you don’t feel any romantic affection towards this person. Those feelings may return — or they may not. Those feelings may be very important to you, or not. Libidos change as we age and relationships mature. These are very personal decisions.

You’re ready for divorce because you just want to be divorced. Maybe your husband is a really nice guy and you feel guilty about it. Maybe he is a decent person but really, really annoying. Perhaps you are in love with someone else and want to pursue that relationship — or be alone or date or otherwise be free. Maybe he is harmless but still an asshole. No matter what: You’re over it, and that is OK.

One study of divorcing parents found that the most common reasons for divorce from a list of choices were growing apart (55%), not being able to talk together (53%), and how one’s spouse handled money (40%).


A statewide survey in Oklahoma found that the most commonly checked reasons for divorce were lack of commitment (85%), too much conflict or arguing (61%), and/or infidelity or extramarital affairs (58%).

Alcoholism or other addictions

Addictive behaviors are common and vary widely in their extremes. Some people who drink too much or become addicted to prescription drugs, porn, gambling, video games or other habits can overcome them easily, while others may struggle to stay clean with support, and yet others may face a lifetime of relapses.

Many people with addictions can and do maintain relationships, but others see their marriages end because of the addiction.

University of Michigan researchers found that nearly half of the more than 17,000 study participants with a history of alcoholism divorced at some point in their lives, while only 30% of the participants who were not affected by serious alcohol problems got a divorce.

Irreconcilable differences

Before no-fault divorce became the norm, irreconcilable differences was just one of many reasons a spouse could use to argue rights to be granted a divorce. Today, spouses do not have to prove reason for divorce, though irreconcilable differences is still used in some states’ divorce decrees.

In short, the definition of irreconcilable differences is that the spouses just can’t get along enough to make the marriage work.

The husband(s) and wife/wives are incompatible because of interests, character, lifestyle, personalities or beliefs.

Should I leave my husband / wife? Should I get a divorce?

In addition to the emotional questions listed above, there are many other parts of divorce outside of the relationship itself. As you make your decision, ask these questions:

  • What will your life look like after the divorce? While you may be poorer short-term after a breakup, most people do financially recover, or at least become stable. Many people stay in miserable marriages because they believe that the immediate lower lifestyle is not worth it. But many people report that leaving an unhappy union is worth the financial struggle. How property is divided after divorce
  • Are you prepared to be away from your children for half the time — or more? While equally shared parenting is becoming the norm, it is still common for one parent to be legally allowed to see the kids for a minority of the time.
  • Are you prepared to have the kids all the time? It is not uncommon for one parent who is granted minority time with the kids (the father, usually), to move away or otherwise not see the children. This leaves the time, logistical, financial and emotional responsibility on the remaining parent. Are you ready for that to be you?
  • Are you ready to co-parent with this person? The marriage may end, but you are in it for the rest of your lives if you have children with your husband or wife. This means that you may not be able to move to another location, must continue to compromise on parenting issues and otherwise negotiate with your spouse.

To get a sense of the divorce process, check out this free divorce worksheet.

Regardless of your path, make sure you get the support you need and deserve. You may find that with your current family and friends, a new tribe of strong single women friends, or a trusted therapist.

You, your kids, and your husband are all best served by seeking out an amicable, low-conflict, uncontested divorce if at all possible.

Online therapy is a great option to consider — especially for busy moms. Sites like BetterHelp let you choose from thousands of licensed, certified counselors, who connect to you via phone, video, chat or email, with prices starting at $65/week for unlimited messaging and weekly live sessions. Financial assistance is available.

Divorcing a narcissist husband

Rebecca Zung, top-rated divorce attorney and divorced mom herself, has a whole video course on how to divorce a narcissist, which I review in How to Negotiate With a Narcissist. Her tips include:

  1. Have a plan ready to execute before you tell your husband or wife you want a divorce:
    • Prepare a new place to live
    • Have your own cash money saved
  2. Hire a divorce attorney
    • Decide what parenting plan you want
    • Take your time to learn how to negotiate with a narcissist and win — to save yourself countless dollars, untold sums of stress and the potential to lose everything.
  3. Tell them in person that you are divorcing them as you walk out the door, or pack up in the middle of the night or while they are out of town, and have them served with divorce papers the next day. Do not give them a chance to manipulate you.

Divorcing your alcoholic husband

If your husband is an alcoholic or addict and is either actively using, or is in recovery but you worry will relapse, first, accept that it is not your job to save him. You are not responsible for his wellbeing, and in fact, were likely a co-dependent enabler. No more!

Take steps to protect you and your kids financially, physically and emotionally. It is OK and even healthy to be hopeful that you will one day have a amicable co-parenting relationship if and when he is sober, but until then you must work with your attorney to secure the wellbeing of you and the kids.

Divorcing your bipolar husband

Similar to addicts, living with and divorcing a bipolar spouse is very stressful, unpredictable and possibly dangerous for you, your kids, and your spouse. You are not responsible for their behavior and can only protect yourself and your kids.

Divorcing a husband who won’t work

If your husband refuses to work, you may find yourself paying child support or alimony — at least for a short time. Judges are increasingly intolerant of divorced people who try to live off of payments from their exes, and yours may be ordered to work. Because our culture is a sexist one, there is less tolerance for men who do not work and live off of women’s income.

Here is my advice to women who pay alimony or child support.

What are the benefits of divorce?

Divorce of course gives unhappily married people the opportunity to leave a miserable marriage. Divorce also allows people in abusive relationships to leave.

Many people are much happier after divorce.

Benefits include:

  • More control over your home and life. If your spouse’s bad money habits were a source of contention, now you can have control of how much you spend and save. If they were a slob, now you can control how messy or clean your home is.
  • Date without cheating on a spouse. You are single now.
  • Start anew. Many people thrill in starting a new life, on their own terms.

What are the disadvantages of divorce?

Both parties are almost always poorer after divorce. It takes more money to support two homes than one, after all.

All about child support

Stereotypes that keep single moms overwhelmed, broke and alone

While the effects of divorce on children is misunderstood, it is hard on children when their parents live in two separate homes — especially when the parenting schedule is lop-sided.

Stress on extended family and friends. People who know and love both of you may feel torn to choose one side, or otherwise suffer a stressed relationship with one or both partners.

You may be lonely after divorce. Though you may have been lonely while married.

Not everyone wants the divorce. You may wish you were still married.

You may miss your kids while they are with their other parent.

How do I tell my husband I don’t love him anymore and want a divorce?

Some people ask: How do I politely ask for a divorce?

Polite is not the goal. If your husband is a reasonable person, sit down with him, face-to-face, at home. Be kind, but straight-forward. “I appreciate these years together, but I don’t love you anymore and I want a divorce.”

Clarity is kindness!

If you are in an abusive relationship, then plan ahead, secure a new home, and in the same day do the following:

  • Move out
  • Separate yourself from any shared banking and investment accounts
  • Have your attorney send a letter that you intend to file for divorce.

I’m scared to tell my husband I want a divorce.

It is totally normal to tell your husband or wife you want a divorce. This is what you risk:

  • Hurting your husband
  • A big fight
  • Violence
  • A divorce means you will be poorer than you are now
  • You will be lonely
  • Your kids will be hurt
  • You may lose friends and contact with loved ones
  • You may have to move from a home and community you love
  • You may feel guilty

What happens if one spouse doesn’t want a divorce? How to tell your husband you want a divorce when he doesn’t?

Again, assuming he is a reasonable person, it is important to be kind, straight-forward and honest. Don’t lend any false hope or make promises you cannot keep, like “we can still be friends,” etc. However, this is a trauma, and expect that he will be very mad, and perhaps a little crazy. Most people get at least a little unreasonable when their lives fall apart — especially if they feel they have no control over the matter.

If he doesn’t want the divorce, and he is not a reasonable or nice person, then you need to protect yourself and your kids first. Get a good lawyer, make sure you have your own money, in your own name, that he cannot access, and prepare to tap into your deepest reservoirs of strength.

“I want my husband to leave me.” How to make your husband want to divorce you

There are lots of reasons why you may prefer your spouse iniatie a divorce that you yourself want, or perhaps you have discussed together. These include:

  • Guilt. He’s a good guy and you have no major reason to want to divorce him, and worry that your kids and loved ones will fault you for a breakup.
  • You believe, probably erroneously, that the spouse who initiates the divorce has less leverage when it comes to money and child custody.
  • You can’t make the hard decision, so hope someone else will make it for you.

How can I get my husband to want a divorce?

Lots of ways to get a lover to leave you, or at least agree to a divorce, and here are a few that may be effective. However, I do not endorse any of them, as these are manipulative, self-destructive and otherwise just a bad idea:

  • Withdraw emotionally
  • Withdraw sexually
  • Stop talking and sharing
  • Become a bitch, or otherwise someone he does not like or want to be around
  • Focus on what is important to him and sabotage that. If your looks are a big part of his feelings for you, stop paying attention to your appearance and weight.

If he is having a hard time accepting a divorce, and you want him to get on board for the sake of an uncontested divorce and healthy co-parenting, try these:

  • Make it very clear that you are not interested in staying married and are ready to move on. Leave no room for negotiation or reconciliation.
  • If you are still having sex, stop.
  • Men are often rightfully terrified of getting screwed over in divorce. Make it clear to him that you are committed to 50/50 equally shared parenting, and you have no intention of seeking child support or alimony that would make his life hell.
  • Move out.
  • Sit him down with divorce papers and initiate negotiating a divorce. Here is our list of top online divorce paper companies.

Why doesn’t my husband want a divorce?

Lots of reasons are possible:

  • He still loves you and believes your challenges are surmountable.
  • He is afraid that a divorce will mean he rarely gets to see his kids, or that you will move them far away.
  • He is afraid that a divorce will mean unaffordable child support or alimony payments that will make his life hell.
  • He is religious and does not believe in divorce.
  • He’s insecure and hates the thought of you being romantic with someone else.
  • He is afraid of disappointing friends, family and community.
  • He is afraid of being lonely.

Estate, will and guardianship planning for single parents

“I want a divorce.” How to ask for a divorce peacefully when you are ready to file

If you have already explored these feelings deeply — and are not just pissed off in the moment — call a divorce attorney. Many will provide a free phone consultation, and give you a snapshot of what you can expect your life to look like post-divorce in terms of money and child time-sharing. They will also give you a sense of what your divorce options are — and whether this will be a quick, low-conflict process, or how much stress and expense you may spend to get what you want.

Many people change their minds or strategy after these calls (you can speak to more than one attorney, too — which is a good idea).

Step-by-step guide to divorce, terms and processes

What to ask for in divorce

Complete guide to divorce papers

The vast majority of couples have an uncontested, amicable and no-fault divorce, which is good news: You likely can divorce affordably and quickly by filing your own divorce papers. Find divorce papers in your state now:

District of ColumbiaFlorida
NevadaNew Hampshire
New JerseyNew Mexico
New YorkNorth Carolina
North DakotaOhio
PennsylvaniaRhode Island
South CarolinaSouth Dakota
West VirginiaWisconsin

An online divorce platform can be a great investment. Our No. 1 recommendation is 3 Step Divorce, one of the most established online divorce companies, with an A+ Better Business Bureau rating and payment plans that let you get started filing for divorce online for $84. Get started with 3StepDivorce now, and qualify for a $50 rebate >>

Read our 3StepDivorce review.

Prepare for divorce

Whether you are initiating the breakup, have been served divorce papers, worried your husband or wife is ready to file for divorce, or have mutually agreed to a separation, it is important to prepare yourself mentally and financially.

The vast majority, an estimated 90% of divorces, are settled outside of a court. Often couples work with their own attorneys, sometimes for months or more, to hash out the details of custody, dividing assets, any ongoing payments like alimony and child support, and more. You can save tens of thousands of dollars by working out these details without attorneys, or with the help of a single, low-cost mediator. There are lots of free online resources, including this free divorce settlement agreement template.

While the world tells you that single motherhood is the worst thing that can happen to women, many of us find it liberating and empowering — whether for a short time or the rest of our lives. Read more about my experience, as well as dozens of other single moms in 31 reasons single motherhood is AWESOME.

Part of this experience is the ability to date in new and exciting ways — and have sex with any other consenting adult!

Moms also report the freedom that comes with purging and selling old items (his ugly-ass furniture, sell the engagement ring for $$,) decorating and owning a home all of your own, and keeping your house as tidy or messy as you like.

Also, start preparing yourself for what it will look like to co-parent with your soon-to-be-ex. Starting off the divorce process with integrity, a sense of fairness and peace establishes a precedent for positive, healthy co-parenting for the rest of your life which is good for all parties involved.

How to divorce like a feminist

One of the first co-parenting apps, and widely used app, OurFamilyWizard, which features chat, information storage (like pediatrician and teacher contact info, prescriptions, etc.), and financial record-keeping. 30-day free trial,  discounts for military families, and a program to provide OurFamilyWizard free to low-income families. Each parent can add unlimited numbers of other people for free, including children, grandparents, step and bonus parents, as well as attorneys.

Try OurFamilyWizard for free for 30 days now >>

Read OurFamilyWizard review on >>

If your are a mom going through divorce:

One of the most important tools you have at your disposal when going through a divorce is your support network. Perhaps this is a fantastic group of friends and family, a support group, therapist or another resource, you need people who get and love you — and are positive and productive.

My closed Facebook group Millionaire Single Moms understands what you are going through and will be a great sounding board and source of advice. Divorce is consistently ranked as one of the most stressful life events, but remember that it is passing, and life will get better (and then likely get worse at some point, but that is for another blog post!).

From my popular post, After divorce, you get a one-year pass to be a hot mess:

You get a year. A free pass for 12 months to be a freaky weirdo. Drink too much after the kids go to bed. Smoke a few cigarettes at break time with your colleagues. Let the house go, let the dishes pile up in the sink. Hell, might as well preemptively cancel the gym memberships, because you’re not going. Be stinky and oily, and let your pubes hang out of your swimsuit on a public beach in the Midwest. Sleep with a bunch of completely inappropriate people and wear things that no one at your age with your body should ever even think about wearing in public. Stay up all night stalking your college boyfriend on Facebook.

When you should consider separation instead of divorce

Is separation good for a marriage?

Some experts say that if a separation is done well, with the intent of working through difficulties, separations can be good for relationships and keep marriages from ending in divorce.

This seems counterintuitive when a marriage is in trouble and relations are fragile. Most of us believe that when we feel our spouse slipping away from us, we should merge more, get as close as we can, and do more ‘to make the marriage work.”

The thought of creating distance at such a time instills a great deal of fear of losing control of your spouse and your relationship. This option is especially challenging if the bond between the two of you has been weakened by a betrayed trust. But employed carefully and skillfully (and usually with some type of professional support), this tool can be quite effective in bringing two people closer together.

Susan Pease Gadoua L.C.S.W., Psychology Today

Advice for separating couples

Gadoua says these are typically required for couples to have a successful separation period:

  • Support of a professional third-party, like a therapist
  • Clear and reasonable expectations
  • A clear goal — a stronger marriage, or just a step towards divorce? Both spouses need to be on the same page.
  • Regular communication. If you are both silently seething in your respective homes, a separation will not nurture a better partnership.

5 tips for a quick divorce

How do you know if it’s time to separate?

If you and your spouse share the goal to save the marriage, or are at least open to it, a trial separation could be successful if it includes:

  • You are still communicating.
  • You are both engaged in couples counseling or other third-party support
  • There is a general sense of trust. Neither is suspicious of financial or sexual infidelity that is not already being addressed.
  • You can still co-parent relatively amicably and address the needs of the kids during this trial time

Otherwise, depending on the laws of your state, it may be time to separate and start divorce proceedings or hunker down to wait out your state’s required waiting period.

How long should a marriage separation last?

Read Michael Munson‘s answer to How long should a marriage separation last? on Quora

What should you not do during separation?

The list is long, but if you are serious about saving your marriage start here:

  • Withdraw large sums of money from joint accounts, spend lots of money (shared or otherwise — should you eventually divorce you’ll need all the cash and credit you can find) or run up lots of debt.
  • Make any major decisions, including large purchases sales (real estate, businesses, investment portfolios), unnecessary career changes, plastic surgery.
  • Date, including casual sex.
  • Speak poorly or publicly about your spouse, including to the kids.
  • Ignore your mental health, or that of your kids. Online therapy with BBB A+ rated BetterHelp starts at $65/week for unlimited texting and weekly video or phone sessions with a credentialed psychologist.
  • Announce on social media your relationship status. That is hurtful to your spouse, your family and loved ones who are also struggling with this time of limbo. Plus, it is just tacky.

Trial separation vs. legal separation

Trial separation: Any couple can separate at any time, for any reason. Typically trial separation referrs to one spouse moving out under a mutual agreement the couple is deciding whether or not to divorce.

Legal separation: Most states allow for, or require, a legal separation, which is a binding agreement that states that while you are legally married, you are also legally separated. A legal separation can protect spouses from financial liabilities of the other spouse, as well as give them benefits like health insurance as well as taxes.

Is separation required before divorce?

Some states require a minimum waiting period before divorcing, and others mandate separation periods before the state will grant a divorce.

  • 34 states have no specific statutory requirements for waiting periods prior to filing for divorce: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
  • Kentucky requires a 60-day waiting period to receive a divorce decree.
  • Delaware, Illinois, Vermont, and Virginia require six-month waiting periods before couples can receive divorce decrees.
  • District of Columbia requires a six-month waiting period after separation before a couple can file divorce.
  • Louisiana and Montana require 180-day waiting periods after separation before couples can file divorce.
  • Maryland and Nevada require one-year waiting periods after separation before allowing couples to file divorce.
  • North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and West Virginia require one year of separation before allowing a couple to file divorce.
  • Connecticut requires an 18-month sdeparation period before allowing a couple to file divorce.
  • Arkansas and New Jersey require 18-month waiting periods before allowing couples to receive divorce decrees.

Why get a legal separation instead of a divorce?

Reasons people stay legally married, but attain a legal separation include:

  • Uncertainty about ending the marriage
  • Insurance
  • Staying married for a certain period longer allows one spouse to be eligible for the other’s pension or other retirement benefits
  • One or both spouses want to avoid divorce for religious reasons
  • Tax reasons

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Separation agreement template for filing for a legal separation

Check out this free separation agreement, which includes:

  • Living and time-sharing agreements regarding any children
  • Spousal support, child support and other division or living expenses, debt and assets
  • Management of rights to pensions and estate

Ready for divorce? Get started with 3StepDivorce online for $84 now >> founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.

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