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Divorce grief: the emotional fallout of ending a marriage

The emotional fallout of divorce can bring challenges as you move through the divorce grief process.

The end of such a central relationship leaves many with a significant feeling of loss. This is a normal response to a life-changing event such as divorce.

What is the emotional fallout of divorce?

While dealing with the stress of transitioning from a marriage or break-up, life is disrupted for you and your family, and there are unfamiliar and complex legal considerations as you plan for a future that looks different to how you imagined it. When you factor in the emotions that are typically connected with divorce and separation, it’s not surprising that many will find it difficult to cope.

Whether you or your partner initiated the divorce, the prospect of untangling your lives can involve a range of emotions, including:

  • Numbness
  • Sadness
  • Panic
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Relief
  • Regret
  • Resentment
  • Shock
  • Loneliness
  • Hopelessness
  • Frustration
  • Anxiety

Understanding that you are not alone in feeling this way can help you gain a better understanding and begin to build strength as you move forward. The emotional coping process begins with allowing yourself to grieve.

Divorce and grief

Grief is an instinctive emotional response that can invoke a range of feelings as it runs its course.

It tends to unfold in semi-predictable patterns, with people moving back and forth between a numb state characterised by denial, depression, and/or minimisation of the importance of the loss, and a state of outraged anger, fear, and vulnerability.

Grief is individual. It’s best to allow yourself to grieve in the ways that come naturally to you. The length of time someone will grieve and the way they express it will vary from person to person.

What is disenfranchised grief?

Disenfranchised grief, also known as hidden grief, is when a loss is not typically recognised or validated by social norms, such as divorce. Those experiencing disenfranchised grief often feel isolated and stigmatised.

Those grieving from divorce may not receive the understanding or support they need, making it more difficult to seek help.

Moving forward

While grief can be immobilising at first, gradually you’ll see progress and as the grief subsides, you’ll be able to devote more energy and focus to rebuilding your life.

The divorce grief cycle

There is loss and grief in even the most amicable of divorces. The stakes are high when you’re concerned about up a new home life, maintaining contact with children, and setting and facing financial uncertainty.

So, what are the 5 stages of divorce grief?

The 5 stages of divorce grief

1. Denial

The first stage of grief is denial, typically the initial reaction to any form of loss. It’s characterised by numbness and avoidance. People in denial often withdraw from their normal social behaviour and become isolated. During divorce denial you may make your ex-partner wait, avoid making decisions, delay communications, or try to hang on to your current way of life as long as possible. Examples include failing to deal with correspondence from solicitors or failing to complete and return the acknowledgement form when divorce papers have been sent.

2. Anger

The second stage of grief is anger. You may become upset with the person or the causes that led to the end of your relationship, or at yourself if you feel you could have done something to prevent it from happening. It can be overwhelming, affecting other areas of your life and preventing you from resolving matters with your ex. This is the stage where some may feel the need to seek revenge.

For example, some parents may use their children as weapons to upset the other parent and refuse reasonable suggestions for that parent to spend time with their children. Additionally, anger can make people ‘fight’ by failing to negotiate and preferring to ‘win’ or ‘have their day in court’. This approach risks dragging the process out, is more costly, and can harm what’s left of your relationship.

3. Bargaining

The third stage of grief is bargaining. This is when you might begin to see the value in reaching out to the other person to try to cooperate in a bid to ease the emotional strain. You may feel you’re beginning to understand your situation better and can now see a route forward. An example of this is if one party feels guilty and offers a financial settlement higher than they can reasonably afford.

4. Depression

The fourth stage of grief is depression. This can take some time to develop. Depression after divorce is often described as feeling hopeless and overwhelmingly sad or lonely. Common examples include, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, no longer having interest in hobbies you once loved, isolating yourself, or unhealth habits or changes to your routine.

If depression is affecting other aspects of life, it may be beneficial to talk to a mental health professional.

5. Acceptance

The fifth stage of grief is acceptance. This is the point where you have come to terms with divorce and your new identity. A new chapter is on the horizon, and you feel more ready for it. This stage of the divorce grief process brings some valuable closure and allows you to begin making decisions about your future that aren’t rooted in grief.

You can see how you will live your life under new circumstances. You may be happier to collaborate with your former spouse to resolve key matters like how you plan to co-parent and the division of assets.

You can set new boundaries and make healthy choices for yourself about how you move forward in life.

Get in touch

For advice about divorce from a team that understands, contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist family lawyers.

Useful links

How to help someone going through divorce

How to overcome loneliness after divorce or a break-up

Why am I so angry?

Stowe talks – handling fear and uncertainty


The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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