Divorce Mediators of New Jersey

Guidelines for the initiating woman.

1. Recognize that you are ahead of your spouse. You have done the work of psychologically getting ready for the divorce. You have faced many fears and decided to go ahead. You see losses ahead of you, but you also see the prospect of a new and different life. Your husband has all that way to go. And he probably has to mourn. You have to provide some time and space for him to catch up with you, if possible.


2. Tell your husband of your decision to divorce in a setting where you have his undivided attention and will be undisturbed by others, especially your children. Use professional help if necessary. Don’t tell him when you are in the middle of a fight or are angry about something. Don’t tell him when either or both of you has been drinking. Tell him only when you can be relatively calm and stay relatively calm while he becomes very upset and/or angry. If you feel confident about telling him at home, make sure of your privacy. If that isn’t comfortable, a marital therapist can provide a setting that will allow you to tell him. This is absolutely necessary if there is any history of physical violence. If you are involved with someone else, decide carefully, with professional help if possible, if this is the best time to tell your husband that too.

3. Once you tell him, don’t hold out false hope: state your intention clearly. Telling your spouse that you have decided on a divorce will shock him. He will try to dismiss you, tell you that you are crazy, and/or get furious. Most of the time he will want you to change your mind. He may offer anything. Don’t back down or offer “just to separate for awhile” unless there is real hope of reconciliation. If there is hope, you should not be telling him you want a divorce; you should be in counseling.

4. You will have to tell him 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 him his faults or how he was to blame. The time for that is past. Just be ready to repeat and repeat that you want a divorce. And let him know that while the decision is firm, you can wait a little while for him to come to terms with it.

5. Don’t get terrified if he says that he will take the kids, the house, the savings and leave you with nothing. This is a natural first reaction and one way to get you to back down. The facts are otherwise. In over 90% of divorces with children, it is the father who moves out of the home. Finances may force you both to sell it, but he can’t kick you out. 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). Alimony is another issue: there is a separate sheet attached about it.

6. Don’t start legal action. If at all possible, negotiate your settlement in mediation first.

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

8. If there is any history of physical violence, talk with your local police. You know your husband, they don’t. Neither exaggerate nor minimize your history and concerns.

9. Don’t let guilt or anger play any part in negotiation the divorce agreement. Guilt sours quickly and turns into resentment. As a woman initiating a divorce you are likely to feel guilty. You may want to appease your husband and make him less angry. Many women accept far less than they and their children are entitled to 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. Help your kids and your husband have time with each other. Some women feel an impulse to keep their kids close and overtly or subtly push kids and fathers apart. Your greatest ally in raising the kids can be their father. When you separate, he will be lonely and at loose ends. He will want to learn new parenting skills now. You can’t teach him, but you can keep your kids eager to see Daddy. Later, when you need time to yourself to recover and make a new life, you will be very glad you did.

11. If he finds a girlfriend, be positive about her to the kids, no matter what you feel. He protested the divorce like crazy. He moved out five weeks ago and he has already found some bimbo he wants to introduce to your kids. You can’t believe it and the idea makes you so angry you want to scream. Instead, get him to mediation and work out how to handle this. With luck, the mediator will help him see this isn’t the time for introductions. But if you can’t prevent it, praise her to them. When the kids tell you what a bitch she is, treat that attitude as a warning of real danger to your kids, not vindication. The kids will be angry at and jealous of any newcomer. They will want to protect you. But the last place you want your kids is on either your side or your husband’s side in the divorce. You must keep them out of it; so don’t let them take sides or criticize his choice.

12. Stay positive with the kids when you learn he’s going to marry her. Most men marry again much too soon, within 12-18 months of the divorce; it is harder to meet someone for a woman. But no matter how stupid his choice and his timing, if he makes the choice, your kids must accept it to have a good relationship with their father. And they really do need their father. Moreover, if she is going to be around for awhile, you will need some sort of civil relationship with her for the kids’ sakes. That is a lot easier if you are positive about her to them from the start.

13. Be prepared for the conflict between your kids and a job. Even if you are already working, as a single parent you will have less flexibility. You may have to work longer hours, bring work home, and provide less direct supervision. Children can adjust if you prepare them for these changes; but if you don’t adjust, they won’t either.

Nonintiating women »