Getting Started on a Divorce

Parent Q&A

Divorce Advice, Guidebooks, and/or Attorney? Oct 12, 2017 (7 responses below)
How to separate from an angry spouse Sep 7, 2017 (3 responses below)
How do I move on? Apr 25, 2017 (11 responses below)
  • I've spent a few decades trying to make this work, and I am confident now that divorce is the right thing for us. I've covered all my bases. My husband seems surprisingly unperturbed by the idea, which is one more indication that I've really wasted my time here. We still have a few more years of school to deal with, so while we're working on transition, I'd like to make sure I'm covering my bases legally and financially, and doing right by the kids. If I were independently wealthy, I would have figured out how to do this years ago.

    I'm not entirely sure what my husband is capable of, so I need to be able to remain anonymous for now. He's very resentful, and everything, of course, is all my fault, at least in his mind. We visited more than our fair share of therapists, and I finally recognized his pattern of "See? the therapist is trying to tell you there's something wrong with you, and you need to change, just like they said." (Not an actual quote but, sadly, not making that up, either.)

    We don't need a therapist. I need excellent advice for how to protect myself and kids between now and whenever we finally do this, which could take a few years. I don't want to screw him over; I just prefer not to have to pay more than my fair share, if possible (although at this point I recognize that I may just lose more in the process, and God knows I won't be able to afford a decent home... not that we have a great home now).

    A mediator is fine. I'm not interested in somebody who knows how to suck the other party dry. I could definitely see starting with a book or something (I should go look at Nolo Press right now!). 

    Ideally, someone can also give me excellent advice for how to make this as easy as possible for kids, one of whom is extremely sensitive. And I know that most kids, including my own, would greatly prefer if we just figure out how to stay together, but I can't make that work, not without feeling like I'm slowly dying--but I want to be there for the kids! I already feel bad enough about this. I assume it's better to wait until at least high school is done, although I also remember a friend of mine who felt completely let down when she learned that her parents were divorcing as soon as she went off to college. So there's no good way to do this that I'm aware of. 

    I suspect that my husband will be very happy to end it. Ideally, we can get along better if we're apart. I've certainly been doing my best to maintain a friendly stance with him, and I don't even bother to mention most of the crap he sends my way. I'm not perfect, so the sarcasm sometimes comes out of my mouth too, though. I realize too that kids will always love both parents regardless, so I also don't want to dump on them. Kind of a balance between "you're dad has treated me poorly, that's why we're splitting up," and the generic but unsatisfactory "we just believe we will get along better if we aren't together anymore." I don't even know how to negotiate holidays and the like. I'm not opposed to still doing things as a family. There's no other man for me now, but I'd like to be open to it in the future. (Don't know what his situation is, honestly, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that he's already halfway out the door with someone else. He's not a very honest person.)

    Thank you all so much!

    I am 53 and my parents divorced when I was 20. Divorce is hard on the kids no matter what age they are. My three siblings and I are only now coming to terms with some issues, 33 years later. That being said, divorce may be the best solution for a difficult situation, and so the age of the kids should not be a factor in deciding when. Please don't talk badly about your ex-spouse to your kids even if you think you are right. Make sure you and your ex-spouse are on the same page in terms of raising your kids. Don't use your children as pawns. The best thing you and your ex-spouse can do for your kids is have a cordial relationship. If one of you remarries... well, that's a whole other topic. 

    Have the moderator give you my contact info- I think talking to someone who has been there will be helpful 

    [Note from moderator: by clicking on the user name, you can contact the person who has posted]

    Getting Divorced Without Ruining Your Life by Sam Margulies is a good place to start. The book talks in depth about money and children, which are obv the two most fraught topics in divorce. When you're ready to start mediation and co-parenting counseling, I would recommend Dr. Tim Bigalke who is located in Berkeley. Don't let his messy office fool you, like it did me, he is extremely skilled at mediating and diffusing emotional tension in the room so you can move on and actually have the space to talk about the important things, like how to best parent your children going forward. His expertise does not go into finances much, so you may want to get a lawyer/mediator for financial advice, but don't be tempted to go down the court route (and it will be tempting, esp if you are the one with money to lose)! Give your all to mediation before traveling down the ruinous path of lawyers. I think lawyers can definitely have a healthy place in all this, but it's rare. I obviously don't know your situation in depth, but generally speaking, if you can get even some cooperation from your ex, keep working things out in mediation. It will definitely take some time and a lot of patience, car sobbing and "serenity now" chanting, but the amount of money and emotional energy you'll save by not using a lawyer is well well worth it. Best of luck to you, and my heart really goes out to you. It's terrible and horrific at first, but it can get better quickly if you have the right support, and I think Tim can be one valuable resource. 

  • How to separate from an angry spouse

    (3 replies)

    As the title says, I could use some advice on separating from a spouse with a serious anger management problem. While our marriage has been on a downward slide for a while, it's gotten really bad recently, and our fighting is upsetting our daughter (age 7). Please believe me when I say that I've tried to get him to go to counseling, tried making it work for her sake and tried to discuss our issues with him, all to no avail. I am not blameless here, but I am so unhappy and I can tell he is too.

    I know there's no way to avoid this being a painful process, but I'd like to know how to best go about it for her sake if nothing else. This is not one of those situations where after the initial shock wears off, we'll be able to tell our kid about it together in a calm fashion at a later date; in fact I may need to be ready to get out of the house when I tell him. But when I look at everything that I need to figure out, even in the short term, I just panic and put it off (e.g. his reaction, who gets to stay in our flat, temporary housing, long term housing in the SF rental market, can we switch schools, can we move out of SF if needed, etc.). I have no family in the Bay Area, so moving in with my family is not an option.

    I have made sure I have some cash sitting for things like a rent deposit and a car, and I also have a few leads on attorneys to speak with. I'd love to hear from others on how they got through the initial separation from a volatile spouse. Did it turn physical (there's been no DV here but I fear there's a first time for everything)? Is there anything you'd do differently? Did it take very long for you to find a place to stay with room for your kid? Are there support networks that have helped outside of your own friends? All input would be very much appreciated. I've put this off for much too long and know that this move will be painful, but necessary.

    As alone and overwhelmed as you may feel, you are moving in the right direction. 

    Here is a good place to start:  They have a link on making a safety plan, and a hotline that is supposed to connect you to local resources, plus other useful information.

    Assuming you are in Alameda County, I found these links:

    And for Contra Costa:

    I would strongly recommend you guard your privacy very carefully, since your husband is volatile and unpredictable.  That also includes your electronic footprint.  Find some safe places (friends?) where you can stash resources (keys to safety deposit boxes and a new mailbox, a pre-paid phone, a pre-paid credit card, emergency clothing, etc.).  Find a way to make your credit record inaccessible to anyone but you.  Your cash stash should be where your husband can't find out about it (perhaps a new bank?) and think about how you'll receive the statement.  Change safety questions.  Delete your cell phone call and text history; change passwords, change settings so it shuts off right after use; if you use social media, look at ways to shore up your privacy.  Consider switching to a different browser and using a different search engine than the one you usually use.  On the computer,  delete your browsing history, cookies, automatic passwords, etc. 

    And make contact (apart from your husband's knowledge) with friends and family--you need emotional support as well.

    I feel for you and wish you and your family well.

    This is hard. Everyone's story will be different.  It is 4+ years since I was in your shoes, and my experience is "it gets better."  For what it's worth:

    - I started therapy to get help deciding - scary, but I couldn't bear any more years of limbo. It took me only 2-3 sessions to be sure - I think I just needed "permission". But the good thing was then I had support for the hard work that came after.

    - With my therapist's support, I started breaking the ice on the topic, with the kids and with my spouse (separately). My spouse was very upset and blames me for "ruining his life" but was not violent.  My natural inclination was not to share what I was planning, but it ended up being hard but good to foreshadow it and not spring it on him/them. Your situation may differ.

    - I went to a Divorce Options workshop, which was very helpful for identifying the different paths (pros/cons).

    - I convinced my spouse to go the mediation route, since it was cheaper (and I had hopes it would improve the chances of us having a decent relationship after - hard to know if it helped much on that front in our case)

    - To try to save cost on mediation we had a few sessions of couples counseling (but I made it very clear patching it up was not an option - it was supposed to be neutral ground to work on mediation topics).  It didn't really work out that way, but it was helpful to me to have someone else call him on his anger, to name the impact it had.  If you're worried about telling him, maybe consider doing it in this context just for moral support?

    - The mediator convinced us to stay put (not move) until we had a few sessions to understand budget, etc.  In the end the mediator helped us craft an option for the house we owned that neither of us knew was possible, and which lent stability to our kids lives.  Those 4 months of living together while we all knew we were divorcing were horrible, but they did end. Again, having my therapist for support (including a reality check on when to call the police) helped a lot.  The mediation was very hostile and the mediator almost quit working with us because my spouse was so awful.

    - When we finally moved out it was probably the happiest day of my life - I could finally start to build a peaceful life.

    - Even now our contact (relating to the kids - otherwise we'd have none) is hostile sometimes, slightly unpleasant more often, but on rare moments actually collaborative.  I go to school events and for the sake of my kids say hi or sit by him and he doesn't even acknowledge that I am there. It's hard to take the high road, but we have our own life now, and that makes everything worth it. I can't believe how many years I put up with an emotionally abusive relationship.  It was when I started seeing its harm on my kids that I realized I had to act. It was very difficult to do, and I felt a lot of shame, but my only regret now is not doing it earlier.

    - I had a really hard time telling people, but one of the first friends I told said "let your friends support you", and so I made a list of those friends and kept it posted on my wall at work and it encouraged me to not feel alone.  Anger can be toxic.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.

    I have a friend that just got out from this same situation, husband was verbally abusive and really mean, the best you can do is have everything ready to move including court day for temporary custody. write what you want in your child custody, days you want to have them, what holidays you want, who picks up from school, so all that is in court because the way you describe him he will use all that to bother you and if you have all that on paper signed by a judge you can take him to family court and the judge will bring him to reality very fast. I would start renting an apartment at the same time that I ask for the court day and supoened him the day you move. Write a nice letter for him explaining why you are doing everything this way. Sending you strengths

  • How do I move on?

    (11 replies)

    Even writing this is difficult. I don't know how to start. I have been with the father of my children for 12 years.The past two years we have slept separately. This weekend I felt assaulted by him when he got in my face. Our daughter was throwing a tantrum, and while I spoke with her about, he came toward me, got in my face and started yelling at me. This happened at a family event. Honestly, we lived together because we wanted our kids to still have us around. But after this event, I realized that it has to end. We need to go our separate ways. He says I am exaggerating, but my daughter cried and said she thought he was going to hit me. Plus, living with someone who you don't communicate with, specially after you shared so much together and had two kids is stressful, provokes me incredible anxiety and it is depressing at time.

    The bottom line is that I don't even know where to begin. I don't know how I should leave. The house we live in is under his name and my fathers, as he cosigned for us. My name is not on the title. However, I have always worked and contributed financially to the household. I am just absolutely clueless, I don't know how to proceed. I feel paralyzed. One thing I know for sure is that in no way, shape or form do I want to be unfair.

    The bottom line is that he is the father of my kids, and as such I love him and wish him the ABSOLUTE best. I am sad that things couldn't work out, but I have suffered a lot. He was never aggressive, and what happened I know was an isolated event, but I don't want to stay any longer. I am just done. My daughter is 10, and she doesn't deserve to be around this example. We all deserve better. But I am just soooo lost, but motivated and optimistic for the future. (For now at least, I know nothing is a smooth ride).

    Please help. Any advise is appreciated. 

    RE: How do I move on? ()

    I want you to know I recognize from my own experience just how hard it is to move on. When I look back on my own life, I too did not want to be unfair. But in being so focused on not be unfair, I was really unfair to myself. Get professional support, and get a good lawyer for yourself to help you sort out the complicated economics. I did not get a lawyer. I regret that several years later. Your choices now will make a big difference in the years to come even though that might be hard to see now. Make sure to be fair to yourself, not just to your children's father.

    RE: How do I move on? ()

    What a challenging situation! While my situation wasn't entirely like yours, there are several aspects that did ring true which I want to offer my perspective. My first piece of advice is to stop trying to be fair to your children's father. While it would be lovely if you two could separate harmoniously and happily co-parent together, your description of your circumstances makes it unlikely that will be the outcome. It's more likely that things will escalate and become contentious. Rather than try and be fair, put your energy into protecting yourself as much as possible. Like you, I was DONE with my relationship. My ex did not feel the same and wanted to continue to live in the same house. The transition was awful and I felt like emotionally I was ready to move forward, but my life was stagnant due to my ex refusing to leave. I tried therapy with him and tried to help him, but he refused to accept that one of us needed to find a new place to live. It ended with him being violent for the first time. It took a restraining order to get him out of the house. He has so much anger towards me, even now that he is well established in a new relationship that provides him financial and housing security (and he was never charged with DV due to lack of evidence). Throughout it all, I tried to be kind to him. I gave him money to get re-established and I went out of my way to ensure he had access to his children, but he was angry that I ended the relationship. All the kindness in the world couldn't stop the hurt he felt which manifested into anger and revenge. Even years later, he goes out of his way to upset me and create conflict. While that may not be your outcome, I repeat my advice to protect yourself first. If you can help him after you are established and ok, then great. But, fairness won't get you far if things get ugly. Trust your instincts and prioritize protecting yourself and your kids. Good luck!

    RE: How do I move on? ()

    I separated from my husband and father of my son 6 years ago, for way bigger reasons than yours, and it is INCREDIBLY hard on everyone - even though we live near each other, are friendly, socialize sometimes and are mutually supportive. It is financially brutal on both of us. As my son gets older, he's ever more saddened by the situation as his awareness grows. We have an okay daily life, but behind the scenes there's a ton of pain.

    In short, you do not IMO owe it to your kids to leave their father - you owe it to them AND to you and your partner to get to therapy immediately and do everything to save this marriage! Your life will *not* be better without him. I know many divorced people and they will agree - it will be different, some pain will evaporate - but you'll have new pains and challenges. It will NOT be better, just different. And your children will suffer way more than they are now, for life.

    To me, you sound depressed. This is understandable, but see a therapist and figure this out on your own! Then get a marriage counselor and hear what your husband has to say! Sleeping apart is a symptom that can be cured. And it sure does not help daily affection and peace to be living like this. 

    Don't look back with regret - act right now and give it 200% effort to solve this situation, starting with yourself - what can you do to improve things before tearing apart a family?

    Older and Wiser

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Considering divorce, how do you even begin?

April 2015

I've been contemplating divorce for about a year now. It's not easy, we have two kids, a house, generally a good life. but we are completely different people now, there's no love left, only resentment and blame.. I don't see how this could get better. At any rate, i don't even know what steps to take, how does one find an attorney? could I just go in for a confidential consultation? if anyone has recommendations or advice, i'd be grateful. thanks. Anon

Dear Anon - Try reading through this: Then, in this link you can explore how to find an attorney to get legal advice on your particular situation. Good luck! Anon

I recommend that you do some online reading first to think more about what you want in a divorce. There are some great resources out there - NOLO do-your-own-divorce (great tips even if you don't want to do it yourself), the Divorce As Friends website, etc. Also you don't have to have a lawyer unless things are contentious or super complicated. Check out Divorce With Dignity - we used Cindy Elwell and she was great. We used the NOLO stuff to figure out a lot of questions in advance and waited until things cooled down to file official paperwork, and it was affordable (maybe $1,000 or so?) and amicable. Also once you've decided, I recommend the Co-Parenting 101 book and website for support on how to do the best for your kids. It was all super helpful for me. Best of luck to you! good divorce is possible

Divorce generally creates misery for children, and it usually scars them for life. That may sound dramatic, but from their point of view, it is bad stuff. Have you tried therapy? Do you realize that whatever lack of help you both resent now, it will all be more work when you divorce? Whatever money problems you have now will get worse? Why give money to lawyers? Instead, as hard as it may be, try to thank your spouse and compliment your spouse every day. If your spouse tries to start a fight, just don't engage. Stop criticizing your spouse. I believe you can find a way. Tell your spouse that you are turning over a new leaf, and then do it. Anon

Therapy. For you. If you're having trouble deciding, it can make all the difference to have someone rational and impartial to help you think it all through. And then if you decide to do it, having that person as support can be so helpful.

*IF* you decide to pursue divorce, you might want to read up on options before talking to an attorney - lots of people in California go with mediation as a cheaper/more amicable option, but I hear it can be harder to back things down a notch to mediation after you've already started talking to someone about litigation.

I highly recommend the ''divorce options'' workshop put on by the East Bay Center for Collaborative Divorce - they have one of each type of expert (financial, mental health, and legal) there to explain the whole range of options. - Spent years trying to decide before trying therapy

Taking the first step toward divorce

August 2003

My marriage is nearing its end, but I seem to be unable to take the first real step towards getting a divorce. Im hoping someone can provide some advice on the steps to take to get out.

For background we will be married 5 years in October, we have a 10 month old son. I work part time (at a job I love), but do not make enough money to live on my own in the Bay Area. I have looked for full time work without success.

My husband struggles with chemical dependency issues (alcohol and marijuana), and consequently tends to be irrational, paranoid and mean. Without his knowledge I met with a divorce attorney 6 months ago after he shoved me. Her advice then was based on a fear of more abuse (which I don't honestly have now). I didn't act because suddenly things improved considerably, and truthfully I wasn't ready to take off with a 4 month old.

Lately my husband threatens to divorce me on regular basis, but never follows through. I think we both know we can't go on like this, but are afraid to give up the good things the other contributes to the marriage.

I suspect the easiest thing would be for me to move out, but I would like to keep our house, which I owned before we married (its in both of names now), and again, I dont think I could afford to live on my own before a settlement is reached. Also my husband loves our son tremendously, and has threatened to try for full custody. While Im confident tht won't happen, I don't think he'd let me take him without a bitter fight.

If rational conversations were possible, I'd probably still be trying to save the marriage, so having a straightforward discussion about the situation is not option.

Can anyone provide some guidance on how to get the ball rolling? Is it possible me to file while we're still living together, and if so under the circumstances would that just be stupid? Is there any way (short of experiencing more physical abuse) to force him to leave?

Clearly Im terrified about my ability to start a new life. Im hoping that hearing some of your experiences will give me the confidence I need to get moving. Thanks

I believe that you can get a summary dissolution, and avoid a fair bit of the paperwork, etc., if your marriage lasted five years or less. If you've tried counseling and so forth, or you're fairly sure that divorce is what you need regardless, that time frame might provide some ''incentive'' to act fairly soon. You are certainly strong enough to do this, no matter how scary it seems!

If you need someone to talk to, email me anytime. I can't tell you to get divorced, and I can't tell you to stay together - but I CAN tell you that you have the courage and strength to do what's best for you and your child, no matter how hard it may be. That's why you wrote your post in the first place, after all. Good luck! Kathleen

I want to say that I think that you should seek further legal cousel before you do anything- you are at a different place now than 6 mos ago, and you have at least 3 pressing issues to deal with: your son's welfare and custody, your home, and your fear of your husband.

Since you owned your home before your marriage, and your finances are strained, I would like to see you regain full ownership of your home to expand your options. You can do this if your husband will sign a ''quit claim'' deed relinquishing his share of ownership in the property.

It doesn't sound like he will do this easily, but perhaps you have some leverage in his drug and alcohol problems. Clearly, this has to be approached very carefully since he is unstable.

I think that an effective approach, taken with the advice and help of an attorney only, might be simply to put it in terms that you won't dispute his right to joint custody, in spite of his substance abuse problems, if he will sign the quit claim. This puts a bit of a positive slant on it since you are offering him something he wants- equal parental rights for his son- in return for something you want- your home (which I think is rightfully, if not legally, yours). I think that this could be done without presenting it as an attack.

The fly in the ointment would be if he has something to hold up against you that would endanger your own right to custody of your son.

Don't move out- it sounds like you'd never get your home back- unless an attorney tells you to do so for your own safety. Your safety has to come first. But since this is a very emotional situation for you, you could use some help sorting out your fears, which right now are all mushed together. The right therapist or counselor can help you with reality checks as to whether you are either exaggerating or minimizing your husband's potential for violence because of your other fears.

My experience with 2 past marijuana-addicted boyfriends is that they threaten much more than they actually do, I think because marijuana reduces motivation and the ability to act. But the threats can be pretty awful to have thrown at you. If there is anyone whose support you can enlist, like someone in his own family who he respects, that could help you. Just try and be rational yourself, don't trash him, and don't throw threats back- that will escalate everything and you will feel guilty later. Best of luck, anon

It is terrifying to contemplate divorce, but it sounds like you are being very rational about the whole thing and are making some good decisions! I went through a similar situation some months ago, and here are the words I remember using that got the ball rolling: ''I'm sad that things between us can't work out, and let's try to think about how to make this split manageable for you.'' (Or something like that..) The key to all conversations was to make sure to give control to the ex, bring my feelings in (because they are inarguable...he can't tell me I'm not sad, if I say I am, then I am!), and let him feel like he was somehow ''more right'' about everything (even if I didn't think so). Also, start your new life now! Find child care and start your baby in it, expand or change your job situation so that you can meet your needs without him. As far as getting him to move out, be patient, but try to set a time limit. Say something like ''when do you think you would be able to find a new place to stay'' or ''where do you think you might like to go''. Just try to be deliberate and logical about the whole thing. Have little goals for each conversation: ''now we're going to figure out where you'll live'' ''now we're going to figure out what will happen with the house''. Finally, try to only have these conversations when you both are sober. Be strong!