How to Handle a Divorce While You're Pregnant
Ending your marriage when you're expecting can be an even bigger burden to bear. Here's how to make it easier on you and your family.
Coming to the realization that your marriage must come to an end can be devastating at any time—but even more so when you're expecting. Follow this advice to ease yourself through ending your marriage during this physically and emotionally demanding time in your life.
Find out if your state allows you to divorce while you're pregnant.
Before getting yourself caught up in the search for a good lawyer and the filing of numerous documents—all of which can cause loads of stress—find out if your state actually allows for divorce during pregnancy. While this is a non-issue in many states, some states—including Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas—do not allow a divorce to be finalized until the child is born so that you can complete a settlement and custody agreement.
If your state doesn't allow it, you can get the ball rolling with a separation, but will need to wait to complete the paperwork.
Surround yourself with a supportive entourage.
The decision to split up while pregnant is not an easy one to make. Crystal Clancy, MA, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Minnesota, says to seek out friends who are supportive of your choice.
"For those who are not, practicing some assertive skills and setting boundaries is necessary." She also suggests letting the non-supportive people around you know that this is your decision and you will not be open to discussing it with them. "If you need help with this, seek out a therapist, support group, or a self-help book."
Try couples counseling.
Whether or not you can save your marriage, couples therapy can be very helpful for any couple going through, or thinking about, ending a marriage. Couples therapy can help you work through your issues with each other, and work toward the common goal of raising your child together—even if you do end up following through with the divorce. Successful coparenting requires you to put your own anger toward each other aside, and therapy can help you achieve this in a healthy way.
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Find a good lawyer.
For something this important, it's probably not the time to hire your best friend's neighbor's cousin's ex-girlfriend's brother who just so happens to be a lawyer. You should consult with an attorney who specializes in both divorce and family law.
Knowledgeable counsel can save you time and stress by helping you understand your rights, determining the best course of action for custody of your unborn baby, and breaking down the legal jargon for you.
Get your feelings out on paper.
HuffPost blogger Debra Rogers found out her marriage was ending eight months into her pregnancy. The now relationship expert went on to author He Did You a Favor: A Smart Girl's Guide to Breaking Up, Waking Up, and Discovering the Gift of YOU. According to Rogers, getting her feelings out in a journal was very therapeutic and helped her in the healing process.
"It allowed me to get all those crazy, self-destructive thoughts out of my head and onto the page," she says.
Accept help from your friends and family.
According to Clancy, allowing the people closest to you to help you out along your journey is imperative. Whether they cook for you, clean, help with your other children, or even listen to you vent, their support can be just what you need to get through this emotionally draining experience.
Accepting help from loved ones is not a sign of weakness. It is in both your and your unborn baby's best interest to accept a helping hand as you get your life back together. (And don't be shy about asking for extra help after the baby arrives—such as having someone stop over to take the baby for a few hours so you can get some sleep.)
Create a co-parenting plan.
Both parents should be involved in a child's upbringing, so you and your partner should work to create a shared parenting plan that works for you. However, Clancy says while custody should be shared, experts don't recommend that the baby spends too much time away from the primary caregiver.
"This is a very hard concept for many partners to accept," Clancy says. "They, understandably, want time with their baby." But she says attachment is best for the child—especially if the mother intends to breastfeed—and that short, but frequent visits also work very well for children. "The spouse can bond with the baby and participate in daily rituals like bath and bedtime," she explains.
The most important factor to keep in mind is what is best for your child. If you and your partner are having trouble creating a schedule that works, Clancy recommends meeting with a family therapist or parenting consultant for help. And obviously, if there are concerns—such as an abusive spouse—custody and visitation should be adjusted accordingly.
Don't feel guilty.
Even just thinking about divorce during pregnancy is a tremendously difficult experience. You may even be concerned that you are doing your child a disservice by splitting up. Clinical psychologist and author Shoshanna Bennett says that children will actually grow up much happier if their parents are happy—even if they are happiest when they are apart. There's no need to feel guilty about moving on from an unhappy relationship. Your unborn baby will benefit more from growing up with two happy parents who are divorced, than two miserable ones who are toughing it out together.