What is the emotional impact of divorce and how do you deal with it?

November 18, 2021

Divorce (or separation) is ranked second only to the death of a loved one in the top five worst life events, but was is the emotional impact?

It is unlikely and rare that spouses/cohabitees will reach the decision to separate simultaneously. The frustration of wanting the marriage to end sooner than your spouse or the despair of realising your spouse considers your marriage has no future, much later than they have that realisation, leads to friction and upset and often impacts the ability to negotiate a settlement of contact or financial disputes.

The Kübler-Ross curve of change is a model which generally applies to the emotional stages of loss which can relate to death, health and redundancy, as well as separation and divorce.

Briefly, the stages are:

Denial – “This isn’t happening” (perhaps at the discovery of an extramarital affair or being told the marriage is over).

Anger – “I’m furious that he/she is doing this.”

Bargaining – “Please let’s not do this. We can sort this out.”

Depression – “I can’t cope with this. Don’t speak to me.”

Acceptance – “It is what it is – life goes on.”

The parties may not experience all five stages or indeed go through them in the order above, but they are likely to experience such feelings until acceptance of the circumstances is achieved.

Because the parties are unlikely to be at the same stages throughout the proceedings/negotiations, motivations and reactions differ and so too does the ability to think about settlement.

With this in mind, the impact on the mental health of your spouse in divorce proceedings is an important consideration.

Your spouse/ex-partner when sending affidavits of means to complete or requesting valuations of assets is not necessarily being hostile or unkind; simply trying to bring a practical end to your marriage.

Conversely when you suddenly inform your spouse that you have been thinking about divorce for a couple of years, have processed it emotionally and are now ready for a new start, don’t be surprised if he or she struggles to engage in the process and becomes angry or upset. He/she is likely to be experiencing denial and needs time to process such a huge life event.

If you are the initiator of a divorce (or dissolution of a civil partnership) or separation we advise you to show kindness, understanding and sympathy for your spouse/cohabitee and realise that they may be experiencing mental health issues which are impacting their ability to negotiate legal matters, not necessarily being stubborn. And if you have been served with divorce proceedings or received letters from your spouse’s lawyer about the end of your relationship, be kind to yourself, speak to your doctor about your experiences (request a referral for therapy if appropriate) and convey to your spouse or their lawyer that this is very difficult for you emotionally and some patience and understanding would be appreciated.

For more information on how we can support you with any family matters, please get in touch with our Family Law team.


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