More women are initiating divorce than ever before.  Gone are the days when a woman had to ‘put up and shut up’; now if she’s had enough, a woman can leave.  So, if you are a woman who is thinking of initiating divorce, what do you need to know before you end your marriage?  Divorce coach Emma Heptonstall is author of the new book, How to be a Lady Who Leaves.

Emma Heptonstall

Emma Heptonstall

Be clear about why you are leaving

Are you leaving because the marriage is unhappy, or because you are unhappy?  It’s easy to attribute unhappiness to something that is outside of ourselves, when in truth, the source of the unhappiness lies within.  If the source of your unhappiness is within you, you’ll take it with you when you leave.

At first do nothing

It may sound counter-intuitive, particularly if you’re a woman who is an action taker, but once you’ve made the decision to divorce, do nothing.  Sit with this decision so you know it and you feel it.  When the decision truly lands in your head, heart and gut and you acknowledge it to be true for you, you can move forward without a backward glance, however uncomfortable it becomes. 

Know your numbers before you negotiate

The numbers you need to know are what is the money coming into the household and how is it spent?  What does your husband earn and what savings, investments and pension provision is there.  Same for you.  If you don’t know these numbers, don’t panic, but try to find as much of this information as you can before you initiate divorce.  Getting this information before you start is crucial to give you clarity.  It will also mean that you’ll know what you and your husband have as joint assets and will be looking for these figures during ‘disclosure’.  If you don’t know what you don’t know, it will make it much more stressful and challenging to be sure that full disclosure has been made. 

Know that even if divorce is your idea, it’s going be an emotional rollercoaster

Divorce is hard, even when it’s your idea.  Sure, you might be sick of the sight of him and you just want to escape the misery you feel, but imagine how Cinderella felt the morning after the Ball.  The fairytale you believed in is over and that is going to hurt more than once, even when you know in every sinew of your body that it’s the right decision.  It will test your self-esteem, your resilience, your parenting, your patience and your ability to think like the rational confident woman that you are.  Accept that, but stay strong.

Remember that divorce is a journey not a destination

Whatever you might hear or read in the media, you can’t get divorced for less than £40, or in a weekend.  Divorce takes time.  Your divorce is going to take somewhere between 6 -18 months depending on how complex it is financially, how you and your husband communicate and how good your lawyers are at keeping you focused on what really matters to you.  But it doesn’t have to take over your life and consume every waking moment.  Treat divorce with the respect it deserves but don’t let it define you.  Divorce doesn’t say anything about you as a woman.  And one day it will be over.

Remember to take care of yourself first

Make yourself the priority, even if you have children.  Self-care comes first.  Why?  Because you can’t support anyone else if you’re not ok.  There’s a reason why the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first.  This doesn’t mean everyone else gets abandoned, it means that if you need to take a bath with the door locked, you do it.  If you need to have space just for you to grieve, sleep or just read a book, it’s ok to take it.

Don’t go running to a lawyer first

Most women do need a lawyer on divorce.  But it’s a mistake to make your lawyer the first port of call.  Your lawyer is there to advise you on the best course of action for you and if you don’t know what you want, it’s easy for your lawyer to take control and go into ‘lawyer mode’ without considering what’s best for you individually.  Take time to consider your values.  What’s important to you, where do you want to be when you’re at the other side.  Separate what may feel ‘morally right’ with what’s right for you.  That piece of furniture you bought together you both love, is it really worth an argument that could cost more than the item itself?  Pick your battles based on what’s important in the long-term.  If you want a good co-parenting relationship in the future, what compromises can you offer?  This isn’t about being a doormat either, but the clearer you are about what’s important, the easier it is to give clear instructions to a lawyer and get the right result - in less time ‘on the clock’. 

Create a plan to leave your man

Having a plan isn’t dishonest or deceitful.  Planning a major life change is sensible.  How long did you plan your wedding?  Planning gives to structure, confidence and clarity when you feel lost and afraid.  It allows you to follow through negotiations with logic and avoid getting driven by emotions.

Know and stick to your principles

Some battles are worth fighting - and some aren’t.  Here is an example.  ‘Jackie’ left her husband who was devastated.  For him, the end of the marriage also brought fears of the loss of financial status.  Jackie and her husband were wealthy and enjoyed a lifestyle to match, but Jackie wasn’t driven by money like her husband.  Once Jackie felt that her needs were met in the settlement, she was happy to let her husband keep what was important to him - such as the house and cars.  For her, her relationship with him and their children was more important.  So, decide what is really important to you in a settlement and make it non-negotiable.  Make a plan and work it!  And be prepared to negotiate on other issues to achieve that goal.

Remember that your children will cope - if you do

Tempted to say that you’ll stay for the sake of the children?  Telling yourself the children will be traumatised by your divorce?  If you cope emotionally, so will your children.  Remember that if your marriage is unhappy, your children do already know, even if you think you’ve done an amazing job at hiding it from them.  In leaving, you show your children that it’s ok to change things that don’t work; that settling isn’t necessary and that as human beings, we are each responsible for our own happiness. 

Emma Heptonstall is the author of How to be a Lady Who Leaves, published by Librotas. For more information, visit: