Every divorce includes loss: separation from a life partner, division of assets, and often relocating to a new home. With loss comes grief. While everyone experiences divorce and grief differently, there are common stages to grieving that could affect your divorce settlement.
Psychologists have identified 7 stages of grief. Some people don’t experience all, or any, of these emotions during a divorce. For others, the emotions they feel as they go through the process could affect what they are able to walk away with in the end.
1. Denial in Divorce
As a divorce lawyer, I usually see denial in the initial consultation. Often, a person will have been served with divorce papers and will come see me to make the problem go away. The reality is, in Michigan, if either party wants a divorce, it will be granted. Sometimes, we can ask the court to stay the proceedings if the parties agree to go to marriage counseling, but more often than not, the divorce will go forward, even if you don’t think it should.
2. Pain & Fear
For a lot of divorcing clients, fear shows up when they think about moving out of the home or “losing” their children. This can lead some people to fight for a marital home they simply cannot afford to maintain with only one income. In other cases, parents will fight to become primary custodian, even though they had not developed their parenting skills while the couple was together.
3. Anger in Divorce
A lot of people feel angry during a divorce. Whether they feel their spouse caused the divorce, or angry that their spouse filed for divorce, the emotion can get in the way of a divorce settlement. For example, a party in a recent case said she knew she was asking for too much, but she just couldn’t settle for less. She was so angry at her ex-husband, she was willing to risk being awarded less by a judge, just so she didn’t have to give him anything.
4. Bargaining in Divorce
The bargaining stage of grief can be equally dangerous during negotiations. If you are willing to give up anything just to make the pain of divorce stop, you could inadvertently walk away with far less than you deserve. Make sure you check in with your divorce attorney to make sure you aren’t “giving up the farm.”
5. Guilt in Divorce
When a party feels guilty about the divorce, it can lead him to make very bad decisions regarding settlement. He may push his attorney to give his ex-wife more than she deserves to “make up” for the fact that he is divorcing her. A guilty party may walk away from assets she will need in the long run, like retirement accounts, because she is trying to make herself feel better about her decision.
As your divorce case drags on, you may find yourself depressed about the whole situation. It could seem hopeless, particularly if your ex is stuck in an earlier stage of grief. A hopeless party is less likely to settle for anything, not because he feels like he deserves more, but simply because he doesn’t want to be forced into a decision. Unfortunately, Michigan courts are pressured to resolve most divorces within one year of filing. So apathy and depression can inadvertently send your case to trial.
The best divorce settlements end with both parties accepting what has come to pass. Talented divorce lawyers will make sure all your needs are met, though maybe not the way you anticipated in the beginning. When both parties are in acceptance, your settlement could seem natural, and appropriate, given your particular situation.
Attorneys and Counselors
Because divorce is such an emotional time, many parties come to see their attorneys as a kind of counselor. It is true, part of our job is to provide counsel. But that is within the legal context. We are trained to explain the law to you and advise you in different ways to reach positive settlements. We are not trained to help you move through the stages of grief.
If you find emotions interfering with your ability to listen to your lawyer or make rational decisions, consider seeing a counselor or psychologist. Through short-term grief counseling, you can come to identify and understand your feelings, and separate them from the negotiations process. That way you will get to acceptance faster, and hopefully, get a better divorce settlement.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a divorce attorney with Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps clients reach divorce settlements they can live with. If you are considering divorce, contact Schmidt Law Services today for a free consultation.