What Are The Stages of Separation in Divorce
No fault divorce requires that you are separated from your spouse for at least a year. (This can be as little as six months if you have a signed agreement in place and no minor children together.
During this stage in the divorce, your marriage may feel like it’s in limbo. You may feel confused on what is or is not allowed between you and your spouse or between yourself and the dating scene.
In some Virginia courts, legal separation doesn’t mean you have to live under two separate roofs. So long as you have been abiding by standards of “in-home” separation, it may count depending on the circumstances (having children together, for instance, makes it very difficult to prove you are separate under the same roof). To do so, there should be physical separation (i.e. two separate rooms or two separate houses) and an intention to divorce.
Practically speaking, this looks like you and your spouse not interacting at all as spouses. You don’t cook for each other. You don’t do the other spouse’s laundry. You don’t maintain joint bank account.
This gives you a silver lining to the separation period. The feelings of limbo can give you a slow transition that will help you and your spouse work through the emotional stages of separation.
Like many losses in life, the loss of a relationship requires a healthy amount of grieving before you can emotionally move on.
The widely recognized 5 stages of grief come from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, “On Death and Dying.” While everyone processes grief in their own way, psychologists recognize that most people go through their own order and timeline of the same 5 stages.
Denial: Struggling to Accept Finality
In the denial stage of separation, you may struggle with accepting that divorce is really happening. This is an okay feeling to experience at this stage. It’s part of making peace with your inner optimist.
The part that can be problematic is when you try to rationalize the failings of your relationship that led to divorce to start with.
Moving on from this stage involves feeling certain of your decision. You’ll be ready for the next stage when you’re sure that the relationship is better off ending.
Anger: Struggling to Accept Peace
The next emotional stage to separation in divorce comes off the heels of accepting that this is really happening to you and your spouse. If you successfully processed your denial, you will naturally feel anger at your spouse’s or your own failings.
While these may feel like toxic thoughts, it may be a necessary stage for you to go through. Grappling with accepting peace instead of anger may lead into pursuing temporary feelings of peace. That’s where bargaining comes in.
Bargaining: Struggling to Accept True Justice
Bargaining is an attempt to find temporary relief for the uncomfortable feelings of separation. You may try to find ways to get back with your spouse. Perhaps you may be tempted to bargain away some of your rights to your children, your principles or your happiness.
Bargaining feelings are normal. If you can recall how you processed your feelings in stage one, it may help you in this stage. You can remind yourself of the finality of your divorce decision.
This stage poses a unique threat to your divorce. In Virginia, the separation period must be marked by an intention to divorce.
If you are faltering in your intention to divorce, you may threaten your rights or agree to compromises that aren’t in your best interests.
Depression: Struggling with Feeling Trapped
This stage of separation in divorce can be the result of the stage before it. If you’ve realized that you can’t bargain your way out of the situation, you may feel trapped. It’s correct, none of the easy ways to bargain your way out of the situation will help. But this feeling may make you feel depressed.
While it may be normal to feel depressed, if it begins to hurt your quality of life or you have feelings of suicide, get help. Separation and divorce can be difficult, and it’s okay to feel the weight of your decision, but severe depression and suicidal thoughts are dangerous and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
When you’ve processed your feelings of depression, you should be ready to accept the emotional freedom that comes with your decision to divorce.
Acceptance: Hope for Your Post-Divorce Future
Very few people skip the previous 4 stages of separation and jump to the stage of acceptance. It takes time to process how you feel through each of the 4 previous stages of separation.
The payoff, however, is worth it.
The acceptance stage is the strongest stage for you in your separation from your spouse. You can protect yourself from feeling down on your luck, feeling vindictive or being too willing to bargain your way into a bad post-divorce arrangement.
From the expertise of a team of divorce lawyers serving the Richmond, Chesterfield and Harrisonburg areas of Virginia, this is the ideal stage to approach your divorce proceedings from. It helps us help you get the best arrangement for you and your family after your divorce.
If you have any additional questions about divorce in Virginia, check out our other articles on our website or give us a call.
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