Your husband or wife has told you “I want a divorce.” You are now faced with the question, what do you do next? The time during which a couple is faced with the possibility of a divorce is an emotional one: fraught with tension, sadness and often anger. It can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. The reality is that it is critical from the outset that both parties try to get a handle on what the legal process is and how they wish to approach the issues before them. This article addresses some questions confronting a couple who are standing at the threshold of separation and divorce.

Can one spouse legally stop the divorce?

In the movies we hear a fictional husband or wife shout dramatically “I will never let you get a divorce!” The reality in Washington State is somewhat different. One spouse can affirm that the marriage is over by invoking the one legal ground for divorce, that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Stating this assertion in the appropriate legal divorce document (the Petition for Dissolution) is all that is necessary—no proof is required. But while a spouse cannot stop the divorce from being initiated, he or she does have a right to dispute issues that arise out of the divorce regarding division of property, placement of children, etc. These disputes can make a divorce a more prolonged process. And while some disputes are a healthy aspect of our justice system, the goal for every divorcing spouse should be to identify those issues that are true points of contention and work to resolve those disputes in a timely manner.

List important legal and other issues

The best way to identify what is at issue between you and your divorcing spouse is to make your own list of important issues. Some of these issues may be extra-legal –they may not require the intervention of the legal system but they may be important to you. Write down those issues that you see arising upon a potential separation – not just issues surrounding division of your home and bank accounts, or where you see the children living, but also other issues; who keeps the dogs or the cats if you have them, who pays for magazine subscriptions, etc. Being concrete will assist you in either coming up with a mutually agreeable plan or knowing where your issues of contention lie.

What if it seems my spouse will never be reasonable?

If your spouse does not seem willing to reach any kind of agreement about any issue then you must be prepared to proceed forward with an attorney on your side. Your attorney will protect your interests fairly and completely just as they would if they were reaching a settlement for you. Divorce, like marriage, is a dynamic process, however, and a seemingly unreasonable spouse can change their positions as the process moves forward. An important goal is for you to maintain a consistent and fair approach, with appropriate guidance that will help your divorce go forward as smoothly as it can.