There are countless ways to help a person through divorce, but all of these involve understanding your place in the divorce process. I have been a practicing attorney for over 30 years with the cornerstone of my practice being family law. Family Law involves divorce, child support, custody and spousal support. I believe divorce has three distinct stages with different emotional needs. These stages are pre divorce, active divorce, and post divorce and each stage has its own set of emotional luggage and support criteria.
During the pre stage of divorce the parties may seem disoriented regarding the process. This is because no decision has been made to proceed with the divorce and the parties are walking the line on what to do and how to do it. The parties may be seeking an attorney or money to pay the attorney.
The active divorce stage occurs after the filing of the divorce with the court. If there are children there is usually a six month cooling off period and a 60 day waiting period when there are no children. This is the highly inflammable period when the parties are in a combative mode.
The post divorce period is the period of time after the judge has signed the judgment, custody has been decided and child support and parenting time allocated. This period may last until the child’s eighteenth but not later than 19th birthday or the life of the spouse.
Here are 9 things to understand so you can be a supportive friend through divorce:
1. Understand that divorce is quite traumatic even though your friend might be the one initiating the proceedings. It is akin to the five stages of grief articulated by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Sometimes theses five stages of grief appear in each of the stages of divorce, pre, active, and post.
2. Understand that support is support and not your opinion as to how things should occur. Sometimes people talk about divorce for years before they decide to file. Sometimes people will wake up one morning and file for divorce shocking friends and spouse alike.
3. Do not become invested in the outcome of the divorce. Do not become an initiator or the voice of reason. Your job as friend is to be a friend not to initiate action. I have seen friends who do this and in the end the friend becomes the person who is responsible for the divorce.
4. Do not take sides as to initiation of the divorce proceedings, custody or child support. You are a friend and your intervention may be the catalyst away from resolution of issues rather than to resolution.
5. Understand that divorce involves illogical emotion and actions. Don’t be the amateur psychiatrist in fixing your friend. This is the time to listen. No matter how tempted you are to perhaps add your ten cents in the mix just listen.
6. Understand that your friend’s lawyer runs the show, understands the law, and is ethically bound to represent his/her client and not you. Do not undermine your friend’s attorney. Your friend is already on the brink and usually does not understand the process and if he/ she loses confidence in his/her attorney all is lost.
7. Understand that each divorce is different and what worked in one case may not work in another. What happened in one case may not necessarily happen in another. There are not only laws that govern issues in divorce but laws that govern issues in child custody, division of assets, and spousal support.
8. Understand that after all the litigation the parties may just decide to drop the divorce and stay together. Sometimes the idea of having to live apart sometimes brings parties closer together. The parties may then be able to resolve their issues and stay together.
9. Understand that there are issues in a divorce which may not be completed at the signing of the judgment of divorce. Parenting time, child custody, child support and spousal support can always be adjusted and for those reasons the parties may still be at odds after the judge signs the judgment of divorce.
Once you understand the mechanics of friend support then you can be support to your friend without becoming angry or frustrated no matter if they are in the pre, active or post stage of divorce.
How else can you ease a friend’s pain during divorce?
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