The beginning is the most important part of the work. – Plato
For people who have achieved clarity that their marriage cannot be salvaged, there is a moment of truth when they must decide what to do next. Some clients say that they feel there is a yawning abyss in front of them, and that they have no idea about how to go from being married to starting the process of getting divorced.
Whether you will be getting divorced in Maryland, the District of Columbia, or Virginia, the same two sets of issues must be considered in framing a first conversation with your spouse as well as solidifying your own planning: legal issues and psychological factors.
With regard to the legal issues, the statutes in all three jurisdictions require the parties to “separate” in order to establish the most common grounds for divorce. Clients want to know “What does it take to be separated? How do I begin a separation? Are there specific words that have to be spoken or written in order for separation to officially begin?” Although every situation is different, and there may be nuances that you will want to discuss with your attorney, in general a separation is established by the two parties beginning to physically live in two separate homes. So you will need a plan of practical steps which must be completed in order for you to establish those two different living situations both for yourselves and for your children.
In thinking about the psychological issues involved in beginning the divorce process, there are a number of possible aspects for you to consider. Is your spouse on the same page as you are with regard to the reality that the marriage is over, or is he or she clueless or even in denial? Or perhaps there is flat-out opposition to the idea of getting divorced. Does your spouse have a history of volatility so that your safety may be at risk? If yes, then you need to be particularly comprehensive in your planning because research shows that the time of separation can be the most dangerous for an abused spouse.
There is no one right way to have “The Conversation”. But it is important that you be thoughtful in picking the right time and place and in choosing what you want to say so that you and your spouse begin the divorce process in a way that is respectful to both of you and that builds trust between you.
Many of my clients have been glad they consulted with an attorney before they talked to their spouse about divorce. They have valued the opportunity to have their questions answered and to get help in developing a plan for moving forward. Other clients have preferred to talk to their spouse first and then to take the feedback from the conversation to their first meeting with an attorney.
However you get started, remember that you want this beginning to set the stage in a positive way for the rest of the divorce process.