The different stages of grief when it comes to divorce

Splitting from your spouse, whether you’ve been married for 2 or 20 years is undeniably a stressful process. There are lots of changes to consider, such as where you’ll both live, where the children may live if you have any and how it may affect you financially when you’re no longer a family unit. Aside from these more physical changes, there’s also the emotional ones to consider, and in many cases, these can be harder to deal with. This post aims to talk you through the stages of divorce alongside the stages of grief associated with divorce, so you can recognise how you might be feeling, or help others to explore their feelings around divorce.

What are the personal and legal stages of a divorce?

Cognitive or Mental Separation

This is the first part to each and every divorce. One party (usually after much thought) makes the decision that they no longer want to be married, and therefore mentally separates from their spouse. This tends to happen a while before the divorce proceedings begin to take place.

Physical Separation

Physical separation is what it says on the tin – at this stage both people in the marriage are aware of the decision to seek divorce.

Legal Dissolution of the Marriage

This is the legal process of going through a divorce and legally separating from your spouse. Depending on the personal situations of each couple, this can be straight forward with minimal stress, or a drawn-out, long process with personal feelings and emotions playing a large part.

The legal proceedings include applying for the divorce petition and stating the reason why a divorce is being sought, followed by an acknowledgement of service. This allows the respondent the chance to dispute what has been stated as the reason for divorce. Next is the certificate of entitlement, which is a document informing both parties of the date for your Decree Nisi (a provisional decree of divorce). The last two steps include receiving a Decree Nisi document from the court once it’s satisfied with the criteria for the divorce, and finally the Decree Absolute, which is confirmation that the marriage is officially ended.

Emotional Divorce

This last stage can be among the hardest, as you need to adapt to your new life without your partner. This means disconnecting from them on all levels and learning how to grow and move forward as an individual.

The 7 Stages of Grief in Divorce

Following on from the personal and legal stages of divorce, there is a lot more that can be going on behind the scenes for individuals going through a divorce. Feelings and thoughts play a large part as it can be a very stressful process for some. This next section looks at some of the specific stages of grief when it comes to divorce.


Denial is the first stage as it’s generally where most people can’t believe it’s happening. Whether you’ve decided to divorce your partner, or they have served you, it’s still quite a lot to get your head around that it’s happening.

Pain and Fear

Once you’ve come to terms that the divorce is happening, this is when the pain and fear may set in. Questions such as “Where am I going to live?”, or “Will my children be OK?” may be crossing your mind at this stage, but it’s important to remember that your legal representative will be able to help answer those questions for you. You may also be feeling pretty heartbroken about now as divorce proceedings may have started.


Many then go on to experience anger as a third stage of grief. Your personal circumstances might dictate this anger, but you may also find that you’re irritated with your partner for the way they’re handling the divorce, or perhaps if they’ve served you and you’re angry the marriage is ending.


Bargaining can sometimes occur when the spouse being divorced comes to the realisation it’s going ahead. Typical behaviours may include things like promising to change their behaviour or similar in order to revoke or postpone divorce proceedings.


Guilt is another factor that can play a big part in a couple’s divorce, especially in the case where children are involved. It’s a big change for the entire family, and if you feel the divorce is your fault, you may find that guilt is something you end up dealing with. It’s important to remember that not all separations are for the worst, it might be the right thing for the family as a whole.


Unfortunately for some people experiencing depression is part of the grieving process of going through a divorce. It can be hard to accept, especially if you’re in a position where you were happy in the marriage and didn’t expect it. If you feel like you may be depressed, it’s imperative that you seek advice from your GP.


At the end of this long emotional process finally comes acceptance. It’s happened; you’re entering a new period of your life and you will find that eventually you will be able to accept and embrace it.  

If you’re going through a divorce or would like to file for divorce, you can contact Cordell Cordell for legal advice and support.