Written by attorney Lindsey R Buchheit

The Emotional Stages of Divorce

Family law encompasses a wide range of issues, from divorce, child support, child custody, and so forth. The more emotions involved in a case, the more important is client management and understanding. And, whether you’re a lawyer or not, it’s critical to understand the emotional stages a person involved in a family law case experiences.

The Swiss American psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, was inducted to the American National Women’s Hall of Fame for her theory on the five stages of grief. Whether you or someone you love is involved in a divorce or child custody action, be aware of the five emotional stages: Denial Many of my divorce clients start out in a stage of denial. More often than not, one spouse is more ready for a divorce than the other, leaving the less prepared spouse in a state of disbelief and outright denial. Denial can be a useful coping mechanism, as long as it doesn’t prevent the person from moving to the next stage. Anger Nearly all divorce clients I’ve ever encountered have experienced some level of anger during their divorce. The client may be angry their marriage failed, that their spouse is making things difficult, that they’ll have to share their time with their children, that their spouse has moved on to another relationship – the reasons are endless. At the end of the day, a client involved in a family law matter generally has the right to be angry. Like denial, the anger stage is expected and actually healthy for the person’s eventual healing. I recall a family law trial where midway through the Judge spoke to the parents off the record and said, “Now that you’ve each had the opportunity to testify and speak your peace, you might try and settle this matter." The Judge’s point was clear – once people are able to release their anger and be heard, they’re in a better position to move forward. Bargaining People in the bargaining stage will try to undo the damage that’s been done. This stage is generally the result of the person feeling that they’ve reached their emotional breaking point and just want life to get back to normal. I’ve seen a few people in this stage reconcile and call off the divorce. Most others, however, eventually progress to the next stage of emotion. Depression A state of depression is to be expected for most anyone involved in a divorce or child custody matter. People may find themselves unable to sleep, watching infomercials and eating Oreo’s well into the early morning hours. It’s important for people to cry and talk through these emotions to anyone who will listen. There is also nothing wrong with seeking professional counseling and guidance when battling depressive episodes. I’ve recommended this to many clients and seen the person come out much stronger and happier. Acceptance This stage is the light at the end of the tunnel. Here, people finally accept what has happened (or is happening). There will still be times of sadness, anger, etc., but a person who has reached the level of acceptance understands he/she is a survivor and life will go on – not as he or she predicted, but it will go on and there will still be many good times ahead. The next time you encounter a friend or loved one dealing with family law issues, be mindful of the five stages. The foregoing are general comments only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Avvo child custody email series

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer