What Happens When One of You Files for Divorce?


Divorce is a many-layered process that involves a continuum of three major events – financial, legal, but mostly emotional pain and recovery. On that continuum, the financial and emotional impact started well before you ever stepped foot in your attorney’s office. And those effects will continue long after the legal divorce is over.

Many family law attorneys overlook and underestimate the importance of this last piece, the emotional toll that a divorce has upon you, your family and friends – but also on the legal divorce process itself. This is especially true for family law attorneys who only work in the litigation process. Their focus is to gather evidence to “win.” Let’s be clear – no one wins in a litigated divorce case. There is only resolution, and how emotions are managed determine the type of resolution you will get. If emotions are not managed during the divorce process, everyone loses. If emotions are addressed and couples are allowed appropriate room to grieve, then you stand a far better chance of transitioning to a different kind of family, because whether you want it or not, you will always be co-parents to your children.

And so, what can you expect when a divorce petition is filed?

The spouse who received the divorce petition is understandably shocked. It never occurred to them that their spouse was actually going to file, even if they talked about it before. As they say, it’s not real until it’s real. The spouse receiving the petition begins their grieving process at that moment – the anger that their spouse would actually file for divorce, the bargaining to make the divorce go away, the sadness that the life they planned for won’t be happening. Acceptance is a long way off.

The spouse who filed the divorce petition started that grieving process long before the petition was filed. It is likely that the anger and sadness they experienced about the relationship is what lead them to file the petition for divorce in the first place. They experienced those emotions months, maybe years, ago. The filing was for them an acceptance that they had no other choice, although they still experience deep sadness for their family and the lost plans they too had.

The children, especially younger ones, do not fully understand what divorce means, not in the same way as you. The financial and legal components are irrelevant to them. To them, the divorce happened on the day you tell them. They don’t care about the process from that point in time. They will immediately experience sadness, maybe even anger, that they cannot see both of their parents every day. They worry that you both will not be at their sporting events, or their school plays, or band concerts. They hurt deeply when their parents are yelling at each other or if either parent is disparaging the other. They need comfort and the reassurance that you both will be there for them at all times, regardless of your differences and own hurt feelings.

You and your spouse have the option to minimize the pain of your divorce for you and your children. All of that pain, anger, and resentment will affect the outcome of your divorce if you let it. If you allow those emotions to drive your decisions, you and your children will lose at the end of the divorce process. Battling it out in litigation with depositions, expensive document exchange, and dueling experts will build resentment and empty your bank accounts. But a Collaborative Divorce will allow you the opportunity to manage those emotions for an optimal resolution. A team of specially trained professionals will help both of you sift through the difficult emotions so that you can make smart, well thought out decisions for yourself and your children. For more information on how a Collaborative Divorce works, visit our web page by clicking here.

Rhonda Cleaves is a divorce attorney in Plano, Texas. She represents clients around the DFW metroplex and focuses her practice on Collaborative Divorce work.

Rhonda Cleaves

Rhonda began practicing law in 1995. She left a successful civil trial practice in 2005 to concentrate on family law — specifically, helping families transition to postdivorce life. She now practices exclusively in this area.

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