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Five Stages of Divorce

divorce papers and couple

The five stages of divorce follow the common five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When a couple is going through a divorce, both people involved experience these stages at different times, in different ways. Understanding how affected people move through divorce grief helps make the process more manageable, although not less difficult.

Grief Is Unique

Each person reacts to the loss of their marriage differently and it’s important to remember that grief and healing are completely individualized processes. Although divorce grief stages present in a specific order, it is unlikely that someone will move through the stages one after the other. It is common to move through stages simultaneously or circle back to a previous stage at any time. 

The majority of divorcees find that the cycling process gets easier and shorter as they move toward healing.


In denial, the spouse being left — called the leavee — fails to grasp the reality of the situation. They often try to rationalize the divorce filing by believing their spouse is suffering a midlife crisis or other personal turmoil. Common thoughts could be “they are just upset” or “this will all blow over soon.”

The leavee may operate on autopilot, choosing to pretend everything is still fine while seemingly ignoring thoughts of divorce. Denying that one is facing the end of their marriage is a common coping mechanism as leaves numb all emotions to survive the situation.


As the numbness of denial begins to wear off, the leavee feels a variety of emotions. Anger tends to mask all other emotions and it’s usually directed toward the spouse who filed — known as the leaver. 

Unlike the denial stage where the leaver is seen as struggling or just needing time, the anger stage paints the leaver as the worst. The worst parent, lover, friend, and human on the planet — the list is endless in the midst of anger. These feelings are normal — and needed — to help people move through the grief process of divorce. 

Feel as much anger as you need, but remember to keep it away from any children involved. You can hate the leaver but a child should not have to hate a parent.


Bargaining during the divorce process is usually an attempt to salvage the former relationship or pinpoint exactly what went wrong. The leavee may offer to change many things about themselves, make grand promises, or agree to certain requests in an attempt to stop the divorce. 

This stage can be helpful if there is a chance the relationship can be saved. The leaver could change their mind at this point and agree to work things out, but this is not guaranteed and most divorces still proceed.


The weight of denial, anger, and bargaining, combined with the sobering reality that a marriage is over causes the most difficult stage of all — depression. People find that depression tends to last longer than the other stages and is typically harder to overcome. 

Feelings of depression are completely normal during a divorce and affect both the leavee and the leaver. Many people report intrusive thoughts such as “I’ll never find love again,” or “relationships aren’t worth it.” These thoughts are not reality and they typically pass over time. It is common for divorcees to seek professional help during such a difficult time.


When a person reaches the acceptance stage, they often feel a sense of relief. But finally accepting the divorce doesn’t completely end the grief process; it is normal to jump around and cycle through previous stages after one has come to terms with the situation. 

In acceptance, people find the strength to move on and reclaim their lives without letting divorce define them. Ultimately, though one may still feel different stages of grief, they reach a point where they can live with those feelings and continue their life.

Tips for Coping With Divorce Grief

Neither the leavee nor the leaver experiences divorce grief the same way but there are different tips that can make the process more bearable.

Allow All Feelings

Every emotion that comes up during the divorce process is valid and brings a person one step closer to healing. Negative and upsetting feelings do lessen with time as a person learns to find their new normal.

Build a Support Group

The loss of a life partner due to divorce makes people feel intensely lonely and isolated. This makes having a support group of close family and friends invaluable in the healing process.

Take Time to Heal

The relationship wasn’t built overnight and healing from divorce won’t happen immediately either. Divorcees need time to work through all their emotions and rediscover who they are without being in a marriage. There is no set timeline for grief and as long as people continue to move forward, they should take all the time they need.

Are You Facing a Divorce?

No matter if you are the leavee or leaver, you’ll need a lawyer on your side to get through the process. Collins Family & Elder Law Group has dedicated, compassionate lawyers ready to help you with every aspect of the divorce process, including child custody and child support. We work throughout North and South Carolina so contact us today about your divorce situation.

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