How to Get Out Of A Bad Marriage

Ending a marriage, even an unhappy one, can be hard. It's not just the emotional strain of leaving your spouse but also the practical steps involved in starting a new life. Raising kids, having a roof over your head, having money to pay the bills and the divorce lawyer – all of these can become roadblocks on the path to independence. With careful planning, you can bypass them all and get out of a bad marriage.

Get Legal Advice

Before taking any action to get out of your marriage, talk to a lawyer. If you can't afford one, contact your state bar association about finding a lawyer who will take your case pro bono – for free – or research government programs offering legal help to low-income individuals.

If you have children, talk to your lawyer about custody – what you want, what you're likely to get. Find out if you have any claim on your spouse's income and assets, or if your spouse has a claim on yours. Once you have a map to the landscape ahead, you can start planning to cross it.

Assess Your Finances

Get an overview of where you and your spouse are financially – how much money you have coming in, how much you're spending on kids and housing and so on. If you're the family money manager, you might already know all this. If not, you might have to ask your spouse or look up your bank statements. Get copies of your credit report and see if your spouse has unpaid debts you don't know about. You can get a copy free once a year at the Annual Credit Report website.

"I want a divorce" can make even the best spouses act unfairly or unreasonably. Take an inventory of your property – investments, bank accounts, real estate and everything else the two of you own. If your spouse tries to hide assets after you bring up the D-word, you'll be able to notice when money goes missing.

If You're Abused

If your spouse is abusive, you have to be doubly careful about making your moves in secret. Don't ask or say anything that might make your spouse think he's losing control over you. Getting a cheap, prepaid phone rather than using the family phone plan can keep your spouse from realizing you're talking to an attorney. Use computers at the library to research divorce laws or financial questions.

Draw up an escape plan so you can leave if things go south. Have clothes and emergency cash hidden somewhere, and establish contacts who'll take you in if you have to flee. Make this a priority; it could save your life.

Start Building a Solo Life

If you're not ready to announce your intentions to your spouse yet, rent a post office box. That way you can receive letters from your divorce attorney without your spouse stumbling over them. This is vital if you think your spouse might turn violent.

If you don't have a credit card in your own name, take one out before you divorce. Also open checking and savings accounts of your own, if all your accounts are joint. Bank statements and credit card bills should go to the post office box too. Once you have accounts and a line of credit set up, it will be easier to act.

If you've named your spouse as your representative or beneficiary on any major documents – will, living will, retirement accounts – change them as soon as possible. You don't want an estranged spouse making medical decisions if you become incapacitated.

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