How do I take the first step towards ending my marriage?
September 29, 2011 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I know it's time to leave my husband. But what's my first step? Details inside.

After a long, complicated 10 years, I know my relationship with my husband has run its course. He knows this, too, and we've discussed separating, but he sees hope and wants to work on the relationship, while I believe we've worked enough. What this means is that I will have to organize and take the initiative for our separation. He won't fight me, but he won't help. My problem is I don't know where to start.

Our details:

-No children.

-Not much of anything joint besides our house. No bank accounts, no vehicles. We've kept our property mostly separate, and there's nothing material we would fight over. (However, I'm aware that break-ups can bring out the worst in people, so I'm prepared to contact a lawyer when the time comes.)

-We own a house. I'm not attached to our house or neighborhood, and feel fine moving out. However, our house value has plummeted, and selling would be a terrible loss we couldn't afford (we've only been here 2 years). My husband could not afford the house on his own, though I believe he would consider a roommate situation. If he decides to stay in the house, I would plan to help with the mortgage for as long as I could, but that would put a serious dent in my finances if I had to pay for our mortgage and the new place I end up in. Though I make twice as much as my husband, I'm not sure I could afford this.

-We have two dogs and a cat we love dearly. So dearly that I'm pretty sure our animals are what have kept us together the past few years. (I know this sounds silly, but without kids - these are our kids!) I have no idea how we would begin to divide custody of our animals. My concern with moving out is that I'll temporarily be away from the animals while I settle (I don't want any of them to move with me until I have at least a semi-permanent place), which will make figuring out our custody more difficult. (Our animals are indifferent to each other, and would be fine splitting up.) I've been the primary caretaker for our animals, but I know he loves them just as much as I do. This would be the one issue that could make our separation very, very emotional and ugly.

-I don't know where to go, even temporarily. My family lives out-of-state and I can't stay with them because my job is here. (Because of my parents' current living situation, I wouldn't even be able to visit.)

Unfortunately, I'm very much a loner, which has always worked just fine for me, but now the few friends I have either a) have no space (think studio apartments) or b) have very hectic lives that include small children. My closest friend (with two small children she stays home with) would most likely house me for a week or so, but I would be a huge imposition for her and her family who have very little space, and a lot of chaos. (She would never say so, but I would be majorly in the way.)

-I don't have money saved to put a deposit on an apartment, or pay mortgage + new rent. I've been paying down debt. My debt is almost paid, but all my money has gone to that. I could stop paying the debt, and have enough saved for a couple months rent + mortgage, but that would take two or three months. I'm willing to wait, but it seems so unfair to my husband that I've mentally made this decision, and now I'm just waiting for enough funds to leave. I've been supplementing my parents' income for the past six months, so they wouldn't be able to help.

-The fears: my husband and I love each other dearly. We're best friends. We've never tired of each other and there's no infidelity. We simply cannot get along on a daily basis, and both of our souls are crushed trying to fit ourselves into a relationship that doesn't work for either of us. Because of the loner status, I fear that if I leave, I'll have no one in the world. He has a huge, local extended family who have become like my own. My parents are elderly, and not long for this world. This is not enough of a reason to stay - but something that holds me back and keeps me from taking the first step.

-I have health problems that, even when under control, can cause severe fatigue and pain. On bad health days, I can't imagine getting the energy to make all of these plans, which is frightening to me. I don't want to think that I'm too sick to remove myself from a situation I don't want to be in, but sometimes I fear that's the case.

-I've tried to talk to my husband rationally about this, but he doesn't want us to break up, so of course he doesn't want to discuss break up details. I don't blame him - this is very, very sad. However, I know if I had a plan in place and directed that plan, he would comply.

The question: Where do I start? Do I wait until I have money saved up? Do I look for a place first? Do I figure out, in detail, our pet situation? I feel lost, and I don't know what the first step is. I know this is the right thing to do (so I'm not looking for confirmation or questions about decision), but I don't know where to begin. I appreciate any insight or direction you can provide.

Other relevant details: We're a heterosexual couple in our 30s in Minnesota.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This is sad. Speaking practically here: if you make enough that you can easily afford your own place once you manage the deposit/down payment hump, then you should stop paying down your debt so you can afford it sooner. He will get a roommate or get help from his extended family. Since you two are good friends you won't need to make this hostile. As you said, he will agree to the plan.
posted by michaelh at 3:28 PM on September 29, 2011

Could you move out to a cheaper place and spend the money you're saving on live-in or on-call nurse care?
I'm very sorry. It sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders though-- you'll be all right.
posted by Lieber Frau at 3:42 PM on September 29, 2011

However, I'm aware that break-ups can bring out the worst in people, so I'm prepared to contact a lawyer when the time comes.

Generally speaking, the time to contact a lawyer is well in advance of expected legal problems. I hope that the situation doesn't turn acrimonious, but there will probably be some issues related to division of property/alimony/etc. and competent legal representation will go a long way toward keeping your list of worries from expanding. Good luck.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:56 PM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

I too feel for you. I had the worst of the worst in your situation. Best advice I can think of is: start with the money. Little else is possible without it. Negotiate to stay in the house for whatever length of time it takes for you to get the money you'll need. With money in hand you'll be clearer headed in dealing with the other questions. Good luck.
posted by reacheround at 4:12 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds as though you're done with this relationship, but after 10 years I'd encourage you to seek relationship counseling (and individual counseling, if you haven't already). To me, a relationship of that length deserves every recourse available to be saved, and if after seeing a counselor you still don't feel that reconciliation is possible, perhaps your husband will realize that you've tried everything and a separation/divorce will go more smoothly.

In the meantime, it also sounds like you're not really able to move out immediately. I'd take the next few months and figure out how much money you'll need to move out on your own, as well as how your husband can afford to continue living in your house without your having to pay part of the mortgage.

Upon a second reading, I'd almost encourage you to see if continuing your relationship after you've moved out could work for you two; I've read of this working out for certain couples, maybe it could fix the problems you have?
posted by krakenattack at 4:23 PM on September 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

Apart from the duration of the relationship and number of pets, I've been the guy in your husband's situation.

My advice:
- Slow down paying down your rent and save up money for an apartment, now.
- When you've got some money banked, find an apartment and tell your husband it's over. Be ready to move out quickly after that.
- Come up with a plan for the division of assets and critters. Propose this to him. Emphasize that you want work things out fairly, and if he has any counterproposals, you welcome them.
- If it looks like an amicable divorce is possible, and depending on what state you're in, contact a divorce mediator (I think these are allowed in most states). The mediator is a lawyer who does not take sides, but helps you legally codify the terms of your divorce. When my then-soon-to-be-ex and I worked with a mediator, the mediator insisted that each of us retain separate lawyers to look over the terms of the decree and make sure it represented our individual interests. Total legal expenses between 2 lawyers + 1 mediator was probably about $500 at the time.
- I would advise against any kind of arrangement that preserves any financial entanglement between your ex and you over the house. Too many ways that could go wrong. Things are going to be tough on both of you, but you need to move forward.
- Once you're out, the divorce papers are filed, and all that, break off all contact for a while. No phone calls, no e-mails, nothing. It's OK to get back in touch, but go silent for a couple months to let the break sink in for both of you.

Good luck. For whatever it's worth, I was really broken up about my divorce at the time, but it didn't take me long to recognize it was the right thing, and things worked out for the best.
posted by adamrice at 4:30 PM on September 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

Oops. Not rent. Credit cards.
posted by adamrice at 4:31 PM on September 29, 2011

First: consult a lawyer NOW. Waiting is NOT a good idea.

Second: whoever stays in the house --- whether you or him --- pays. Think of the two of you as the landlords; if you rented the house to someone else entirely, that person would pay rent plus the utilities, right? You wouldn't subsidize a tenant, you would insist that that prospective renter would pay his/her own way. So, don't pay your ex's bills either. Alternatively, you could BOTH move out, rent out the house, and both move somewhere you can each afford by yourselves.
posted by easily confused at 4:47 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hoo boy, this hits close to home.

Much of your situation is where I was two years ago, including the two dogs and a cat. We own(ed) more things jointly, and no longer consdered the other our best friend, but we were still mostly polite. The major differences are that I am nearly 20 years older than you, and we'd been together for almost 30 years.

You start by making sure you have somewhere to go. If you have to stop paying down your debt for a few months, then do that. Generally, 'get out fast' is excellent emotional-health advice, but if you cannot move in with a friend or relative, you need a place of your own. Your first priority then, is putting together enough money to do that. It is not 'unfair' to your spouse, it is economic reality - you *must* have somewhere to go (living in your car is not an option). If you want to have it happen faster, sell things you own and sock the money away into your apartment fund. AS SOON AS you have enough to cover rent, deposit, utility deposits, etc., find an apartment and move.

I can't tell you the right answer for you regarding the pets, but as I moved into a tiny studio apartment, I figured the person with the house and yard got the dogs; I took the cat. I subsequently visited the dogs a lot, timing my visits to not run into my almost-ex.

The health problems (ditto) you have, you already know how to deal with on a day to day basis. You plan when you're feeling well enough, you don't plan on bad health days. While you're planning, you make sure you remember your limits and plan those limits into your to do lists. Yes, it does mean some things take longer to get done. Those months you're staying while saving enough money to move, pack. Sell things (more money), donate things, make sure you have what you need to maintain your own household. Remember that you need less than you think you do.

It still won't feel real until you are in your own place for a while. Even being completely convinced it was the right decision, in many ways it will be harder than you suspected, often incredibly lonely, and you'll cry a lot and spend a lot of nights wondering if you totally lost your mind.

The stress relief will be immediate and enormous. Some days that's enough to balance out the "I've totally lost my mind" evenings, and sometimes it's not.

Know that every week that passes, it gets better.

Good luck.
posted by faineant at 5:03 PM on September 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

Why don't you kick him out?

No, hear me out on this. You make twice as much money as he does. He can't afford the house. You do all the work of caring for the animals and the animals are probably happier in a house, especially the dogs. He has a "huge, local extended family." He will do whatever you tell him to do if you make the plan. Kick him out. (Nicely.)
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:17 PM on September 29, 2011 [18 favorites]


Meet with a lawyer, soon. He or she can tell you how your state's laws affect many of your issues.

Your husband needs to move out. He cannot afford the house, so he should not live there. He has family in the area, so he can get housing. Your state's laws may require you to keep up payments on the house (as a couple), so you need to ensure that that can happen. You paying rent and the mortgage while he could be staying with family is not a good plan.

Just because you are the one with the will to end it does not mean you need to take on all of the stress of moving when it makes no practical sense.

Take it day by day with the animals. If you are both attempting to be civil, you should be able to work something out.

You can certainly choose to take three months to save up money for an apartment, but in my experience, the sooner you get started with formal proceedings, the sooner the two of you can get past the divorce.
posted by freshwater at 5:29 PM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

I agree that you should feel free to keep the house, and ask him to leave: if he has extended family, he has more places to go than you do, and ultimately he will not be able to keep up with the house anyway.

Another thing to consider is that you may love each other, but may simply not be able to live together. You say you've never tired of each other, but can't get along on a day-to-day basis. Do you think that you could maybe make things work on a non day-to-day basis? I know some nontraditional couples that exist in different apartments, but are still very much in love, they're simply fiercely independent.
posted by corb at 5:53 PM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I agree with Snarl Furillo and freshwater, I think it makes more sense in your situation to ask him to be the one to leave, since he can stay with family and you can't. Your health problems are another issue.

I remember working up the effort to tell my husband I wanted a divorce. If it makes this any better, I would say it's just as hard to do the initial breakup with your husband as it is with any longterm partner (of which I've had a few since). The aftermath just sucks a whole lot more. But it's worth it, once you've decided that's what you want. Talk to a lawyer before you do it.

Take a day off work on a Friday (you're in for a rough weekend) Plan what you're going to say to him, you need to be calm and prepared to do this with delicacy. When he gets home, invite him to sit for a talk. Tell him you want him to hear you out, and let you talk. When you're finished, then he can talk.

Tell him you've thought about your relationship long and hard, and you just don't have it in you to keep trying anymore. Tell him anything else you can about how you feel - the hopelessness, the distance, that you think the pets are what kept you together for so long. Don't get accusatory, don't make it about his failings or yours and allow for blame to be dealt. Just try to convey that this isn't a healthy relationship anymore and you don't have any hope left that it can be fixed. Finish by asking that he go stay with his family tonight, because you'd like to be alone. And then ask if he'd like to say anything, or if he'd rather just think about it for a while and talk about it tomorrow.
posted by lizbunny at 5:56 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

What do you want? You talk about separating and breaking up but don't mention divorce. All three of those things are on a spectrum, where do you want to be? In re-reading I think the best way to go forward is to ask you husband to leave and stay with family while you both work on your marriage. Have a weekly date, attend therapy together and commit to trying to work on your relationship. As others have said, you may find a middle ground in a marriage with in separate dwellings.
posted by saucysault at 6:09 PM on September 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

One way to think about the house is to get an appraisal (minus commission and selling expenses). 50% of the value belongs to him and 50% to you. However, you each own 50% of the mortgage too. If one person moves out and the other stays, the one who moves should pay the one stays enough to cover 1/2 the difference between the value of the house and the amount owed. (If there was a profit, then the one staying would owe that to the one leaving.) So, if you did move out (although I agree that it makes sense that he leave) then you should not pay part of the morgage, but you should pay him for the debt that he is assuming. However, the bank might have an issue with him having a mortgage he can't afford....
posted by metahawk at 8:14 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

When my parents divorced, during the separation, they each paid (mortgage + rent) * (that person's salary / total salary). That seemed fair.

I find myself trying to calculate just how soon you could do this. How cheap of a place could you stand to rent? (My guess is that you will be in emotional shock anyway, so it's not like you're going to turn a good situation bad via not finding a beautiful place to move to.) Is there any way that the differential between your share of the mortgage and your share of the M+rent is something that you can handle if you stop paying down your debt?

Deposits can be rather minor. If you're in your 30s, it's possible (?) that you're still willing to rent a room in a shared house or apartment. I've done that the last three places I've lived, so I think I paid a deposit of $525 at one place and no deposit at the other two.

Last but most of all: I'm so sorry. You will get through this, make a plan, and execute it the same way you have gotten through so many things before.
posted by salvia at 11:27 PM on September 29, 2011

Do you have a spare room in the house that you could move into for a few months? This could work on both fronts, as a way of separating you within the household so that you're not as constantly in each other's faces and maybe make the other issues more manageable... Give that a couple of months of spending a little more time apart (even if just in different rooms of the same house). When you have talks about the relationship or other serious issues, do it outside of the home. Even if its lunch at mcdonalds. Being out of the house gets you away from any negative feelings associated with spending all of your time together there, and can make it easier to communicate.

Make it clear to him that this living separately in the same house and trying to work out thigns phase requires active involvement from him. If you set up a date night, he needs to be responsible for planning some of these nights out.

If you have specific issues within the relationship that you know need to be worked on, make it clear that he has to accept half of the responsibility for working toward resolving these issues... or even full responsibility for some of them (if its something like spending all of his free time playing world of warcraft or anything like that.)

Make sure that he understands that "trying" doesn't mean "keep doing waht we're doing now and hope it'll magically fix itself somehow" but requires actual work and serious effort.

Meanwhile, just in case, start saving. No, this is not planning to fail at the relationship, its just common sense. Besides, if somehow you do find a way to make it work after all? You can use that money to do something special together instead.

Let him know that you are saving, and set a deadline "We'll try this for 3 months then sit down and honestly evaluate whether there is any improvement"
posted by myShanon at 1:37 AM on September 30, 2011

Technically speaking, you are actually the "leaver" in this relationship. As such, you should be the one know.....leave.

As you have outlined, however, that is not an option. So why not continue to live together as roommates during the process?

Co-habitating during the divorce process is difficult, but not impossible. If you "love each other dearly" and are "best friends" as you intimate above, it should be no problem for you guys to co-habitate while you get your ducks in a row to finalize the divorce.

Oh, and one more thing: "kicking him out" is not a good legal option for you (aside from being completely and utterly wrong in your particular circumstances). If you make that much more money than him and you "kick him out", he could probably apply to the court for some sort of temporary financial support. You won't win to that if you're the breadwinner.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:53 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to vehemently disagree with PsuDab93. There are no rules about who has to do what in a divorce except those laid down in the law. You leaving may hurt both of your financial positions, so just because you are the one to pull the plug, you should not feel obligated to leave or operate under the belief that you leaving will be best.

Please do not take legal advice from the internet. Ask a lawyer about what legal obligations you and your husband will have in the upcoming months, and how you can best meet them.

I have not generally seen co-habitation during a divorce go well -- in my experience, it makes things messier. Of course, YMMV, and it may be an option to consider.
posted by freshwater at 8:09 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow. I could have been you, word-for-word, eight years ago. (Except I was the husband.)

1) I told my (ex) wife to go live with her parents.

2) I simply called a paralegal to do my divorce paperwork. It came in the mail a week later.

3) My (ex) wife and I just had to sign the paperwork and mail it back. It costs a whopping $260 for a complete divorce.

4) I "let the house go." I found an apartment, made a deposit, stopped paying on the house, and did a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure with the bank. For a few years my credit report said the bank's name and $0 owed and it didn't lower my credit score at all.

5) We had five cats, but the law only allowed two, so I gave them to the Humane Society without too much guilt.

The divorce was one of the easiest things in the world to do in my life, odd as that sounds.
posted by TinWhistle at 8:22 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here are a couple of links that discuss cohabitation and it's recent prevalence due to the economy.


And here....more specifically, page 2 of this article

Let's not act like it's not an option and frankly, if you are the breadwinner, you should fully expect your lawyer to present cohabitation as an open. It happened during my divorce and the divorce of many of my friends.
posted by PsuDab93 at 8:57 AM on September 30, 2011

*open = option
posted by PsuDab93 at 8:57 AM on September 30, 2011

Came here to say what PSuDab93 said. Guess it depends on how level headed you both are. Sounds like it could be possible and pretty much solves the pet, rent, house problems in the short term.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:13 AM on September 30, 2011

It sounds like you are friends, so this could be a nice, friendly divorce with no lawyers. I did it, I'm not made of magic, and I'm not a saint.

I had a similar financial arrangement (the house was the only joint thing) as well as our being very good friends. My husband and I respected each other enough that we both stayed as roommates in separate bedrooms in the house until it sold. We got along just fine, mostly preoccupied with making our own logistical plans and helping each other when we could. We had a lawyer friend file the paperwork according to our state's laws (had to wait for a year of living at separate addresses to pass). Four months later, I got paperwork in the mail that said I was divorced. Couldn't have been easier. Our divorce cost $256. Our friendship was intact for a couple of years, then faded away amicably as we both moved on.

If you want the house and don't want him living there, you should get a lawyer. If you want to leave and let him have the title to the house, you probably need some legal advice. But if you come to the decision that you're going to sell it and split the proceeds, and there's no other financial stuff you have to split, you likely do NOT need a lawyer.

You need to read up on Minnesota's divorce process, which has got to be online. Just educating yourself about what it takes to get divorced will give you some impetus to take the next step, whether it's having a conversation with him, saving some money for your own rent, or finding a lawyer. Good luck.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:51 AM on October 1, 2011

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