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I can remember the words coming out of my mouth like it was yesterday, “I want a divorce”. I was terrified of what he would say, but I was even more afraid of what would happen if I stayed.
Divorce is never easy and it’s certainly should not be the first option when you are having issues in your marriage. However, when you have done everything you can to make your marriage work and the same problems continue to get worse, divorce may be your only option.
The biggest lesson I learned when I was contemplating my divorce was understanding what my exit strategy would be and how I was going to leave safely.
When most people think of the concept of an exit strategy, they think of it in terms of a business owner selling a major investment or an employee leaving a corporation.
The concept of a divorce exit strategy is very similar as it is a plan that you create to leave the marriage before you actually get a divorce.
Usually, the exit strategy is created in secret from the other spouse so as to have the plan in place before you discuss the divorce.
If you have ever played sports you know that teams have game strategies. They think about defense, offense, and what the other team may do during the game. They practice and prepare for all possibilities but most importantly they create a plan to help themselves win.
When you are contemplating divorce you also need to think in terms of a strategy and think through all possibilities. Having an exit plan helps you get a clear picture of what you need to do to stay safe, financially secure, and understand your options in a divorce.
This is especially true if you are dealing with domestic violence, infidelity, and/or have children in the household.
To create an exit strategy you need to write down the plan in full detail, then execute it. My personal therapist helped me talk through an exit strategy plan when I was contemplating my divorce.
It may be helpful to have someone that is not tied to your marriage or spouse that can help you talk through the strategy.
Either way, write out the plan and keep it hidden in a safe place where it will not be found.
Here’s how to create an exit strategy for divorce:
Let’s dive deeper into this process.
It’s important to write down what has led to the divorce and what you have been experiencing. This is especially true in the case of physical or psychological abuse. You will need to discuss what has been happening with your lawyer or in a court of law in front of a judge. So, it’s important to have events documented so you can quickly reference them.
If you have children, it’s especially good to monitor how the situation is affecting the children. Is your spouse’s behavior having an adverse effect on your children? Are your children starting to also display similar negative behavior?
Keep this journal or record in a safe space preferably out of the house so your spouse cannot find it.
The first thing my therapist told me when I was creating my exit strategy was to gather or make copies of all the financial, legal, and sensitive information.
Not only did I go through all our files, but I also started to slowly remove files that I had before I met him. I started to transport important documents to a storage unit that he did not know about. Most of the information was documents that were sensitive to me as I did not want him to have access to any documents that had my social security number, ID, Passport, or anything he could use to impersonate me.
If you are not able to actually take documents, then pick a couple of days a week when you know your spouse will not be home and slowly get documents copied.
This is especially important if you own a lot of assets together. You want to be able to easily show your lawyer what you have, where it’s located, and understand how to access it if needed.
Getting a storage unit is important because you will need to start slowly moving items to this unit, such as your personal records, documents, and even clothes or personal items.
I’m not recommending you take things from the house that belong to both of you, but take things that are personal to you. Perhaps family heirlooms or items you had before you met.
The idea is that if you had to leave in a hurry you would have the most important items stored away in a place that your spouse does not know about.
Be sure to keep all of the information about the unit a secret and put the key or passcode in a spot where your spouse will not find it.
If you have a joint bank account, it will be important for you to open up a separate bank account that your spouse does not know about or have access to. Use this account to start saving money, again if you need to leave quickly you would have some money saved. This is really important if your spouse has control of your finances.
You need to start learning about your finances, what you own as a couple, how much is coming into the home, and start noting in your record your financial information. This will also be important information to have for your lawyer.
Start researching lawyers that specialize in divorce or family law if you have children. Talking to an attorney will help you understand your options given your situation and living arrangement.
A divorce attorney can tell you what the next steps are, the information you need to know if you want custody of your children, and the law in your state as it pertains to property or assets.
Different states have different laws when it comes to divorce, spousal support, custody, etc., so it’s super important to understand what your parameters are for your state.
Whether you are in an abusive relationship or not, it’s good to be able to have a bag of clothes and personal care items packed in case you need to leave quickly.
Divorce can be a very difficult experience and people can behave in ways that you have never experienced when they feel like they may be losing their partner. So, just because your spouse has never done anything to make you afraid does not mean that they cannot change.
Be prepared to leave in an instant if you need to during the pre-divorce process. You can keep the clothes in your closet or in the trunk of your car, or in your storage unit.
The idea is that you have what you need if you must physically leave. If you have children pack them a small bag as well.
It is extremely important that you are able to confide in a person that has no tie or connection or loyalty to your spouse. Consider a distant friend that is not close to your spouse, therapist, or your lawyer.
If you have a family member that you trust will not tell anyone; however, be careful with family because you don’t’ want to put them in the middle of the situation. Sometimes, family can be torn with the love and loyalty that have to your spouse and may not feel comfortable being involved. So, make sure whoever you tell is someone that is completely on your side or neutral to your spouse.
The reason this is so important is because if anything negative were to occur, it’s important that someone knew what you were doing, were your storage unit was located and the reason you wanted the divorce.
I am not trying to scare you but I am trying to stress the importance of your safety when going through this process.
If you believe your spouse would kick you out of the house or you no longer feel comfortable living with your spouse, start researching places to move. Consider an apartment or a friend’s home or local women’s shelters (shelters for women and children that may have faced violence in the home).
You need to understand that your spouse may get very upset when you tell them that you want a divorce. It’s important that if they are violent or start displaying negative behavior, that you can quickly leave and have a place to stay.
This may be an extremely difficult conversation, but the final step is to tell your spouse that you want a divorce. If you have a therapist or coach, you may want to start practicing what you plan to say.
You could write a letter and read the letter to them if you feel like you would fumble your words. Also if you have dealt with mental or physical abuse, you may want to have someone else present when you tell them, such as a police officer, your therapist’s office, or a mediator. You could also tell your spouse you want a divorce in a crowded area so that you don’t feel alone.
The most important thing is to stay safe. Only you can assess your spouse and their behavior but I always lean towards being overly cautious in situations dealing with divorce.
The most important thing is to stay safe. If you must leave immediately and don’t have time to go through all of these steps, then just leave.
Living in fear of your spouse is not normal, healthy, or functional. If you know your life is in danger leave, stay with friends, contact the police, get a restraining/protection order and learn about our options.
Staying safe is the most important part of the exit strategy because you can always replace things, but you cannot replace your life.
If you are contemplating divorce it is important to start creating and planning your exit strategy. This is the plan that will help you think through what you need to safely leave the marriage before you get a divorce. It is the plan that will help you financially and legally prepare for the divorce process. It will also help you navigate circumstances that may involve children or violence in the home.
Having an exit strategy is an act of love and care for yourself and all that are involved. Be willing to create an exit strategy if you are thinking of getting a divorce and want to be prepared.
Tiffiny has a B.A. in Psychology, and master’s degree in Public Health Education. She worked in consulting for over 16 years, as well as previously owning a fitness and health business. In her personal life, she used personal development, mindset and health strategies to go from being overworked in a demanding corporate career, emotionally drained in a toxic marriage, physically unhealthy, and depressed to becoming an award-winning figure level bodybuilding athlete and entrepreneur. As a women’s empowerment coach, she works to help women get clear on their goals, build confidence, increase self-esteem, take action on their deep desires and create a life they love