In my practice, I have observed that when couples divorce, there are actually several layers of separation, each of which requires its own attention. I think of these as the emotional, social, physical and legal divorces.
The emotional divorce between spouses, like that of any friendship, often happens over time. People may simply grow apart, particularly those who began their marriage when they were young. They may change their expectations for themselves and for what they want from a partner. Or one person may grow more and more uncomfortable with a dynamic that has existed for a long time. Or a particular event may occur that causes one person to lose trust. In any case, the emotional separation occurs when the couple is no longer working as a team, when they no longer work together as a unit. There may or may not be domestic strife, but they distance themselves from each other. At some point, it becomes clear, to at least one party, that it would be better to live separate lives.
Social divorce can be summed up, according to a colleague, as “Who gets custody of the friends?” We each have relationships with our partner’s friends and family. Once we separate, those relationships shift. We no longer have the same connection, and those others may feel disloyal if they stay friends with you. Not only do we lose our in-laws, but we may lose our neighbors. We may not feel comfortable going to the same places that we went before, where we were known as a couple. This may truly be a loss of community that you had with people who knew you together as a couple.
The physical divorce is perhaps the most obvious — when the couple (or one partner) physically moves out from the shared living space. For this reason, it may be the easiest to imagine — or the hardest.
- Will you be able to afford to remain in the home you are in now?
- Will you be able to find something comparable?
- How far away will you have to move?
- How will you finance it?
- How will the children spend their time?
The legal divorce is the court’s dissolution of the marriage contract. It is, in effect, another contract, assigning rights and responsibilities to each partner. How will property be divided? Will there be alimony paid? What is the parenting plan? These are many of the things we talk about in mediation and collaborative law that go into a divorce order.
Each of these processes has its own timeline, and each happens in a different way for every couple. Often one partner is moving faster than the other in one or more areas, which can make things more difficult. While the emotional separation may be obvious to one person, the other may be oblivious to it. Thus, the request for a divorce may even take the second partner by surprise.
Try to have patience to yourself and to your spouse as you move through the stages of divorce. Separation is a multi-layered thing!
Joy S. Rosenthal, Esq.
Rosenthal Law & Mediation
225 Broadway, Suite 2605
New York, New York 10007