What are the Five Stages of Divorce?

What are the Five Stages of Divorce?
In a divorce, every spouse passes through 5 stages of emotions and another 5 stages in a legal battle. First, we’ll discuss the emotional stages, and then the legal stages.

5 Emotional Stages of a Divorce

When a spouse learns a divorce is coming, she/he is likely to be heartbroken and troubled about what went wrong in the marriage. Then, there is the foundation of trust that gets shattered and causes more emotional pain.

Every person is different and an individual’s reaction to divorce depends on her/his psychological makeup – however, on a broad level, a spouse passes through the following 5 emotional stages:

1. Denial

Accepting that you have landed in a divorce and life has just turned upside down is often a difficult thing. According to medical research, people go into denial mode to protect themselves from emotional pain. The common trait is not to accept the truth and hope that somehow your spouse will change his/her mind and things will get back to normal.

2. Shock

Gradually, emotional shock starts impacting a spouse, who can react in a variety of ways – disbelief, confusion, withdrawal, blame, anger, panic, guilt, sadness, hopelessness, etc. The degree and longevity of shock depend on how much a spouse had invested in the relationship.

3. Bargaining

Traumatized by shock, a spouse who wishes to hold on to her/his marriage can bargain and plead with her/his partner. However, psychologists and counselors opine that once the news of divorce breaks, the emotional hurt stays and that bargaining, at best, can only delay the inevitable divorce.

4. Release/Letting Go

In this stage, a spouse realizes that there is nothing she/he can say or do that will reverse the divorce. In this stage, the blame game stops, and the reasons for the divorce become clear. Many spouses may feel that they will finally be free and exposed to a better future, and therefore, it is time to let bygones be bygones, and move on.

5. Acceptance

In this stage, the negativity stops though the hurt remains. Focus shifts to the future instead of the past and people let go and move on.


5 Legal Stages of a Divorce

1. Filing the Petition

The spouse who wants to divorce files a petition that mentions the grounds for the divorce along with the proof that the spouse fulfills the state’s residency regulations required for divorce.

2. Requesting Temporary Orders

A spouse can request temporary orders that stop the other spouse from alienating property (part or full), paying child support, destroying marital property, establishing contact with you/children, etc. The spouse who files for temporary orders is required to convince the court that she/he is asking for is justified by evidence, and, if children are involved, in the best interest of the children. Such orders cannot be appealed and last until the court changes its orders in writing.

3. Proof of Service

The spouse who has filed for divorce has to provide a copy of the petition to the other spouse, and then provide a “proof of service” to the court. If the court does not receive the proof of service, it will not be in a position to proceed with the case.

4. Negotiations

Next, the spouses have to negotiate a settlement on issues like property division, support, child custody, etc. In some cases, the court schedules a settlement meeting/conference or mediation. Usually, though, the attorneys coordinate mediation without court involvement. The lawyers of both the spouses are present in such negotiations. In most cases, all issues are resolved in this stage and the case is then finalized.

5. Trial

If negotiations fail, the spouses have no alternative left but to ask the courts to decide. This means that the case goes to trial. That said, only 2–3% of cases go to trial – the rest are resolved through negotiations, so the chances of your case going to trial are minimal unless it is a very high-conflict case.

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About the Author: Marco Brown
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Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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