What to Do When Your Wife Wants a Divorce

Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

You can yell, cry or plead, but if your spouse wants a divorce, she can get one, regardless of your position on the matter. All 50 states offer some type of no-fault divorce that allows either spouse to end the marriage by charging irreconcilable differences. Some states make it easier than others, but if your spouse wants out, she'll get there. So if your spouse tells you she wants a divorce, prepare for a divorce.

Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce

In yesteryear, spouses had to jump through hoops to get a divorce. One spouse had to charge the other with some "fault," such as infidelity or cruelty. If the other spouse admitted it, or if the charge was proved at trial, the court granted the divorce. While many states still permit fault divorces, all states also offer a "no-fault" option. The grounds for no-fault are stated differently in different jurisdictions, but all are based on a statement that the couple have differences they cannot resolve. Either spouse can ask for the divorce, and the other spouse's opposition cannot prevent it from happening.

This means that if your spouse wants a divorce, no matter what state you live in, she will succeed in ending the marriage. Your "what to do" options are different ways of responding to a divorce petition. If your marriage has been lengthy or you have significant assets or minor children, it's wise to consult an attorney before deciding what to do.

Responding to a Divorce Petition

If you've been served with a divorce petition, you generally have three options: File a response, file a demurrer challenging procedural aspects of the petition, or don't file anything. If you file a response, you can challenge your wife's view of the appropriate parenting plan, property division or support award. Alternatively, you can file a response agreeing with everything she proposes.

A filing challenging the matter procedurally does not dispose of the divorce. At best, if she has filed in the wrong jurisdiction or committed some other procedural error, she may have to refile the petition. If you don't file at all, the court will rule on all issues based on the facts stated in your spouse's petition. The court can grant everything she asks, although some evidence is usually mandated for custody matters.

Proposing Mediation

In addition to which documents to file in court, an attorney can advise you about mediation. Mediation is a way that divorcing spouses can try to resolve the disputed issues between them. If the two of you can pound out an agreement as to one or more of the central divorce issues, such as custody, property division or family support, your legal battle will be less contentious and also less expensive.

Mediation is required in some states if a divorcing couple has minor children. But mandated or not, it offers a chance for the couple to discuss issues with a neutral third party who is knowledgeable about divorce law in the jurisdiction. The mediator cannot and does not impose an agreement on you. Instead, a mediator's job is to facilitate an agreement between the two of you. If you can't agree, you lose nothing except the mediator fee and a little time. You can go back to court and begin a disputed divorce case.