Divorce Mediators of New Jersey

Guidelines for the initiating man.

1. Recognize that you are ahead of your wife. You have done the work of psychologically getting ready for the divorce and decided to go ahead. You see losses ahead of you, but you also see the prospect of a new and different life. You may even have someone to share it. Your wife has all that way to go. She may feel that she is being left alone with her life shattered around her. She probably has to mourn. Expect strong emotional reactions. You have to provide some time and space for her to catch up with you, if possible.

2. Tell your wife of your decision to divorce in a setting where you have her undivided attention and will be undisturbed by others, especially your children. Use professional help if necessary. Don’t tell her when you are in the middle of a fight or are angry about something. Don’t tell her when either or both of you has been drinking. Tell her only when you can be relatively calm and stay relatively calm while she becomes very upset and/or angry. If telling her at home seems a bad idea, a marital therapist can provide a setting that will allow you to tell her. If you are involved with someone else, decide carefully, with professional help if possible, if this is the best time to tell your wife that too.


3. Once you tell her, don’t hold out false hope: state your intention clearly. Telling your spouse that you have decided on a divorce will shock her. She will try to dismiss you, be unable to believe it, break down, and/or get furious. Don’t back down or offer “just to separate for awhile” unless there is a real hope of reconciliation. If there is hope, you should not be telling her you want a divorce; you should be in counseling.

4. You may have to tell her more than once. People usually don’t hear well what they don’t want to hear at all. There will probably be a number of discussion and attempts to get you to change your mind. Don’t justify the decision, don’t go over the history, don’t try to show her his faults or that she was to blame. The time for that is past. Just be ready to repeat and repeat that you want a divorce. And let her know that while the decision is firm, you can wait a little while for her to come to terms with it.

5. Don’t get angry and vindictive if she says that she will take the kids, the house, the savings, child support, alimony, and leave you with nothing. In over 90% of divorces with children, it is the father who moves out of the home. So be prepared to move; it is part of the cost. In New Jersey child support is determined to the dollar by state guidelines that take into account your incomes and parenting plan. Child support can be raised if children have special needs, but rarely lowered. The division of your assets is likely to be close to 50/50 (unless one of you had or inherited substantial assets and kept them separate). The law tries to create a situation where everyone can survive, but you will almost certainly have to cut down and cut back. Don’t deficit finance except to increase joint income (such as for job training), give her a little time to adjust, or to solve the immediate problem of where to live. Avoid tapping savings or borrowing to maintain a lifestyle you can’t afford after the initial adjustment period. Alimony is another issue; there is a separate sheet about it.

6. Don’t start legal action. Let her settle down before you attempt to settle anything else. At the beginning she will just be trying to hold it together. Give her some time to adjust before trying to negotiate a settlement. Then, if at all possible, begin to negotiate your settlement in mediation first. The difference between traditional divorce litigation and mediation can easily be years of anguish and $20,000 - $50,000+.

7. Express your emotions, don’t act them out. Talk about you feelings, perhaps to a professional. But don’t act on negatives. Brief counseling will cost far less than a single bad move.

8. Don’t tell other people — children, family, or friends — until you both are ready. Until you are both ready, confide in as few people as possible and then only the one or two you can trust absolutely to keep a secret. As for your kids, wait until you can explain it to them together, with your wife, as a mutual decision that had to be made for adult reasons.

9. Don’t let guilt or anger play any part in negotiation the divorce agreement. Guilt sours and turns into resentment. As a man initiating a divorce you are likely to feel guilty. You may want to appease your wife and make her less angry. Many men offer more than they can afford as a result. This is a prescription for eventual emotional and economic disaster. Nor is anger a good bargaining guide. Negotiate for what is fair, no more no less. Only a fair agreement minimizes resentment over the long term and thus helps you parent cooperatively in the future.

After the separation:

10. Don’t get too involved with a new lady too fast. If you move out, as you probably should, you will feel lonely. Presentable, single, middle aged males are in demand. The average time to remarriage after divorce for men is about 12 months. That’s much too fast, for you and for your kids. Give yourself time to be sure; don’t “rebound.”

11. Keep any new romance away from your kids for a year or more. If you don’t, you practically guarantee they won’t like or accept her, no matter who she is. Your kids will be very insecure about your affection for awhile. Until some time goes by, they wouldn’t warm up to Mary Poppins. Let them come to terms with their new life and your changed role as a father. A woman who can’t understand that and wait is probably wrong for you.

Noninitiating men »