Should you file for divorce before your spouse does?

The decision to propose ending a marriage often plays out nothing like choosing to propose marriage. When proposing marriage, one person generally plots and plans and asks the single question in an extravagant way. When couples choose to divorce, that decision is not usually announced in a single moment. Spouses often talk at length about the potential decision before it is made with finality. And as a result, the decision of who should formally file for divorce is folded into that lengthy calculus.

Generally, divorces are no-fault affairs. Therefore, it ultimately should not matter who technically files for divorce because the filer is no longer required by law to blame his or her spouse for ruining the marriage on paper. However, there are both pros and cons to being the formal filer that individuals should consider when contemplating divorce.

If you choose to file first, you will already have chosen and engaged with your legal team by the time that the papers arrive. If you wait for your spouse to file, you may be hesitant about seeking representation before the process begins. Generally, the more prepared you are for the complexities of the process, the more successful the outcome will be. So one clear advantage to filing first is accepting the process and getting the ball rolling on your terms.

However, there is also a clear disadvantage to filing first. The spouse to file generally presents his or her terms first. Therefore, filing first forces you to show your hand. Your spouse will then be able to respond with full knowledge of your desires. If your spouse tends to be manipulative or may act out of spite, it may be best to keep your hand close to your chest until you are aware of his or her demands.

If you have questions about the advantages and pitfalls of filing first, it may be beneficial for you to consult an attorney even before the process begins. That way, you can have all your concerns addressed and can make an informed decision that is best for you and your situation.

Source: Forbes, “What Are The Financial And Legal Advantages Of Being First To File For Divorce?” Jeff Landers, Mar. 26, 2013

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