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National Domestic Violence Hotline
In America, 45-50% of first marriages end in divorce and while divorce is a fairly common occurrence, it is almost never easy. Even if the divorce is one that both partners want and is best for all concerned, involves the death of a dream and a major life change. If the end of a marriage or other primary relationship is contested or involves disputes over money or property, it becomes even more difficult. And if the relationship involves children, and especially if there are issues around child custody, the world might just feel like it’s wobbling on its axis.
Divorce creates complex emotions even if you are the one who wanted it. It is a major loss of a number of things which can explain why this process can be so painful. The types of losses and grief experienced before, during, and after the divorce are challenging under the best of circumstances and include:
- Grief over the loss of a partner and the experiences you had with your partner (even if they weren’t great experiences)
- Loss of support from your partner, be it financial, intellectual, social, or emotional
- Loss of hopes, plans, and dreams you two had shared.
Actually feeling those losses and the pain they cause can be scary and overwhelming. Some people fear that these emotions are far too intense to live with and that they will be stuck in the dark space forever. It’s important to remember that grieving – no matter what – must occur in order to begin healing. The pain of grief is what lets you let go of your relationship and move on. No matter how deeply you grieve, it doesn’t last forever.
Most people dealing with a divorce will experience three stages of emotions:
- Stage 1 – Shock, Denial, Anger, Sadness
- Stage 2 – Adjustment
- Stage 3 – Healing and Growth
Relationships with family and friends can be affected during this process, especially if you and your spouse had mutual friends or if there are many opinions surrounding your relationship. While family and friends should not be counted out entirely when considering your support network, you may want to consider additional resources to aid with the emotional impact that divorce can have on your life, such as a support group or individual therapy. Whether the end of the relationship was approaching over a long period of time or happened suddenly, it is not unusual to experience overwhelming emotions when coping with such a major life change. Professional help can be beneficial when learning new coping and/or life skills.
Ways To Handle The Grief of Divorce:
Don’t fight your feelings – It’s normal to have lots of ups and downs, and feel many conflicting emotions, including anger, resentment, sadness, relief, fear, and confusion. It’s imperative to identify and acknowledge these feelings, no matter how painful. Trying to suppress these feelings will only make the grieving of the loss worse.
Discuss your feelings – It can be a challenge to talk about your feelings with others, but it is extremely important to find a way to do so as you grieve your loss. Letting out your feelings so that another person can make you feel less alone and begin to heal. If you’re having too much trouble talking it out, go ahead and start a journal where you can write down your feelings.
Keep in mind that the goal is to move on – Talking about your feelings can free you a bit however, it is important not to dwell on the negative feelings or to over-analyze the situation. Getting stuck in the blame game, anger, and resentment will suck your energy and prevent you from moving on.
Look to the future – When you commit to another person, there are many many hopes and dreams for a life together. After a divorce, you have to grieve the loss of those dreams, which is why it’s important to remember that this too, will pass. You may have lost the future you’d dreamed of, but eventually, you’ll be okay again. Those dreams will turn into new hopes and dreams that’ll replace your old dreams.
Understand that prolonged grief can turn into depression: Emotions and grief can paralyze you after a divorce, but the sadness does eventually lift and you start moving on – little by little. If you notice that you can’t move on or begin to feel better, your grief may have become Major Depressive Disorder, which can be treated by a psychologist. Please call your doctor for any help with depression.
Why Reaching Out After Divorce Is So Important:
It may scare you to reach out to others during the divorce, especially if people have taken sides, but it’s important that you not go through this alone. You may feel alone, but support from other people can ease your pain. Don’t try to do this on your own and don’t try to suppress your feelings to make others “feel better” about your divorce.
It’s NOT your job to make others feel better about the divorce – it’s really easy to put on your Game Face and try to show the world how evolved you are, especially since it puts others at ease. This is not only not your job, but it can impede your ability to try and reach out to other people.
Connect face-to-face with trusted friends and family members – Almost everyone has been through a painful breakup which can make it easier to talk to them. They’ll understand what you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, which can validate your feelings. You can look to these people in order to find assurances that life goes on as well as what moving on can be. This is a great opportunity to regain some of the control in your life.
Spend your time wisely – In just about every circle of family and friends, there are a few outliers: people who don’t “get it” or have chosen to take your partner’s side in the divorce. Steer clear of them. Choose wisely. The last thing you need is someone telling you that what you did was “wrong.” Choose people who support, love, and care for you as you need the lightness and positivity in your life.
Don’t feel bad about seeing someone professionally – If you can’t reach out to your friends and loved ones, or you feel as though you have none, there’s nothing wrong with seeing a counselor trained in divorce or joining a support group. You need to be where you feel free to open up. If reaching out to others.
Make new friendships – If you don’t feel as though you have friends that you can turn to, find some other people who do understand you. Write a post for The Band, Volunteer with us, hang out with people from your support group, work, or on social media.
The Divorce Process:
In most cases, it’s harder to obtain a divorce than it was the marry in the first place, as legal unions have far-reaching impacts on things like government taxes, power of attorney, and health care decisions and coverage. The longer the union lasted, the more complicated the paperwork and negotiations may be in order to obtain “dissolution.” Most states have a waiting period of at least 6 months before divorces are finalized, as well.
Couples involved in separation and divorce will likely need to make decisions regarding:
- Division of belongings and/or property
- Legal representation
- Living arrangements
- Custody arrangements if you have children
- Communication with your spouse
- Paperwork – how it will be filed, who will begin the process, and changes to legal documents once the divorce is finalized
These decisions can be made independently or with professional help.
Divorces Without Legal Representation
If you and your spouse do not share property or have children, you may qualify for an annulment depending upon your state’s law and the length of the union. The annulment process is sometimes simpler than a divorce and may cost less, so it is worth investigating your state’s laws.
Whether you choose annulment or dissolution, if the divorce is uncontested by your spouse there are many agencies that will prepare the necessary forms and paperwork for a fee based on the information you provide. It is important to find out whether the agency has the forms necessary for your particular state’s laws. You may also want to ask how the agency will handle the situation if the court rejects any paperwork. Not all agencies are created equally.
Mediators: Mediation can be very useful in helping two individuals compromise on decisions regarding the divorce details, parenting plans, and/or custody agreements. Mediators do not provide advice or act as lawyers – they are neutral parties that facilitate communication between spouses. Many individuals may feel more comfortable with a mediator because unlike a lawyer, a mediator does not control paperwork or get involved in court proceedings.
Divorces Requiring Legal Representation: Your divorce may require a lawyer if you and your spouse do not agree on the division of property, financial arrangements, child custody, or if there are communication difficulties. Some workplaces provide pre-paid legal services while others have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that will offer a free consultation with a lawyer (contact your Human Resources department for information). If you have financial constraints, it is a good idea to find out ahead of time how the lawyer charges for services (i.e. is there a retainer fee and, if so, how much? will the lawyer work pro bono or for a reduced fee? can the lawyer provide an estimate of overall expense? does the lawyer charge by the hour or by the amount of paperwork, and is there an estimate based on previous experience?) and what his/her caseload is like. Legal fees can quickly add up and contribute to the stress of obtaining a divorce.
Local Divorce Assistance and Information: Your local courthouse may provide a hotline or workshop to aid in finding professional assistance or filling out and filing paperwork. These resources are usually free and can be found on the state, county, or city court’s website under the Family Law section.
Self-Care During and After the Divorce:
It’s imperative that you remember the mantra of the airplane stewards: “Put on your own mask first before you help others.” You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself first. Here are some ideas for self-care before, during, and after a divorce:
Nurture thyself – Make sure to schedule time each day for things you find soothing – go for a walk, listen to music, get a massage, talk to friends, engage in hobbies (always room to develop one)
You have needs – Your needs matter to you and to others. Don’t hesitate to express your needs, no matter how different it may be from what other people want from you. Saying “NO” is okay and shouldn’t make you feel guilty or upset for doing so. Your needs matter.
New Routine – to say “divorce changes everything,” is an understatement. It can lead you to feelings of stress, chaos, and uncertainty. It may seem a little weird to start a new routine, but it does help with your feelings and increase your feelings of normalcy. If you know what your routine is, you always know what comes next.
Take time out – Your brain may not be quite normal after a divorce, so don’t make any major life decisions for at least a few months following a divorce. You need to be less emotional and have more stability before you decide to move across the country, buying a house, or getting married again.
Don’t develop an addiction – During a divorce, you may want to do ANYTHING to make the hurt, pain, and loneliness go away. We get that. Unfortunately, using drugs, alcohol, or food to escape is not only unhealthy, but it also prohibits growth and grief and is a destructive thing to invite into your mind. You’ve got to confront those feelings, not hide from them.
New Hobbies – A divorce is an ending and a beginning. You have a unique chance to start over and be the person you always wanted to be. Start trying new things, things that make you feel good about yourself. Your past is over and moving on means (in part) that you must learn to live in the moment. You’re here now, and while it sucks, you can live in the present.
Using Your Divorce to Learn From Your Mistakes:
One of the most important things you can do after a divorce or breakup is to learn from your mistakes, rather than dwelling on them for the rest of your life. No divorce is one-sided; each partner plays a role. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes before you move on.
Ask yourself (and answer and evaluate yourself honestly):
- In the big picture, how did you contribute to the problems of the relationship?
- Do you repeat the same mistakes?
- Do you consistently choose the wrong person in relationship after relationship?\Could you act in a more constructive way to your stress, conflicts, and insecurities?
- Do you accept people as they are or as you want them to be?
- Are you in control of your feelings or are they controlling you?
Who Gets The Pets In A Divorce?
You might think of your dog as your fur child, but the law does not agree. “In the eyes of the law, they are really no different than the silverware, the cars, the home,” says Joyce Tischler, director of litigation for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
But in more and more American homes, splitting the pets could get pretty contentious as more couples have fewer children than a generation or two ago and view their pets as their kids or companions, owners pay $2,000 for an orthopedist to reconstruct a dog’s knee; designers such as Isaac Mizrahi create pink trench coats and white tulle bridal dresses for the fashion-conscious canine whose owner shops at Target, and high-end pet stores sell rhinestone-studded dog collars, peanut butter biscotti instead of run-of-the-mill dog treats, and strollers for the walking-averse pampered pooch.
“When you put all of that together, it’s no wonder that we’re beginning to see an increasing number of custody battles involving companion animals,” Tischler says.
Divorcing couples who fight over their pets may not be dealing with an underlying issue. An ex who takes his or her former spouse to court repeatedly over visiting Fluffy or paying veterinary bills probably is not as concerned about the dog as he or she is about controlling an ex-wife or ex-husband.
“Sometimes, in a divorce case, the pet may become a symbol of power and control and may be seen as the one entity that still loves me unconditionally,” says Nancy Peterson, an issues specialist with the Humane Society of the United States.
The legal battles involving pets can be a large emotional investment with an uncertain outcome that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Divorce also takes a toll on the pet. A once-energetic dog may become depressed, Peterson says. He may sleep more, eat less and lose interest in activities such as walking and playing with his owner. He may begin having accidents in the house or grooming himself excessively.
Signs of Pet Stress
- They become depressed.
- They sleep a lot.
- Their appetite lessens.
- They’re not interested in their walks or other daily activities.
- They start to cry or whimper.
- They groom, lick and/or bite themselves excessively.
- They have accidents in the home.
Helping Pets Cope with Divorce
- Decide what is best for your pet; put aside your own feelings to reach that decision. Consider such factors as who fed and cared for them before the divorce and who can afford to pay for their veterinary care, food, and other expenses.
- Typically, the pet goes where the children go, and that usually means staying in the family home where the surroundings are familiar and a routine is kept.
- If there’s more than one pet and these pets are bonded to each other, try to keep them together. Separating them probably wouldn’t be in their best interest.
- Spend time with your pets. Play with them.
- Take your pet to the veterinarian to make sure it is well physically.
Children and Divorce:
With up to half of marriages in the U.S. ending in divorce – and rates of divorce higher for subsequent marriages – many children face challenges from their parents’ split that can follow them for a lifetime, including into their own relationships as adults.
Recent research evaluating the family breakdown after parents part ways discovered that while adolescent children are more likely to face short-term mental health challenges – from stress and anxiety to symptoms of depression following the split – these issues tend to relent after four to nine months. Parents must be prepared to ensure their children don’t face longer-term psychological issues; they may benefit from therapy and informal support to make certain these issues do not develop into a long-term psychological problem.t
The impact of a divorce in a child’s life is broken down into four, normal mental health challenges:
- Kids have a certain amount of despondency because of the loss – they’ve lost the intact family they’ve known
- Anxiety, because now the world has changed and all of a sudden the family system is being reorganized; there’s a lot that is unknown
- There’s usually some anger because there’s been a violation. Kids assumed that their parents would always be together, and the family would always be intact. Instead, what’s happening is the parents are deciding to separate the family.
- And, of course, there’s stress – so much to let go, so much change to adjust to.
It’s important during the transition to understand that these are normal healthy responses to the upheaval of divorce.
Ways To Help Your Kids During a Divorce:
Nothing is simple about dissolving a marriage, but experts have found straightforward steps parents can take to help children cope with divorce, including adolescents who already face everyday disruptive changes on their way to becoming adults. For example, a divorce may distract from a child’s studies or peer relationships and make it hard to focus on the challenges of simply being a kid.
The experience for every child is unique to him or her – and the circumstances of the divorce, this is a difficult transition and there are impacts for kids. But nailing down what the specific impacts are going to be – that gets a little tougher.
Reassure and listen to them – make sure your kids understand that the divorce was in no way related to them. Tell them you love them always. When they talk to you, make sure you listen and validate their concerns, fears, and pain.
Keep the schedule – If at all possible, try to stabilize the daily and weekly routines for your children
Consistency – When kids spend time with each parent separately, you’re going to have to ensure that the rules for the house are the same; such as bedtime or discipline tactics
Let them rely on you – if you promise your child that you’ll be there, be there. Remember: you shouldn’t confide in your children about your feelings; you have to be the adult to them.
Leave the kids out of conflicts – don’t talk badly about your ex, don’t argue in front of the kids, don’t have them take sides, and don’t use them as spies or messengers.
Financially Recovering From Divorce
1. Start NOW: No more procrastinating and no more excuses. By starting sooner rather than later, my client is able to take advantage of time and compound returns — a powerful combination for building wealth. This first step is sometimes the most difficult to take. It requires making a personal commitment to take action, but once it’s done the rest can come together more easily.
2. Make a List of Your Goals: Understand your goals in the context of your needs, wants, and wishes. Identifying goals helps you better understand how realistic they are, and what is needed to achieve them.
3. Make a Plan: Create a formal written financial plan with your financial planner that includes each of your stated objectives and an investing program, based on her income, specific to achieving each goal. After all, a goal without a plan is just a wish.
4. Automate Savings: It’s important to pay yourself first when you save. One of the easiest ways to do this is through an automated program that helps you to save and invest consistently during both good times and bad. You can set up automated withdrawals from your checking account to be directed into your investment accounts immediately following paydays, thereby minimizing the barriers and inertia often associated with manually monitoring a budget.
5. Control What You Can: Don’t get caught up in the hype of the moment or what the financial cable news programs are reporting each day. That’s a recipe for making emotional, reactionary decisions. Instead of worrying about all the things outside of your control, focus on your goals and the plan you’ve created to help you get there.
6. Invest in Yourself: This new chapter of your life is the perfect opportunity to invest in yourself. One of the positive outcomes of this is that it can build up greater self-esteem and confidence: go back to school, learn a trade, take classes about things related to your job or interests.
7. Live With Your Budget: As your living situation and routines change drastically, so will your expenses. Review and manage your budget so that monthly expenses remained below your take-home pay. With lingering legal fees, credit cards, education expenses, and a mortgage, paying off debt requires spending less than you earn. While this can be quite a lifestyle shock at first, creating responsible, new spending habits and accepting how to live within your means is a priority.
8. Manage Risk: An emergency fund with accessible cash reserves (along with sufficient insurance coverage) can protect you and your loved ones against loss or an unexpected event.
9. Monitor Your Portfolio: After a divorce, your investment portfolio and overall asset allocation need to be updated. Other major events that could trigger review and adjustment of a financial plan include getting married, switching jobs, buying a home, dealing with a health crisis, and entering retirement. Remain committed to regularly reviewing and updating your portfolio to keep it aligned with your objectives, risk tolerance, and time horizon.
10. Get a Fresh Perspective: Find ways to recharge your batteries. After all, that’s what financial freedom is all about.
Challenges For Those Who Divorce Over Fifty
Divorce at this age can be financially devastating. The cost of living is considerably more when you’re single rather than when two of you share expenses, 40% to 50% higher than for couples on a per person basis, according to the American Academy of Actuaries. More worrisome, a mid- to later-life split can shatter retirement plans. There’s less time to recoup losses, pay off debt, and weather stock market fluctuations. In addition, you may be approaching the end of your peak earning years, so there’s less of a chance of making up financial shortfalls with a steady salary.
These concerns are magnified for women. After a divorce, household income drops by about 25% for men and more than 40% for women, according to U.S. government statistics. What’s more, as women’s life expectancy climbs into the 80s, a divorced woman can find herself living a lot longer with a lot less. Divorce proceedings can pull the plug on your retirement dreams: legal fees, therapist bills and single-handedly shouldering bills you once shared can drain your savings. You can protect your financial future by avoiding these seven all-too-common mistakes:
Failing To Understand The Assets At Stake: Often one partner has a better understanding of the couple’s finances than the other. This person likely has a solid idea of how much money their investment accounts hold, the value of their assets and how much cash is in their savings accounts, while the other partner isn’t as up to speed. If you’re the latter person, you’ll want to take an inventory of all the assets before attempting to split them up. In addition to knowing what’s in your bank accounts, you should also track your retirement accounts and life insurance policies.
Staying in Your House: If you end up with the family home, think long and hard about whether to keep it. It may be your refuge, and not moving might seem less disruptive for any children still living at home, but it can also be a money pit, especially with only one person paying for the upkeep, property taxes and emergency repairs. Before deciding to stay, figure out if you can afford the mortgage, as well as the costs associated with maintaining the property. Also, keep in mind that property values fluctuate, so don’t assume you can sell your house for a given amount should you need money.
What Do You Owe? Promising “to have and to hold” can bounce back to bite you. In the nine states with community property laws—Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin—you’ll be held responsible for half of your spouse’s debt even if the debt isn’t in your name. Even in non-community-property states, you may be liable for jointly held credit cards or loans. Get a full credit report for both you and your spouse, so there are no surprises about who owes what.
The Tax Man: Just about every financial decision you make during a divorce comes with a tax bill. Should you take monthly alimony or a lump sum payment? Is it better to have the brokerage account or the retirement plan? Keep the house or sell it? And who should pay the mortgage until it sells? You may be excited to know your soon-to-be-ex will be handing over an investment account with gains of $100,000, but that portfolio comes with a tax hit, lowering the amount you’ll receive. Even providing child support can have tax implications, so consult an accountant or tax advisor to determine what makes the most sense for your situation before divvying up assets.
Health Insurance: If you’ve been covered by your spouse’s policy, you may be in for a nasty—and expensive—surprise, especially if you divorce before Medicare kicks in at age 65. Basically, there are three options:
- You can be covered through your own employee
- You can sign up for your state’s health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act
- You can continue to use your ex’s existing coverage through COBRA for up to 36 months, but the cost is likely to be substantially more than it was before the divorce.
If new, separate health insurance policies threaten to break the bank, you may want to consider a legal separation so you can keep your ex’s health insurance but separate your other assets.
Supporting Your Adult Kids: No matter how much you’d like to help your kids, your first priority is to ensure you have a healthy retirement income.
Hiding Assets From Your Partner: In divorces where a lot of money is at stake, you may be tempted to try to hide assets so it looks like you have less money to contribute. Doing this is not only shady, but it’s also illegal and could set you up for more legal fees and court time if the assets are found. Some of the repercussions for hiding assets from your spouse include a settlement that will give your spouse additional assets, a contempt of court ruling, or fraud or perjury charges.
Underestimating Your Expenses: When the income that once covered one set of household expenses is suddenly divided in two, you may have to make some changes to your spending to afford your daily and monthly expenses. Take a realistic look at how much money you’ll need to live on and make sure you can cover all of your expenses after the divorce without relying on your ex.
Divorce Advisors Are Not Your BFF: What you pay your divorce advisors comes out of the settlement you get. Keep track of how much they are spending on your behalf. Remember that your lawyer is not a generous confidante whom you can thank with a cup of coffee, but a paid professional who is billing you by the hour.
Additional Divorce Resources:
Divorce Support – provides information on a range of family law topics including divorce and related topics, as well as state-specific legal information
Separated Parenting Access and Resource Center – provides information and resources for non-custodial parents
State Guidelines for Divorce – this website offers much information about divorce as well as state-by-state guidelines for divorce
Page last audited 7/2019