Coping With Grief from Divorce

All people involved with divorce and post-divorce matters in the court system understand that there are strong and difficult emotional issues that dramatically impact the legal issues. Solutions that may seem clear and logical are difficult to see because of the emotions wrapped around the facts.

I tell my divorcing clients that the emotions they shall experience are similar to the ones we feel when a loved one dies. In 1969, based on her years of working with terminal cancer patients, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.”

It’s important for people divorcing to understand the stages of grief and their place in it, so they can progress towards healing. It is also important to understand that people move through the stages differently and with different reactions. Some people move through the stages rapidly and are quickly able to feel peace and renewed hope. Others move much more slowly and struggle with the sense of loss and sadness for years. Some will always experience intermittent sadness.

Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief have evolved to include the following stages:
• Shock/Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
• Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
• Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
• Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
• Understanding/Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what is going to happen/has happened.”
• Management/Action Plan: “I am ready to make plans for the future.”

Mental health experts say there are two important factors in healing from loss and maintaining self-esteem. The recommendations are to seek the support of other people and continue (or establish) healthy habits.

Support Groups

Mental health experts encourage people to talk about their feelings when they’re grieving, even if they aren’t comfortable talking about feelings under normal circumstances. Most people feel better and less alone knowing that others understand their grief.

Support can come from a number of different sources:
• Friends: Don’t get caught up in being strong and self-sufficient; Friends can be a huge benefit in healing, especially when you live far from family members.
• Family: Family members are a natural caring community for support and healing.
• Religious Community: People within your religious community can offer wonderful emotional support. If you’re estranged from your religious community or have none, this may be a good time to reconnect.
• Support Groups: There are many divorce support groups available.
• Mental Health Experts: Talking with a psychotherapist or counselor may be a good idea, especially if you have physical symptoms, such as trouble with eating or sleeping or your emotional state impairs your ability to go about your daily routine.

One cautionary note about support groups: Everyone grieves differently, so don’t let other people tell you how to feel. Additionally, don’t convince yourself you should feel a particular way either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on”. It is not uncommon to be angry, to cry, to yell, and even to laugh, so do so without being embarrassed.

Healthy Habits

Mental health experts encourage grieving people to take care of themselves both physically and spiritually. Divorce is a time to find strength and hope within yourself. The following can help:

• Take care of yourself physically: Get enough sleep, eat sensibly, and engage in regular exercise. Do not use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.
• Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way: Write in a journal, garden, learn a new language, or get involved in a cause or charitable organization that is important to you.
• Plan ahead: Anniversaries, holidays, and other life-cycle events can be particularly challenging. Be prepared to take an emotional hit, and let others know ahead of time that an upcoming event shall be challenging for you.

Reduce Divorce Conflict Before You Get Married

The popularity of premarital agreements is on the rise. One major reason is to avoid divorce litigation and high attorney’s fees if the marriage is unsuccessful. Premarital agreements, when done correctly, predetermine issues related to property and alimony resulting in less things to decide at the time of the divorce.

If you are planning on obtaining a premarital agreement, you should both obtain independent legal and financial advice, and you should both provide full and complete disclosure of your property, debt, and income.

Independent Legal and Financial Advice

There is no way one attorney can represent the interests of both persons. Legal advice is important because premarital agreements are typically lengthy documents filled with many pitfalls and unclear language. Under ethical guidelines, one attorney can’t answer questions and give legal advice for both of you.

Financial advice is important as well. You will be reviewing your future spouse’s property and debt and their separate values. Typically, the attorneys attach a sheet to the agreement disclosing all the financial information. You will want to clearly understand how the values were determined, and you may want review all the supporting records.

Full Financial Disclosure

It is important to value each individual item, to provide the date of valuation, and to disclose the method used for valuation. Exchange these financial statements before signing the agreement and allow complete access to all of the supporting documents. Your attorney may also recommend reviewing documents related to significant assets.

You should also consider exchanging copies of your will and estate planning documents to make sure those documents and your premarital agreement are consistent and carry out your intent.