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I think I want a divorce. Now what?

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Are any of these things true for you right now?

  • You’ve said the words inside your head or even whispered it out loud to yourself.

  • You’ve been searching for articles online with the phrase “How do I know my marriage is over?” or “Should I get divorced?”

  • You’ve blurted it out to trusted friends, family members or a counsellor.

  • You’ve been browsing the self-help section of the library or bookstore for books on struggling marriages, divorce, co-parenting or dating.

  • You’ve had the discussion (or argument) once, twice, many times over months or years with your spouse, but this time it feels urgent, real, and unavoidable.

  • You don’t know how to leave but also how you can stay.

If you said yes to any of these things, you’re not alone.

We’ve been there ourselves and we know there are lots of other women sitting in or near that place right now.

It’s a space that drains almost all your energy and joy and makes taking even the smallest action feel utterly overwhelming. That place is filled with fears, unknowns, stigma and a whole lot of obstacles to climb over.

But take heart, there are small steps you can take to feel less stuck and less unsure. There will never be a good or “ideal” time to get separated or divorced, so there is probably not much point in waiting for that unlikely time to come along. Instead, you can unhitch yourself from fear and doubt and begin to make choices from a place of strength and confidence.

So if you find yourself here wondering “Now what?”, we offer our perspective on what can come next.

Moving forward when you don’t know where you want to go

“I didn’t know how to leave, but also how I could stay. I didn’t know what I wanted or what to do. Every option felt hard. Every path had a negative consequence. Just thinking about how or what to do needed more work and energy than I had in me to deal with.” (Alex, age 39, separated for 5 years.)

For many of us, this stage of unhitching can involve a lot of inner dialogue along the lines of “What if I’m not sure my marriage is over?” or “How do I know if it’s over?” and “If I seek out legal advice when I’m not 100% sure, am I heading in a direction I can’t walk back from?”

In our experience, talking to the right people really helped. We started small, just our closest, most trusted confidantes and counsellors. The people who reminded us it’s okay not to know and it’s also okay to want to find out. There is a whole lot of myth, stigma and plain old bad information out there about separation and divorce, and it can be delivered by people who really care about you but who can’t separate their support and advice from their own fears about ending a marriage, sharing custody of their kids, being alone or being divorced.

And if separation and divorce have taught us anything, it’s patience and radical acceptance of what often feels like decision-making in the dark. We worked a lot on focusing on what we did know: that something wasn’t right or joyful or sustaining; that we felt unsettled, unglued, unhappy; that we desired a shift, a change, for things to be easier, feel better.

Talking to a therapist*, support group or a lawyer were all things we tried to get to our own answers and solutions. It can help to remember that nothing at this stage has to be permanent. We know women who separated and reconciled several times over with their spouses to get to their own version of “what’s next.” You can explore your options and change your mind many times.

Making even a temporary decision from a place of strength and information feels better than acting out of desperation or being stuck in place and not moving at all.

Understand your legal landscape

Another logical step is information gathering. Sometimes, the cold, hard facts are the most comforting, offering a solid foundation to step onto from the shaky ground you’ve been walking.

How you go about learning the basics of separation and divorce is going to look different for everyone:

  • You might prefer to start by borrowing or buying a book or two on separation and divorce to learn about what’s commonly included in custody, separation and divorce agreements, what coparenting can look like, talking to kids about divorce and more.

  • You can request an introductory appointment with a family lawyer, usually billed at their hourly rate.

  • Depending on where you live and who you contact, there may be free or low-cost community legal services that can help you get started. If you live in Ontario, a good starting place is the Family Law Portal. It's a free, self-directed online resource chock full of great information.

  • You might seek out a mediator who will represent both parties together, and work with you both to draft a separation or divorce agreement. This is often far less costly than you and your partner each having a lawyer.

  • You can talk to a counsellor or therapist about specific support and strategies for you and your family as you consider or move through separation and divorce. If you live in Thunder Bay, the Thunder Bay Counselling Centre offers a free walk-in/talk-in clinic once a week.

It can also be all of the above—any of these steps will put you on the path to informed choices and a larger network of people and experts to rely on.

More Resources for “What Next?”:

Upcoming unhitch events

We offer affordable access to the experts on family law, financial health, real estate, health and wellbeing and more through our Live Q&A Events. Browse and register for our upcoming events—these one-hour virtual gatherings are an ideal way to get a friendly overview of separation and divorce from professionals in the field. Members get a discount on all events and the opportunity to submit questions ahead of time to our speakers.

*Names and identifying details have been changed or left out of this post to protect the privacy of women who share their stories here.

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