Those who are facing a divorce, soon realize that it is not an event, but rather a process. It begins long before any legal steps are taken, and lasts long after the final decree. Facing divorce is one of the most stressful events we will ever experience. This is true whether you are the one asking for a divorce, or the one confronted with it.
There are six stages of divorce that every person/couple must go through. Navigating them successfully will determine your future happiness. The longer you have been married, the more difficult some of these stages will be as you have had many years building up that which is now being dismantled.
Stage I The Emotional Divorce
This stage begins long before the actual divorce. It is the gradual uncoupling that is highlighted by less talking, less time together, more disagreements, greater awareness of the things that have been problematic in the marriage , but ignored, for a long time. It influences the divorce process and is a factor in all the other five stages.
Stage II. The Legal Divorce
This is the process of legally ending the marriage. Papers must be filed through the court system and a settlement agreement drafted and filed. A settlement agreement outlines your post-divorce life, i.e., who gets what and who pays what and how is support and parenting for the children arranged. This stage can be very expensive and antagonizing if you let it.
Stage III. The Community Divorce
Usually a couple forms a family unit that includes both his and her extended family, mutual friends made during the course of the marriage, acquaintances, business associates, etc. These will all have to be re-forged in the wake of the divorce. An example is if you are very close to your in-laws, how will that go forward? If you are in a monthly supper club with neighbors, will that continue and how? Your “couple” friends may feel uncomfortable and do not want to take sides. This may remove them as a support system for you.
Stage IV. The Economic Divorce
Unless you are extremely well fixed, you will probably have to adjust to a less comfortable lifestyle. Also, if you are a non-working spouse, you will have to go to work. The financial burden may increase as child care, previously not needed, will become a large line item in your monthly expenses. Because the greatest financial burden usually falls on the parent with physical custody, think this through at the time you are reaching a settlement agreement. The kids won’t always be 6 and 9. As they grow, they will become more expensive.
Stage V. The Co-parental Divorce
You are your ex-spouse will have to move forward to co-parent your children. Children can flourish in two households where there is a cooperative, respectful relationship. They will flounder is two households where there is conflict, open disagreement and dislike and where they are used to “control” the other parent or pass messages to the other parent. It is up to both of you to create the kind of atmosphere that will allow your children to flourish.
Stage VI. The Behavioral Divorce
Most couples learn to rely on each other to run the family. There is a division of labor in maintaining the household and family activities. After a divorce, each person will need to learn how to handle the tasks previously done by the other spouse. Learning how to pay bills, fill the car with gas, plan and prepare healthy meals or parenting tasks that the other parent may have taken care of.
Some of the best guidance you can get during this process is from a divorce mediator. Consider mediating all or part of your settlement agreement. Mediators are neutral; they do not advocate for or represent either party. Therefore, they are not adversarial. But they do provide a safe place as you explore plans for the future of your family, and can help you think ahead as you plan.