When the honeymoon is over, many couples choose to leave unsatisfying marriages.

How to Leave a Failing Marriage

by Anthony Oster

If your relationship lacks respect, you no longer feel engaged in your relationship, or your spouse simply doesn't seem to want to try any longer, your marriage may be headed for failure. Choosing to leave a marriage is not an easy task and ultimately requires that you ask yourself if you would feel happier away from the marriage than trying to work through it. The process of getting a divorce can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if children are involved, but being organized and having a strong plan for leaving your marriage can make the process more bearable.

Research the divorce laws in your state and determine how they may impact your decision to divorce. State laws typically consider the length of the marriage, whether you have children and the determination of fault in the divorce. Check if your state requires a legal separation for a minimum amount of time prior to the pursuit of a divorce. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, for example, requires that couples who have entered into a covenant marriage must live legally separated for two years, and they may have to undergo marriage counseling prior to obtaining a divorce. In another instance, the Judicial Branch of California qualifies some couples for a summary dissolution, a simpler process than a divorce. If you elected to engage in a covenant marriage, you may have additional steps to take to finalize your divorce. Call or visit your local county clerk's office to learn how to file for separation and divorce, or consult an attorney with additional questions about the divorce process.

Reach out to friends and family for social support during the process of leaving your marriage. Find solace from a support group or counselor leading up to, during and following your divorce. Seek out your friends, who can often provide a solid shoulder to cry on, and if needed, a sofa to sleep on. Avoid feeling isolated or insufficient, since, as researchers Heike Diefenbach and Karl-Dieter Opp point out in an article published in the journal "Rationality and Society," divorce is typically viewed by the public as a normative response to an unhappy marriage or a union in which extramarital relationships are present.

Review your finances to determine the amount that you and your children can afford to live on after you leave your marriage. Many states offer Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programs, or food stamps, to mothers of children going through a divorce. Non-profit organizations in your state may also provide assistance for lawyers, health care and housing, such as Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid for Texas residents.

List and value every item that you own as a married couple, down to individual forks and knives. According to the Judicial Branch of California, property in the state of California can include anything that can be sold or of value, such as a car, home or 401K. You and your spouse must decide how to split and agree upon the payment of debts such as a mortgage, consolidated student loans and car loans as ordained by the courts in your state.

Create a plan outlining how you plan to proceed with the divorce, including finding a new residence, if necessary, identifying your custody preferences as well as dividing your shared property. If you or your children are the victims of domestic violence, reach out for help before approaching your spouse about the divorce. Consult resources such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which you can reach at 1-800-799-7233, for assistance in providing restraining orders and resources in your area to help.

Approach your spouse with your intent to leave and identify your preferences for custody and property division. If you can come to an amicable agreement, you may be able to settle out of court. If you cannot come to an agreement, consider consulting with a lawyer or divorce mediator to work out the details of your divorce. While court rulings can be helpful for rendering difficult decisions, you will ultimately be held to the jurisdiction of the court hearing, for better or worse, if your divorce goes to trial.

Talk to your children about the divorce. Even if your children are adults, a divorce will be a change to your family's status quo, and your children may require time to adjust. Find a professional therapist or support group for your children to allow them the opportunity to explore their feelings surrounding the divorce, provide a safe outlet for them to vent their frustrations, and put them in touch with other children going through a similar process.

Consult with a lawyer or visit your county clerk's office to complete the necessary forms required to formalize your divorce. If your spouse refuses to cooperate, or if you are concerned about your personal safety, you can elect to have him subpoenaed by your local law enforcement. While laws vary by state, many states, such as California and Arizona, will agree to terminate a marriage even if only one party requests a divorce.


  • Ask your lawyer about payment options available, especially if you are operating on a limited income during the divorce.


  • Domestic Violence is not limited to physical violence, threats, stalking and harassing behavior are all forms of domestic violence and abuse. If you are concerned about your safety, or the safety of your children, consult with local law enforcement, your local domestic violence shelter, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance.
  • The information presented in this article is not legal advice.

About the Author

Anthony Oster is a licensed professional counselor who earned his Master of Science in counseling psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has served as a writer and lead video editor for a small, South Louisiana-based video production company since 2007. Oster is the co-owner of a professional photography business and advises the owner on hardware and software acquisitions for the company.

Photo Credits

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