How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

In the course of my practice as a divorce attorney in Huntsville, Alabama, I have seen people lower the boom in many different ways. Some ways are more successful than others. People frequently ask me how they should tell their spouse they want a divorce. Over the past twenty of years I have come up with a list of what I consider the best to worst ways. This list may not be all-inclusive, yet it contains most of the ways I see the news being delivered.

  1. The best – have a rational conversationrational being the operative word. Speak with your spouse, before you tell everyone else, that you want to get a divorce. I know you may not have had a conversation with your spouse in years, but this is the time to be straight with them and let them know you aren’t happy with the marriage and you want to get out. It will save you thousands of dollars on legal fees if the two of you can hammer out an agreement for an uncontested divorce in Madison County. Even if you can’t agree on every issue, at least it gives you a starting point rather than throwing your hands up in the air and letting the lawyers or the court figure it out.
  2. Send your spouse a letter or email telling them you want a divorce. Yes, this is cold but seriously, it gets worse. At least you have started the conversation about the divorce and hopefully you can go from there and hash out an agreement.
  3. Have your Huntsville family law attorney send a letter containing the terms you want to be included in the divorce. If you can’t bring yourself to deliver the news yourself, or perhaps you are already separated, the first volley towards resolving it could be a letter to them letting them know you are seeking a divorce and setting out the terms and asking them to respond by a certain date to the lawyer. You are still not forging ahead into contested divorce territory if they agree to your terms, or you could at that point reach an agreement you both could live with.
  4. Send your spouse divorce papers you have already had prepared by a Huntsville divorce law firm. This is a slight variation on the above terms, but if you are reasonably sure you will have an agreement on the terms and will be close to resolution, you can send a letter with a settlement and ask them to sign the papers and return to your attorney for filing.
  5. Have someone else tell your spouse you want a divorce. My belief is you should deliver the news to them yourself unless you are young and still attached to your family. The divorce is between you and your spouse. The other family members shouldn’t be involved at this point. I have seen children deliver news and this is very difficult for the children as well as the parents. I was in a consultation once and a teenager told her mom that her dad had told her he wanted a divorce to marry another woman. Not a good choice. Children will have enough to deal with already with the need for a child custody agreement.
  6. Having them served with divorce papers. If you are sure you can’t discuss it with your spouse for fear of how he or she will react, or perhaps you want to file the papers before they do, then serving them is the next best option. It can turn ugly if you have the party served in a very conspicuous way. Once one of my clients had his wife served at a church function. He made an arrangement with a private investigator without my knowledge. Let’s just say it wasn’t the best way to get her served. Having someone served at work can be embarrassing for them and disruptive to their workday. The worst of these is serving when the children are with them. I realize the person who is having the papers being delivered can’t always choose; if law enforcement is serving, then they will serve the papers without regard for the time or who may be present. If you have any input into when the papers are to be served, try to be respectful of the other party and the impact it may have on them.
  7. Letting them find out via social media or email exchanged with another person. You want to be the one to deliver the news. Imagine finding out on Facebook you are getting divorced? I’ve also seen people find text messages that talk about the pending divorce before the person knows it’s coming. If you want to discuss it with other people please make sure it’s not for public consumption and your computer and phone are password protected.
  8. Letting the person you are having an affair with tell your spouse, or finding out from someone else associated with the paramour. Hopefully, no one would do this purposely, but if you’re having an affair, you can’t always predict what will happen. I have seen people discover the divorce when they receive a call from the paramour’s current husband or wife. What a tangled web, right?
  9. Telling them in front of your paramour. I’ve seen a spouse who, in the throes of their “romance,” get caught and respond by telling the spouse right then, I want a divorce. Do I need to say more about this?
  10. Having your spouse arrested and then filing for divorce. Caveat time: If your spouse has committed a crime or has caused you to live in genuine fear, then YES, take steps and go to the proper authorities. Unfortunately, I have seen the criminal court used to gain an advantage in Civil Court. If you’re fabricating stories to get a leg up in the divorce, more than likely you will not prevail.

You may disagree with me about the worst and best ways to tell your spouse about a divorce. I would love to hear what others have to say about their own experience with being informed about the divorce. I believe that I’ve been able to build my practice as a family law attorney with good reviews by caring about my clients and those involved in their situations. In my humble opinion, the more respectful you can be towards your spouse, the more likely you are to reach an agreement on child support, alimony payments, appeals, or other hot-button topics and manage the case without high litigation costs, lengthy litigation, and hostility on both sides.


A respected Huntsville family law attorney with more than 20 years’ experience, Leigh Daniel is known for her positive attitude and her skills in the courtroom. She prides herself in the care and compassion that she and her team put into every case. Her goal is to instill a sense of confidence in her clients so they know success is on the horizon. As an author, inspirational speaker, coach, and founder of Project Positive Change, Leigh stays focused on the positive impact she can make on every client’s case.