Deciding to end a marriage: Should I file first?

The decision to end a marriage is one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make. It will change your life, your spouse’s life, and your family’s life.

That decision is usually followed up with the inevitable question: Should I be the first one to file?

Kristin Zurek, an attorney with national family law firm Cordell & Cordell, said she is asked that question by every potential client she meets with.

“I usually respond to this question with a pro and con list for clients to consider,” Zurek said.

Zurek said a valuable pro in filing first is the opportunity to present your side first anytime you’re in court. This includes speaking first at your settlement conference and being able to present your evidence at trial before your ex.

“This is a very important tactical advantage in that is your side of the story, and the facts of the case that support the outcome that you have pled for will come out early on,” she said. “The first impression in a case is an important one, and filing first does give you that advantage.”

Obviously, by presenting evidence first, you’re on the offensive at trial and your ex while immediately be put on the defensive end.

That leads into the next pro of filing first: you’re always on the offense and always the one thinking of your next strategic move.

“If you get served with the papers, you’re always responding to something the other side has done or has filed, and you spend your time on the defensive,” Zurek said. “I tell clients I meet with that when you’re in divorce litigation, and if you’re proceeding towards trial, you recognize that the judge will have the most control over the outcome of your case. If you file first, and we discuss strategy together, at least you can have some control of the process in how you quickly and in what manner you get to bring your case in front of the judge.”

Zurek said the only con in filing first is it puts you at a disadvantage in the public relations war on display in every contested divorce case. You will be the one dubbed the “bad guy” by your family, friends, church members, etc., because you are the one pulling the trigger and saying, “This marriage is over.”

Be sure to discuss with your attorney the best way to deal with the negative PR that may come your way if you file first.

A decision to end a marriage is a tough one to make. If you’re at the point where you’re meeting with an attorney to decide whether or not you will file first, the pros do tend to outweigh the cons.


Kristin K. Zurek is an Associate Attorney and Litigation Manager in the Cordell & Cordell, P.C. office in St. Louis, Missouri. She has dedicated her practice exclusively to domestic litigation. Ms. Zurek is licensed to practice law in the state of Missouri.

Ms. Zurek began her career as a law clerk in a family law practice while attending law school. She has worked on many family law matters, helping clients to navigate the complex legal system and to successfully restructure their families while serving to advocate for her client’s best interests.

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