Looks like you're new — finish the onboarding form to unlock access to Avail!

Lesson 4: The Six Divorces

We think of divorce as a single event – you get divorced and you’re done. The truth is that you need to go through these six divorces: the Legal Divorce, the Financial Divorce, the Social Divorce, the Emotional Divorce, the Co-Parental Divorce and the Psychological Divorce. Here’s how each will affect you.

The Legal Divorce

The Legal Divorce is what most people think of when they think of “divorce.” It’s simply the legal framework for finalizing your divorce. Papers are filed in the court initiating the process, certain procedures have to be followed, and then a judge will sign a document stating that you are officially divorced. The process varies by jurisdiction.

A divorce is either contested or uncontested. A contested divorce is when both of you haven’t been able to reach an agreement on the issues involved and ends up in litigation with a judge making all the decisions.  

An uncontested divorce is when both of you agree on how to resolve the issues regarding custody, support, and division of property, and you have a written agreement that both of you have signed. An uncontested divorce doesn’t take as long to complete, it’s less expensive, and less stressful than a contested divorce; in many cases, it can be finalized without going to court.

The legal divorce marks the end of the marital relationship. It allows individuals the choice to remarry in the future. Although you may have feelings of helplessness, your attorney and the court system can help make decisions regarding your situation. Tell your lawyer if you want more control over these decisions. Professional mediation can be useful in resolving difficult issues and developing a co-parenting plan when children are involved.

The Financial Divorce

The Financial Divorce deals with your money, what you own, and what you owe. You need to make decisions about how to divide your marital assets and liabilities. These decisions can be difficult, as now the income that used to support one household will be supporting two. This is a harsh reality for many divorcing couples.

Being open, honest, and cooperative about the marital assets and liabilities makes this part of the divorce go more smoothly. If you have trouble getting through one of the Four Divorces, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make the financial decisions necessary to complete the divorce process. 

What happens if you can’t resolve your issues and have to take your divorce to court? You end up spending money on legal fees that should otherwise be going into your pocket and your spouse’s pocket. On the other hand, if you work together – privately, or in mediation or collaboration – you can create your own custom solutions that set yourselves and your children up for the best financial divorce possible. 

The division of assets can be difficult. Since two households are more expensive than one, you may have less money to cover expenses due to divorce. As a result, you may need to learn new financial skills. Set up a budget based on your current expenses and income. If needed, community resources can help you find employment opportunities. You also may be eligible for job training or educational assistance. Insurance (health and life) and retirement plans can become even more important after divorce.

The Social Divorce

The Social Divorce deals with how your friends and family adjust to the fact that you and your spouse are no longer together. Divorce is a family affair. Everyone around you is affected. Your friends, family, and co-workers have related to you and your spouse as a couple, and now they must learn to relate to each of you as single individuals. Each person reacts differently and on his or her own timetable. Be respectful and allow people to go through their own adjustments to the end of your relationship.

It is helpful to keep your family and friends out of your divorce and keep the focus on what is best for you and your children. Your family and friends likely have strong feelings and support you, but their well-meaning advice often makes things worse.

As the divorce process continues you may receive less support from family and friends. You may feel as though fewer people are willing to help when you need them most. You may no longer feel comfortable around your married friends. The mutual friends that you and your former spouse shared prior to divorce may seem uncomfortable in your presence. They may not want to take sides.

You may feel nervous about starting to date again, especially if you haven’t dated for years. Support groups through your, community, or work can help you establish new friendships. A divorce support group offers a setting where you can share your personal experiences with others. If you are not feeling good about yourself, consider seeking counseling to help build your self-esteem. 

The Emotional Divorce

The Emotional Divorce is the most difficult of the Six Divorces and the one that catches people off guard. Ending a marriage feels a lot like losing a loved one; it is a loss you must grieve. If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, you know what this is like. Everyone goes through the emotional phase of divorce differently, just like everyone grieves in his or her own unique way. Not only do you grieve the loss of your spouse, partner, lifestyle, and dreams, but now you also have to figure out how to keep walking around on the planet with your ex-spouse in a socially acceptable way.

It’s difficult to think clearly and to make good decisions when you’re in the early stages of this grief and recovery process. Being aware that it is a process – and knowing where you are in the process – is critical to you being able to make the best choices. Recognizing that your spouse is going through this process as well can help you understand his or her behavior – which is especially important during settlement negotiations.

How you negotiate and communicate with one another during your divorce is always impacted by where each of you is in the Emotional Divorce. If the two of you are in very different places, you need to allow some time to pass before trying to negotiate anything except the most pressing matters.”

You need to let go of your feelings about the marriage. You may feel that you and your partner have grown apart. You may be angry and disappointed. Often these feelings occur before the legal divorce is finalized. Some individuals have emotional issues for years after the legal divorce.
You and your spouse should decide the most effective way to handle household responsibilities. One partner may move out of the house, changing roles and responsibilities. You should discuss how to inform friends and family of the impending legal divorce.
The emotional divorce takes more work when children are involved. Children probably will be dealing with anger, sadness, fear, confusion, or rejection, and their feelings may make it more difficult for you to process your own emotions. The on-going relationships between your children and both of their parents also complicate the resolution of emotional issues.

The Co-Parental Divorce

The Co-Parental Divorce—the negotiation of parenting following marital separation and establishment of the binuclear family.
You must learn how to continue your role as a parent while letting go of your spousal role. You cannot control the actions of your child’s other parent. However, your children will adjust better if you shield them from post-marital conflicts between you and the other parent.
The amount of time you spend with your children may change following divorce. You may feel overwhelmed if you have primary responsibility for their care. You may feel that you don’t have adequate time for yourself as an adult. On the other hand, you may feel lonely and out of touch if you spend less time with the child/children following divorce.

You can be successful as a parent in a binuclear family if you:

  • Avoid criticizing the other parent in front of the children.
  • Don’t use your child/children as messengers to the other parent.
  • Schedule meetings in an open and neutral location where you can talk with the other parent about the child/children.
  • Use mediation, if needed, to help you talk together.
  • Don’t ask the child/children for information about the other parent.
  • Don’t make your child/children your confidante(s). Seek out adult friends, family members, support groups, or counselors to fulfill this role.

The Psychological Divorce

The psychological divorce—the process of mental separation and the development of your independence.
This is the “true” separation from the marital partner. At this point you learn to be self-supportive. You may develop insight as to the reasons why you decided to marry and divorce. Instead of spending time blaming another person for the divorce, you can spend your time adapting to the divorce as you learn about yourself and new ways to relate to others.

You know that you have adapted to divorce in a healthy manner if you:

  • Have accepted that the marriage is over.
  • Have let go of the anger.
  • Remember both the good and bad aspects of the marriage.
  • Have made peace with the other parent of your children and with yourself.
  • Are realistic about how you contributed to the divorce.
  • Have established a support network outside former marriage-related friendships.
  • Have developed future goals.
  • Have allowed yourself time to heal before beginning another relationship.
  • Are planning your life as a single person.

Excerpted from Graceful Divorce Solutions by M. Marcy Jones, JD