MOdule 9

Effects of Divorce or Separation on YOU


More than half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce; most of these break ups involve children. The divorce rate does not take into consideration the number of break ups between people who were never married, but have children together. If your family identity was one of a close-knit group, one that enjoyed sporting events and hobbies together, your family identity is going to change. Your personal identity will change in that you will no longer be a husband, wife or one half of a couple. You and your children may experience grief from the loss of your family identity. Grief over the loss or death of a marriage or relationship is somewhat like the grief process described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) in "On Death and Dying". You may experience feelings of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally - acceptance.

You may begin the divorce or separation process with a feeling of acceptance, but later find yourself sinking into depression or becoming filled with rage. Mourning and a sense of loss are common, even if you are the person who initiated the divorce or separation. Even if you no longer love your partner, you may still mourn the loss of the dream of living happily ever after. The five stages of grief are:

  1. DENIAL – The first reaction is denial. In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.
  2. ANGER – When the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated, especially at proximate individuals. Certain psychological responses of a person undergoing this phase would be: "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; "Who is to blame?"; "Why would this happen?".
  3. BARGAINING – The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise. For instance: "I'd give anything to have him back." Or: "If only he'd come back to life, I'd promise to be a better person!"
  4. DEPRESSION – "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die soon, so what's the point?"; "I miss my loved one; why go on?"
    During the fourth stage, the individual despairs at the recognition of their mortality. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.
  5. ACCEPTANCE – "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it; I may as well prepare for it."
    In this last stage, individuals embrace mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. People dying may precede the survivors in this state, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions.

If you have children, you may grieve because you will see less of them, or you may feel guilty about the changes in their lives that will be caused by the break up. Grief is normal, but if the intensity of grieving is too great or the grieving period seems to go on too long, then seeking counseling may be helpful and appropriate. Couples facing a break up come to realize that a divorce or separation is not an event; it is a process. The process often begins long before any legal action begins and may last for years afterward, especially if children are involved. Remember, as you feel the grief and loss of the break up, your children feel the same grief and loss in their own ways. Children's reactions and coming to terms with the break up may be completely different than your perspective. The main thing to remember is to be open and honest with your children, while showing them that you still love them the same as you always have.

While Kubler-Ross identifies the five main stages of grief or loss, there are also sub-stages as shown in the graph. The primary takeaway is that people do eventually overcome their feelings of grief and loss. The recovery may be in fits and starts, but most people finally come to acceptance.


Preparing and planning. - When facing divorce or separation, parents need to discuss plans for the future, including how to tell the children, how to work together as parents, how responsibilities will be divided, and how to inform your family and friends.

Separating: - Like many others, you may feel a deep loss as you let go of your attachment to your ex. Separation may also lead to more practical changes. Frequently, during divorce or separation, one or both parents will move. You may feel you do not have the time or ability to get everything done because tasks that once may have been shared by two people are now handled only by you. This can be overwhelming.. With children, you will also have to establish guidelines for sharing time with them and learn ways to share parenting while living apart.

Forming new relationships: - Divorce and separation requires the formation of more flexible and cooperative relationships between the former couple. You will have to let go of your role as part of a couple, while maintaining your role as parent. Forming new relationships might also involve the acceptance of your exes' new relationship and that person's relationship with your children. Many of the changes during divorce or separation may seem stressful, but for most people these problems lessen with time.

Adapting: - People may state various reasons that caused the break up. But when it comes right down to it people divorce or separate because they were unable to establish a good relationship or were unwilling to settle for a bad one. Trying to determine who is to blame for the break up is not a healthy way to spend your time. A better use of your time would be to spend it on adapting.

The following questions can help you assess how well you're adapting.

  • Have you accepted that the couple relationship is over?
  • Have you made peace with your ex?
  • Are you realistic about how you contributed to the divorce or separation?
  • Have you established a support network?
  • Have you developed future-oriented as opposed to past-oriented goals? 
  • In other words, are you now planning your life as a single person?

Single parenting: - Single parenting is not easy. Parents may be frustrated about the loss of time with their children and may feel they need some control over their relationship with them. It is not unusual for single parents to experience an increase in stress as responsibilities change.

Listed below are certain experiences and feelings typical of single parents:

  • Feeling lonely as you adjust to having less time with the children.
  • Feeling out of touch with the events in your children's lives.
  • Missing the children when they are with the other parent.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by decisions and tasks related to being a single parent.
  • Feeling isolated from life apart from the children.


When minor or dependent children are involved in a divorce or break up, the end to the couple relationship does not totally end the relationship. The legal divorce involves resolution of how marital assets and liabilities of the marriage will be divided; child support; and the development of a parenting plan. A Paternity Action involves those same things, except for the division of assets and liabilities. The parenting plan will include such things as where the children will spend their time and how parents will jointly make decisions regarding their children.

The division of a household, requires individuals who once functioned as a couple to learn to function independently. Two households are more expensive to maintain than one, you may experience a decrease in financial resources after divorce or separation. Parents are often forced to take on more hours at work, reducing the amount of time available for their children. A change in child care arrangements and more reliance on children to contribute to household chores may be unavoidable.

Divorce or separation may require each former partner to learn new financial skills. If tasks such as organizing and paying monthly bills had always been handled by your other half, you will now have to learn to do these things yourself. There are several important things to keep in mind as you deal with the economic changes caused by divorce or separation:

  • Resist involving your children in financial burdens. Worrying about money can be difficult for children at a time when they may be seeking extra support and stability.
  • Figure out your financial needs and available resources. Sit down and make a list of money coming in and money going out. Create a realistic budget and stick to it. 
  • Monitor your expenses, especially in the initial months after divorce or separation.
  • Make plans for improving your financial situation.
  • It may be important to go back to school or learn new skills in order to increase your income. Look into retirement plans and insurance policies and try to ensure the security of yourself and your children. Plan for your children's future. In Florida, a child is considered an adult when he or she turns age 18. If your child has special needs, be sure to provide for ongoing support in your Parenting Plan and child support order. After age 18 parents are usually not required by the courts to financially support their children. If possible, work with the other parent to save money for your children's college.
  • Most parents are concerned about the effects divorce or separation will have on their children. Although this concern is important, some evidence indicates that children do better in supportive, single-parent households than in two-parent households when parents are fighting all the time.
After divorce or separation, you have to learn how to continue your role as Mom or Dad while letting go of your role as part of a couple. There are certain strategies that may help:
  • Avoid criticizing your ex in front of the children. Resist the urge to use your children to send messages to your ex. Speak directly to your ex about issues related to the children. Some parents find that scheduling a brief "business" meeting on a regular basis works to keep lines of communication open regarding the children. Avoid asking your children for information about your ex. Resist the temptation to make your child a confidante, as this can be unhealthy for a child.
  • Seek out adult friends, family members, support groups or counselors. Separation and divorce results in distinct changes in the parent-child relationship.
  • Initial support from family and friends often tapers off as the divorce or separation process continues. It may feel as though there are fewer people available for assistance and support at a time when you most need it. If need be, push yourself to create a support system apart from family and friends.

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