WHEN IS A FINAL DIVORCE, FINAL?

By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

There is no real ending. It's just the place where you stop the story.
~Frank Herbert

Interestingly the impact and finality of divorce is different for not only each individual and each couple, but for everybody involved in their lives. From the inside looking out, individuals go through the grief and loss of divorce in multiple phases. For some the emotional divorce is over before the legal divorce begins. They're "done" and have already grieved the loss of the relationship. For others, emotionally, they've been in the grieving process for long periods and don't experience the finality of the divorce until they sign the final paperwork. And for others, the final grieving does not occur until long after the legal divorce is over. Each individual's unique personality and experience with loss influence the process.

The financial divorce essentially ends once a couple has reached agreement on how to move forward separately and apart. In mediation, this generally occurs at the time a settlement agreement is reached and signed. The couple has a binding separation agreement between them. This agreement then goes to the court. Once the Judge signs the agreement, it becomes the court order of divorce. However, the agreement, even before the Judge signs, is legally enforceable and couples don't need to wait for the Judge to sign before separating finances.

The physical divorce is often more complicated in today's world. Some couples are separated, but living together; others are living apart but still financially "married." Physical separation is generally the step in the divorce when it becomes objectively clear that the marriage is beyond repair. Financial circumstances often influence what that actually looks like but, nevertheless, it can often be an impactful part of the emotional divorce for the individuals and those involved such as children and family.

Whichever stage or phase a couple is in, it is important to know that each of the parties and children experience the divorce as "Final" at very different times. The significance is in understanding that your experience is highly likely to be different than your child's, ex-spouse or extended family members. Extending grace and empathy to the other's perspective can be helpful in moving on.



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