The Two Divorces

Marriages end in lots of different ways.

In the first appointment I have with a potential client, sometimes the client will tell me that things have been bad for years. They say that they have been biding their time; waiting for the other person to change, or for the children to grow. One client told me that she knew on her wedding day that she was marrying the wrong person, though she didn’t seek me out until two decades later. These parties are usually the ones to file for divorce, and often they have known that they have wanted to divorce for a while.

Other clients come in shell-shocked. They hold the divorce papers they have just been served in shaking hands. The pain is new and fresh. They tell me that they never saw it coming, they say that things were fine.

Both situations represent different ends of a spectrum of grief. When a relationship as important as a marriage ends we mourn it like a death. We go through the stages of grief:


Generally those filing for divorce have done their grieving for months or years prior to filing. For people who have only just realized their marriage is ending, they are forced to move through this grieving process at a more rapid rate.

So when I meet with my clients I talk about the notion of two divorces — the legal one and the emotional one. The legal divorce involves paperwork, hearings, judges, lawyers, and rules. Once a case is filed the court system tries to push the case along, to have the parties settle, and to move the case off the court’s calendar within a chronological time period. In Minnesota, the standard is for the divorce case to be completed within a year of filing.

The emotional divorce is trickier. Often the two parties are at different stages of grief. One party may have finished the grieving process and have accepted the end of the marriage, while the other party may be in deep denial that the marriage is ending. Moving through the stages of grief does not happen on a set schedule. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time.

Often the two divorces do not mesh well with each other. Sometimes one party is frustrated because the other person is not so quick to finalize the legal process. “Why is s/he dragging their feet?” The other party may be delaying because they are still in denial. In other cases my clients tell me that things are moving too fast. They tell me that they wish that the legal process would slow down to give them time to get their bearings.

So when anticipating how much time your legal divorce will take; consider the emotional divorce and where you and the other party are at in that process.

For more information on the stages of grief see the works of Kubler-Ross.

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