Midlife Divorce: 19 Moves Beyond the Midlife Crisis

Midlife Divorce: 19 Moves Beyond the Midlife Crisis

We’ve all heard the phrase “midlife crisis” uttered in such a way as to explain why a “perfectly good” marriage of many years has suddenly been kicked to the curb. But what is inside this catch-all term that has us nodding our heads as if we understand? And especially, what are the most important things we should be doing if we are rebounding from a midlife crisis, either our own or our spouse’s, and now facing … a midlife divorce?

How do we understand the messiness around us and take care of ourselves?

We’re so glad you asked because in this article we’re going to talk about midlife crises and midlife divorce. And in doing we’re going to suggest 19 steps you might consider. Strongly. To support and protect yourself.

Midlife Crisis and Midlife Divorce

In the 1960’s psychoanalyst Elliott Jacques coined the term “midlife crisis” after observing that many of his male patients beginning in their mid-to-late 30s appeared to go through a depressive stage that challenged their identity, life choices, sense of mortality, and purpose. 

Today, it’s inferred a midlife crisis seems to affect people between 40-60 years of age. It is characterized by the sudden dawning that one’s lifespan is likely halfway complete. This can bring on existential questions related to one’s identity, as well as a deep reflection regarding the life that one has chosen and may wish to have, moving forward.

It’s profound stuff. Yet our pop consciousness suggests cheaper images of middle-aged men desperate to reclaim the risk-taking and excitement of a lost boyhood: buying fast, sporty cars, training to run the New York City Marathon, or ending long-term marriages to partner with younger girlfriends.

But a midlife crisis is more than cliche and can happen to women, though it is less frequently acknowledged or discussed in the open. Starting in their 40’s, women may begin to regret their life choices, too, feel trapped by financial decisions, fret about getting older, less attractive, and weaker, and worry about their aging parents and the fear they may have to care for them. Menopause can exacerbate this period with physical and psychological symptoms. And mothers in particular, whether stay-at-home or professional, may mourn their new reality as empty nesters as they experience the shift of their kids becoming independent. Feelings of emptiness or lack of purpose are common, making some women feel unmoored, alone, and bereft.

Like men, women may look back on their lives with regrets of not realizing goals or dreams that now seem elusive if not unattainable.

Midlife Divorce

If these are the circumstances that bring you to a midlife divorce, we know your situation  can be an excruciating shock if you are on the receiving end. As you cope with an unwanted divorce, you may not be ready to hear this yet. But so can it also be an opportunity for you to learn about yourself and to make the second half of your life different — one that holds no regrets as you aim to listen to yourself UNFILTERED going forth.  

That feeling of emptiness? That feeling of being old and unwanted is for you to change now, but in good time. Right now, you will take steps to protect yourself. (Keep reading.)

Check out, “9 Kick-Ass Things to Do If Your Husband Leaves You.”

For those of you initiating the divorce, we encourage you to consider each of the steps below before you make any further big moves.

Let’s move on then to discuss the 19 steps we’d like you to know if you are dealing with a midlife divorce on the heels of a midlife crisis.

1. Find your people

Divorce is a many textured thing. Holistic in its experience and impact, there are emotional, maternal, and existential aspects to it, as well as practical, legal, financial, and logistical pieces. As you face your midlife divorce, we encourage you to find your tribe who will be there for you and who can help you with the different pieces. These people build you up when a day’s event or text can knock you down. Certainly, if you are dealing with an unwanted divorce in midlife you need a safe place to vent, cry, or fall apart; a safe place where you will be built back up. Your spouse is no longer safe even if you are trying to do this amicably.

But if you are initiating the divorce you need your safe space too for feelings you may have about guilt or shame, or for talking your plan out with a thinking partner, because you want to do this the smartest, healthiest way.

Your team may include a good therapist, coach, family member, or best friend. It’s particularly helpful if they have experience with the divorce process and divorce recovery. For this reason, you might consider being with other women who get what you are going through because they are experiencing a midlife divorce, too. Check out divorce support groups near you or read about our virtual, just-for-women, Annie’s Group, here. Make sure your group is facilitated by an experienced educator so it’s taking you somewhere instead of just reliving the trauma. You know. You need emotional support, yes, but also strategic guidance. There’s a road through this crisis, and one beyond it, to your healthiest recovery.

2. Get your financial documents together

You may not want to be practical now, but circumstances demand otherwise. Don’t bury your head in the sand. A big part of the divorce process is determining how things will be split between you. This may include splitting marital property, spousal support, and child support. You must gather key financial documents so you can hear solid feedback on how your situation might be treated in a divorce in your state. Do not leave it to your spouse to educate you, please.

Gather and make copies of current statements of all accounts, yours and your spouse’s if possible. These statements include bank statements, credit card statements, investments, retirement plans, tax returns, and loan documents. Keep them in a private spot where you can easily access them. If you can’t find all of them right away, work on trying to pull as many together as you can bit by bit.

3. Explore if there’s any coming back from the Midlife Crisis

It can be worth asking your spouse one last time if he is willing to roll his sleeves up with you to work on the marriage and if he’s not, you will not blame yourself for having not tried before things go in the direction of divorce.

How do you do that? You ask your spouse specifically if he is willing to meet with you and a marriage therapist or discernment counselor to explore if there’s any possibility of reconciliation. Talking to a professional could help bring the temperature down between you. It could also give space to learning what the issues are behind the midlife crisis and whether there is any room to work on your marriage. And if not, the time invested could further your ability to communicate more healthily in the future as coparents.

4. Make copies of all your legal papers

Even if you start marriage counseling, we encourage you to keep taking steps to protect yourself. You don’t know how things will ultimately turn out. So, similar to tracking down your financial documents, you will want to ensure you have a copy of all your legal documents as well. Examples of these documents include the deed to your house, your marriage certificate, car titles, and your pre-nup agreement (if you have one.) Make a copy of each, and keep them in a secure spot. This way, when you need them, you won’t have to do the digging and searching. Trust us, doing this early will save you stress and headaches down the road.

5. Track your spending

You will never want to be as dependent or vulnerable again, no matter what. So, you will want to foster your new life of independence where possible. One way to do this, if you have the capacity, is to track your spending, learn what you are spending money on as a family or couple, and create a budget. You can create different categories based on your life needs. For example, you can allocate specific money to housing, food, bills, shopping, self-care, etc. This will give you insight as to what you might ask for in terms of spousal support down the road if that applies to your situation, or what you need to live on. Creating a budget will help you understand what you are negotiating for in the divorce. It will also help you transition to a sustainable financial life afterwards.

Read, “The Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce.”

And if you can’t do this (you have no confidence in your budgeting skills), reach out to a friend in your tribe who might be savvy with numbers to help you, or identify a professional who can help you learn what you can be doing right now to advance your situation. Schedule your free consultation with SAS for Women to discover the smartest next steps for your story.

6. Open separate bank accounts

Just like creating a budget, opening a separate bank account is another step you can take to enhance your financial independence. You can open a bank account in your name to have complete access and control of your money in that account. (Note: If you do get divorced, this account will be revealed as all accounts must be openly shared and discussed during the legal process.)

To lessen the risk of bank errors, and ensure your privacy, we recommend you use a whole new bank rather than depend on the old institution you and your spouse use. We also recommend you open a credit card in your name only so you start building your individual credit, in case you have none. Research which credit cards are the best these days, and consider ones with the lowest interest rate and that pay you back with reward money.

7. Know when to update your will

One aspect of divorce that might not be at the forefront of your mind is to update your legal documents, like your will and life insurance beneficiary. No one wants to think about this morbid part of life. However, knowing what will happen to your belongings when the time comes is important. Check the rules in your state, but you will likely need to update your will once the divorce is legal. Some states automatically revoke your Ex’s beneficiary rights upon divorce, but some do not. Having your affairs in order pre-divorce will give you less stress in the long run.

8. Start saving up

It’s no surprise that divorces can be expensive. This is especially true if your divorce involves court battles and costly attorney fees. However, even if you decide a DIY divorce is the best for your situation, there will be unexpected expenses.

Read, “What Does a Gray Divorce Mean for You?”

You will need to pay filing fees for court paperwork. There are also unanticipated costs, like potentially needing to take time off work for the proceedings. After your divorce, you may need to consider alternate housing, transportation, or a new childcare plan. Regardless of what comes up, you will want to be financially prepared to meet these challenges by saving for your rainy day. Start putting money aside that you can access easily if you have to.

9. Stay organized

The divorce process is full of paperwork, court dates, and legal procedures. It is a lot for even the most seasoned attorney to keep track of. Before your divorce, take time to get organized and designate files and storage space for all documents. This is true for both paper and online documents. Keeping all parts of the legal proceedings in one place will ensure you don’t misplace or lose track of these important documents. You should also use a paper or digital planner to keep track of all critical dates. The last thing you want to do is miss or be late to an important date because you didn’t have it written down.

SAS Tip: We also recommend that if you hire a lawyer to represent you in the divorce you make sure to mark your calendar anytime you have a meeting or phone call with them. This way you can check the hours you were billed when you get the lawyer’s invoice. More than once we’ve seen the bookkeeping branch of law firms make mistakes with billing and overcharge our clients.  Keep track of the time and date you’ve spoken so you can advocate for yourself and not pay more.

10. Think about your employment

Whether you have a job outside the home or are the primary caregiver to your kids, a divorce can change your professional life. You will become the primary provider for yourself and your family. If you haven’t worked in favor of taking care of your kids, consider preparing to reenter the workforce. Or if you’ve been a stay-at-home mom, but are now facing empty-nesting, begin the process of revamping your resume, talking to people in your field or a new industry, applying for jobs, or meeting with a career coach who has helped other women like you. If you already work, this might be a time to consider boosting your career with new certifications or training to increase your earning potential. If you worry how this might impact your claim toward spousal support, talk to a lawyer on what would be the smartest long-term play for you.

11. Consider your health insurance

Another big change that will come out of a divorce relates to your health insurance plan. If you are on a family plan and know it will end, you must secure another plan by other means. Make sure you look into a variety of plans to get the care and coverage you need. Until recent years, we had to rely on Cobra for health insurance, if we were not employed, and it was very expensive. Thank goodness there is now the Affordable Healthcare Act, that provides various plans in your state based on your income. Talk with a representative from the Exchange in your state and ask them to explain how it works.

SAS Tip: Make sure the website you visit for the Affordable Care Act in your state has a “.gov” URL in its address. Some spammy websites and companies are trying to confuse consumers by marketing themselves as “Obama Care” or words that come close to the official title of the legislation. These are private companies trying to sell you private insurance policies. What’s worse is if you put your telephone number in one of these websites you will be besieged with “Potential Spam” phone calls. Official government websites use “.gov” which means the website belongs to an official government organization of the United States.

Another good thing to know regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA)is that you can join at the time you get divorced or lose a job, not just during the open enrollment period in the fall.

12. Start to learn about the divorce process

To most people, the divorce process is baffling and a mystery they’d rather not explore. They’ve heard all kinds of things about how expensive it is, how untrustworthy lawyers are, and how one can lose everything in the process. But if you are dealing with a midlife divorce, chances are your marriage story is complicated, there are kids, assets, debt, and things happening (especially if you are navigating or responding to your spouse’s midlife crisis.) Is your spouse spending money on boats or cars but suggesting you do a DIY divorce?

Read, “Which States Have the Shortest Residency Requirement to Divorce and Which Ones the Longest?”

While preparing for your divorce and learning how to protect yourself, it would be helpful to understand the legal process. This does not need to be done through hours of intense legal research. Instead, you can do some online research or talk to people who have been through it and are willing to give you some insight on what to expect. The more you know about what is to come, the less likely you will be caught off guard.

Read, “What Does the Process of Divorce Look Like?”

But do be careful of the people you consult with. Are they professionals who can give you objective information? Are they people who have clearly healed from their own divorces? Or are these people still kvetching about how they got screwed? One thing to know is that your divorce (if it happens) is just that, your divorce. You want to be careful of transferring other people’s bad stories into your life scenario. In short, you want to talk to people who have recovered from divorce and who can offer you perspective, balance, and wisdom.

 13. Consider the type of divorce that might be right for you

Part of learning about the divorce process is thinking about what kind of divorce you want. You can think about this through both a practical and idealistic lens. Think about how it would go in a perfect world and how it will likely go based on your situation. You can think about how you and your soon-to-be Ex will behave during the divorce (ask yourself how is he behaving now?) If you have a shorter marriage with little to no property, you might consider a DIY divorce. If you have a complex marriage like most midlife divorces, or there’s a unique circumstance, you might consider hiring an attorney. You should be flexible as the process continues, as your position might change, but understanding the different kinds of divorces will ground you and give you perspective on how things will proceed.

Read, “The 4 Types of Divorce and How to Know Which One is Right for You.”

14. Consult with an attorney

Whether or not you think you will hire a family law attorney for the entirety of your divorce, please speak with a lawyer so you learn your rights and what you are entitled to in the state in which you live. A divorce attorney can help you understand the legal process, what issues you should be concerned about, and can even forecast potential outcomes.

If your spouse is buying a lot of toys or spending money on “a new friend” you’ll want to talk to a lawyer about how you will be compensated for these expenditures.

Even if you don’t end up hiring an attorney, seeing one for a consultation is a key part of your education and protection in your possible midlife divorce. Many attorneys even offer free or low-cost consultations.

Read,“Questions to Ask a Divorce Attorney at a Consultation.”

15. Don’t Forget about mediation

One popular way to divorce is through mediation. Mediation is an attempt to resolve the conflicts in a divorce without going through the court system. In mediation, you and your Ex would sit down together in a room with a trained mediator, and that professional would facilitate discussion about how to address issues like child support, property division, and alimony. Many people attempt mediation to resolve the testier issues in a divorce rather than running the risk of having to go to Court.

16. Be intentional with your kids 

A divorce is a life-altering for everybody. This is especially true for your kids. Once things happen, their understanding of family and routines will change almost overnight. Because there will be changes, it’s important to be intentional with how you talk with them and interact with them regarding your divorce. You will want to ensure how you speak to them now (if living in a toxic environment) and when/if the divorce process starts. Regardless of your feelings, their father is still their dad, and you will want to respect that relationship. Even if you have not yet decided on whether you will pursue a divorce, this is a time to spend special time with your kids, as it might be the last bit of calm and “normalcy” in your lives for a while.

We also encourage you to not unload your marital issues on your kids, no matter how old they are. For guidance and support, turn to your tribe instead: those people who are your peers or mentors.

17. Think about custody

Determining custody is one of the most stressful aspects of any divorce. Before you get a divorce, consider what type of custody arrangement will work best for you and your children.

How do you do that? You ask people what works for them, you search online for custody options, and you consider the organics of your family. There is a lot to consider. You will need to think about your kids’ schooling, extra-curricular activities, special needs, childcare, and more. Additionally, you must plan how being a single mom will realistically work for you and what kind of support you will have. At the end of the day, you want to make sure your kids are as safe, happy, and healthy as possible.

Read, “Best Advice on Custody for Divorcing Moms.”

18. Focus on your physical health

You will have much to think about, prepare for, and do while readying yourself for a possible midlife divorce. Don’t forget to take care of yourself through all the checklists, stress, and paperwork. Make sure you take the time to rest, eat well, and move your body. Even if you can only take a few minutes daily to move around, do it! Studies show that exercising is one of the best ways to manage stress. Find your “Go-to” movement for metabolizing the stress, whether it’s walking your dog every morning, going to a fitness class, or jumping rope while you wait for your kids to finish their after-school sports activities.

If you are looking for more specific things to do, because the divorce is happening,
read our “55 Must Do’s On Your Modern Divorce Checklist.”


19. Embrace what’s coming

This is about to be a time of trials, changes, and triumph. Yes, you will be surprised at the unpredictability of the road ahead. Your midlife divorce may be a time of shock, you never thought you’d be here staring divorce in the face. It might be messy and dark. But wait ….

For others, it may have taken your everything to have said what you’ve said to your spouse. If you are the one experiencing the midlife crisis, you might feel excited and relieved that now you might do all the things you neglected while parenting or raising kids.

For everyone who is committed to doing this as healthily as possible for themselves and their children, know that amid the challenges and pain, there will also be surprises in your midlife divorce as you start to see others, beyond your Ex-partner, who are showing up with genuine concern and love for you.

But the biggest surprise of all is discovering who shows up inside of you. We see her and want to welcome her home.


Elizabeth Newland is a third-year law student in Chicago committed to children and family rights. She aims to work in a family-related non-profit firm after graduation.


Whether you are thinking about divorce or dealing with it, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone.

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oftentimes complicated experience of breaking up and reinventing. 

Sent discreetly to your inbox, SAS offers all women six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you — and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.


*SAS continues to support same-sex and nonbinary marriage. In this article, however, we refer to your spouse as husband/he/him.

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