When faced with a crisis such as a divorce or separation, many people suffer loss and grief and struggle to cope. They may refuse to talk about the difficult issues that need to be sorted out. They may be in complete denial about the realities of their situation. It may be hard to tell friends and family as this makes it all too real and they may well experience prolonger grief after divorce.
However bad the relationship, and even if you ended it, there is loss and the stages of grief. People are frightened of what else they may lose – children, home, money, security, even part of their identity.
As an experienced family law solicitor, I am aware of the different stages of grief, can recognise the stage a client may be at, and I take this into account when advising them, as well as directing them to other support on how to cope with the grief of divorce.
How long does grief last after divorce? What are the stages of grief after a divorce? Let’s start with the first stage…denial.
1. Denial around divorce and separation
The first stage of grief is Denial. It is really the first of our reactions to any form of sudden loss. The extent of it depends on the relationship you shared and how much of your life may be uprooted or altered. It is very common for people to try and initially deny the event in order to subconsciously avoid sadness or the thought of pending mental struggles. People in denial often withdraw from their normal social behaviour and become isolated.
In denial, a person may want to make the other wait, not face the choices, do nothing, hang on to their life as long as possible. Sometimes delay results in a lot of other problems that makes sorting things out eventually even harder.
Examples include failing to deal with correspondence from solicitors or failing to complete and return the acknowledgement form when divorce papers have been sent and serial rows over anything and everything.
2. Anger about the prospect of divorce
The second stage of grief is Anger. People that are grieving often become upset with the person or situation which put them in their grief state. After all, their life could now be in complete disarray. Other times people become angry at themselves if they feel they could have done something more to stop the loss from happening.
Anger and blame can be overwhelming. Sorting things out can feel impossible – all suggestions for the future may elicit a categoric ‘No!’ For example, some parents will use their “children as weapons” to upset the other parent and refuse reasonable suggestions for that parent to spend time with their children.
Anger may make you fight, fail to negotiate and prefer to go to court to try to ‘win’ and have your day in court. This can cost more than it’s worth and then everyone loses.
3. Bargaining to reach an agreement during divorce
The third stage of grief is Bargaining. This is when those who are grieving are reaching out to the other person to make the pain go away. It is very normal and largely considered to be a sign that they are beginning to comprehend their situation. People will often try to make a deal, or promise to do anything if the pain will be taken away.
An example of this could be if one party feels guilty (after maybe having an affair) and offers a financial settlement higher than they can reasonably afford.
The fourth stage of grief is Depression. Contrary to popular belief, depression is something that may take some time to develop. We often think we are depressed when a grief event first occurs, but there is usually a lot of shock and other emotions present before any real depression can set in. The signs of depression due to grief usually appear when a sense of finality is realised. This is not to be confused with clinical depression, which may be chronic.
When a divorcing client is suffering from depression, it is often difficult for them to make any rational decisions. It is important to understand that they may need time and to take things at a pace that is suitable to them. Appropriate referral to a counsellor may be appropriate.
5. Acceptance that the relationship is over
The fifth stage of grief is Acceptance. This is the point where the person experiencing grief is no longer looking back to try and recover the life they once had with their partner. It is not to say that they no longer feel the vast array of emotions brought on by their grief, but they are ready to embrace the idea that they are reaching a new point in their lives. At this point, they are beginning to understand that there is a new beginning on the horizon.
Each will have found a place of acceptance of their new living situation and would be eager to collaborate on how to map out their co-parenting future, how to divide the assets, and how to provide for support for themselves and their children.
An experienced family solicitor can work with clients where ever they are in the emotional grief process and tailor advice to match the stage in which they find their clients.
Often clients in the grief cycle go to some lawyers, who are not trained to deal with the emotional grief cycle. So, clients may end up feeling very frustrated and misunderstood.
As an experienced family law solicitor, I can help clients facing separation with all their fragility and begin the process of empowering them to find their way out.
Mala is a divorce and family law solicitor with Woolley & Co, based in Cornwall. She has clients in the South West regions and South East counties. Mala has extensive experience since 1998 dealing with married and unmarried clients in relation to all aspects of relationship breakdown including: divorce, separation, pre-nuptial agreements domestic violence and financial issues.