Disadvantages to Consider When Filing for Divorce First

When a marriage reaches a point where divorce seems inevitable, deciding to file for divorce can be agonizing. 

It’s common for individuals to contemplate who should initiate the divorce proceedings. 

While there are several valid reasons to be the spouse that files for divorce first, it’s important to consider the potential drawbacks that come with this decision. 

In this article, we will explore the disadvantages of being the one to file for divorce first and what you should be prepared for in this emotionally charged journey.

1. The Time and Effort Required To Organize and Prepare The Divorce Paperwork

One disadvantage of filing for divorce first is it requires you to do all the work of preparing the initial divorce documents. This task can be overwhelming for many people.

The specific paperwork you need to fill out to start a divorce will vary depending on your state’s laws, but generally, the following documents are involved in filing for a divorce:

  • The date and location of your marriage and your current county of residence. 
  • The name, birthdate, age, and social security number of everyone in your family. 
  • Information about any child support obligations. If either spouse pays child support from a past relationship, indicate who pays and at what rate.
  • Employment Information. A list of each family member’s employer. Include the name, contact information, and address. List how long the person has worked for that employer and their hourly, monthly, or yearly salary. 
  • Details on prior marriages. Include the date of any prior divorce judgment. Include information regarding children from previous marriages on either side, including full names, birthdates, and social security numbers.
  • List which person provides and pays for health insurance for the family. You will need to list who your health insurance is with, the policy number, deductibles, and the monthly costs for the insurance for each member of the household. 
  • A list of the issues that resulted in the breakdown of the marriage. Including money issues, gambling addictions, sexual issues, infidelity, domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse, or religious disagreements.
  • Petition for Divorce: This is the initial document you file with the court to start the divorce process. It outlines the reasons for the divorce and the relief you are seeking.
  • Summons: The summons informs your spouse that you have filed for divorce and provides them with a specific timeframe to respond.
  • Financial Affidavit: This document discloses your financial information, including a statement of income and expenses and a statement of all property and debts. 
  • Child Custody and Support Documents (if applicable): If you have children, you will need to fill out documents related to child custody, visitation, and child support. This will include a proposed custody and visitation plan and a proposed child support amount. 

Taking on the responsibility of initiating the divorce process and preparing the required documents can be overwhelming, especially if the divorce involves complex financial assets, child custody arrangements, or other legal considerations. 

This can be a significant drawback as it requires investing considerable time, effort, and attention to detail to ensure that all the necessary paperwork is correctly completed and submitted to the court.

Click Here For a Checklist of the Items Needed To File For Divorce

2. Increase Legal Expenses

One of the disadvantages of filing for divorce first is the legal cost involved in starting the divorce process. These expenses include filing fees, summons fees, and potential attorney fees for preparing the initial documents.

  • Filing Fees: When you initiate the divorce process by filing the Petition for Divorce or Complaint for Divorce with the court, you are required to pay a filing fee. 
  • Summons Fees: Along with the initial filing, you must officially serve the divorce papers to your spouse. This involves the issuance of a summons, which notifies your spouse of the divorce proceedings and their need to respond within a specified timeframe. There will be additional fees associated with serving the summons.
  • Attorney Fees for Document Preparation: If you hire a family law attorney to assist you with preparing the initial divorce documents, you will incur attorney fees. The complexity of your case and the attorney’s hourly rate can influence the total cost.

These costs can add up, and if you are not prepared for them, they can be a financial burden from the outset of the divorce process. Additionally, the legal costs can vary significantly based on the complexity of your case and the extent of negotiation or litigation involved.

3. Your Spouse Will Know Your Divorce Demands

There can be a disadvantage to filing the divorce petition first, specifically regarding the requirement to include your desired outcomes, such as child custody and support, alimony, and the division of marital assets and debts in the petition. 

This disadvantage lies in the fact that you are revealing your initial requests and preferences right from the beginning of the divorce process.

Some potential implications of this include:

  • Limited Flexibility: By stating your desired terms in the initial petition, you might limit your ability to negotiate or make changes later in the process. This could be a disadvantage if circumstances change or you reconsider certain divorce settlement aspects.
  • Early Commitment: Putting your requests in the petition publicly commits you to those positions which may not always be strategically advantageous during negotiations or mediation.
  • Increased Tension: Stating your demands in the initial petition might escalate tensions between you and your spouse from the start, potentially making it harder to find common ground during negotiations.
  • Strategic Disadvantage: Your spouse will be aware of your priorities and may tailor their response or legal strategy accordingly, potentially putting you at a disadvantage in future negotiations.
  • Costly Litigation: If your spouse strongly opposes your requests, it could lead to contentious litigation, which tends to be more expensive and time-consuming than reaching an agreement through negotiation or mediation.
  • Possible Delay: If your initial requests are unrealistic or highly contested, it might lead to delays in finalizing the divorce as the court has to address the disputed issues.

Despite these potential disadvantages, it’s important to note that including desired outcomes in the initial divorce petition is a legal requirement in most states. 

It serves as a starting point for the divorce process, outlining the relief you are seeking from the court. However, this does not mean your initial requests are set in stone. You still have opportunities for negotiation and may modify your positions during the course of the divorce proceedings.

4. The Stigma of Being The Spouse Who Filed For Divorce

Going through a divorce is undeniably emotionally taxing. When filing first, emotions may run even higher due to the element of surprise and shock for your partner. While each divorce is unique, some common emotional disadvantages include:

  • Anger and Resentment: Your partner may react angrily and resent the unexpected divorce filing, making negotiations more challenging.
  • Guilt and Doubt: As the initiator, you may experience guilt and doubt about your decision, adding emotional strain to the process.
  • Loneliness: Being the first to file may lead to feelings of loneliness, as your partner and social circle may temporarily withdraw or take sides.
  • Depression and Anxiety: The divorce process can trigger depression and anxiety, and filing first might exacerbate these feelings.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Stress from filing first can lead to sleep disturbances, affecting your overall well-being.

5. Children’s Feelings Toward The Spouse Who Files For Divorce

Divorce can be especially difficult for children. Filing first may affect them in various ways:

  • Resentment Toward The Filing Parent: Children might develop resentment if they believe the parent who filed first is solely responsible for the divorce or if they perceive the decision to file as unjust or sudden.
  • Feelings of Abandonment: The initiating parent may unintentionally trigger feelings of abandonment in the children.
  • Parental Conflict: Filing first may escalate parental conflict, causing distress to the children.
  • Changes in Lifestyle: The divorce process may lead to significant lifestyle changes for the children, affecting their emotional well-being.

6. Social and Community Impact

Being the first to file for divorce can have a broader impact beyond the immediate family:

  • Friends and Support System: Filing first may cause friends and the support system to choose sides, leading to a fragmented social circle.
  • Gossip and Rumors: The divorce may become a subject of gossip and rumors within the community.
  • Stigma and Judgments: The spouse who files first might face social stigma and judgments from others.

7. The Divorce Documents Become an Open Public Record

One disadvantage of filing for divorce first is that it becomes a public document. When you initiate the divorce process by filing the divorce petition with the court, the contents of the petition become a part of the public record. 

This means that the information in the divorce petition, including personal and financial details, becomes accessible to the public, subject to certain legal restrictions.

There are a few implications of having your divorce petition as a public document:

  • Loss of Privacy: Filing for divorce first means that some aspects of your personal life, including financial details, reasons for the divorce, and custody arrangements, may become accessible to the public, which can compromise your privacy.
  • Public Scrutiny: Divorce documents are generally accessible to anyone who wants to view them, which might expose you and your family to scrutiny or unwanted attention.
  • Sensitive Information: Divorce petitions can contain sensitive information, and having them publicly available could be emotionally distressing for some individuals.
  • Professional Repercussions: In some cases, the public disclosure of financial information or other details might have professional repercussions for individuals who hold public or high-profile positions.

It’s important to note that not all information in the divorce case becomes public. Certain documents, such as those related to child custody or financial matters, may be sealed or protected from public access to safeguard the privacy of those involved, particularly children.

Are There Advantages to Filing for Divorce First?

There are several advantages to filing for divorce first.

Click here for a list of the ten advantages of filing for divorce first.


Filing for divorce first comes with its fair share of disadvantages, from emotional turmoil and legal complexities to impacts on children and social circles. 

However, you can navigate the process more effectively by being aware of these challenges, seeking support, and making informed decisions. 

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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