How to Start Over After Divorce: 4 Ways to Rebuild Your Life

Learn how to make the most of your post-divorce life with financial, co-parenting, relationship, and self-care advice from experts.

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One universal truth about divorce is that it's never easy—no matter who initiated it. Once the legal and logistical matters have been handled, the next logical step is to move on to make the most of your new life. But how?

Whether it's creating a post-divorce financial plan, adjusting to co-parenting, rebooting your social life, or cultivating your well-being, we've gathered expert advice on how to start over after divorce.

The Psychological Impact of Divorce

Getting to the other side of a divorce—one of the most stressful events life has to offer—is an achievement in itself. Simply acknowledging that fact can be a first step.

"The amount of change that comes with divorce is immense and psychological regardless of the potential benefits. The transition period is highly stressful," says Josh Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and creator of Mental Drive.

Divorce represents "the end of a way of life and opening to something unknown, and a period of adjustment," he adds.

Luckily, you don't have to wing it during the transition. With some strategy and effort, you can avoid obstacles that threaten to derail your goals and clear a path to build the future you want.

4 Ways to Rebuild Your Life After Divorce

It's common in the post-divorce adjustment period to begin making important financial and relationship decisions, while simultaneously tending to your own needs and the needs of your children. No matter how you prioritize your efforts, here's what experts say can help you successfully move forward.

1. Make a New Financial Plan

The financial fallout of a divorce might put a deep dent in your bank account. Although many factors affect the final price tag, a DivorceNet survey found that the average total cost of an attorney who provides end-to-end representation was $11,300. That's just the overall average.

Fees can be lower for those who work out a settlement with the help of their lawyer but higher for those who go to trial on multiple issues. And even if you were able to handle your divorce without a lawyer, you're likely to have higher living costs afterwards, now that you and your ex have separate households.

Also, you might see a drop in income after divorce, especially if you're a woman. That's according to a study published in the February 2022 issue of Current Opinion in Psychology. An Australian study found that the risk of falling into poverty in the first year of separation doubles for women—with jobless women and those with school-aged children being the most vulnerable.

But divorce might be a first step toward a better financial life for some. A Fidelity Investments study found that despite the financial difficulties of adjusting to life post-divorce, most people surveyed said they had recovered from the fallout within five years by taking proactive steps.

Tips for creating a new financial plan:

  • Create a new monthly budget taking into account your post-divorce income and expenses.
  • Consider ways to save money, such as downsizing to a less expensive home or consolidating debt.
  • Work toward stabilizing your credit by paying your monthly bills on time, reducing your debt, and reviewing your full credit report for any errors or issues that are bringing down your credit score.
  • Find ways to increase your income by looking for a higher-paying job, asking for a raise or promotion, or taking on a part-time job or side hustle.
  • Consult with a financial planner to help you better plan for the future. Or, start with a book from a reputable financial advisor.

As part of your financial plan, don't forget to update your insurance policies. Among the things you need to consider:

  • You might need to get new health insurance (and include the cost in your budget) if you were covered under your spouse's policy.
  • If you want your spouse to remain a beneficiary on your life insurance policy, you might need to complete an update form. that's because some state laws automatically revoke your spouse as a beneficiary of your life insurance policies when you get divorced.
  • If you had a joint life insurance policy, you'll need to decide whether to transfer ownership, keep the joint policy, or cancel it.
  • You might not be able to cancel a joint auto insurance policy without your ex's consent, unless your divorce judgment addressed that issue.

2. Rethink Your Social Life (But Don't Rush Romance)

Divorce alters almost every relationship in your life. That includes friends, family, in-laws, and children—"even your adult children," says Karen Finn, Ph.D., a certified divorce coach and author of the e-book On the Road from Heartbreak to Happiness.

Unfortunately, divorce can drive a wedge between even the dearest of friends and family members who feel they have to choose sides. You might need to rebuild your social life, at least in part, says Dr. Finn. And doing so might require you to step outside your comfort zone.

Tips for rethinking your social life:

  • Don't isolate yourself from others. Sure, you have every right to feel sad. You're grieving. But resist the urge to become a hermit.
  • Nurture the support of the friends who stuck by you. Let them know how much you appreciate them. Don't rule out reconnecting with friends who weren't there for you. They might have a change of heart with time.
  • Find a divorce support group. You might connect with kindred spirits who know what it feels like to go through a divorce.
  • Start new traditions with your adult children. They might still be recovering from the divorce themselves, so give them time and space to process it before pushing too hard.

Building new friendships is healthy, but don't jump back into a romantic relationship too quickly, says Dr. Klapow.

"There's a natural tendency to want to be with someone so you're not alone. But until you can be okay with being alone … you aren't ready for a new relationship," Dr. Klapow cautions. He recommends first going through therapy or at least doing some "deep soul searching" to process your divorce and learn from previous patterns.

3. Focus on Being a Good Co-Parent

Life after divorce can seem daunting when co-parenting comes into play. It's true that children of divorce might become angry, depressed, or anxious in the wake of a split. They're also more likely to have academic problems such as poor grades and engage in disruptive behaviors including drug use.

But the good news is that, if parents work together to promote resiliency, the majority of children from divorced families don't develop emotional or behavioral problems.

There's no one-size-fits-all answer to parenting a child through a divorce, says Mary Kay Cocharo, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist with over 30 years of experience. But one of the most important factors is keeping a positive environment, Cocharo says.

A UK study found that children exposed to consistent parental conflict are more at risk for psychological and social issues. When parents engage in a high-conflict divorce, or constantly fight even after the marriage has ended, it might be more difficult for the family to move forward in a positive way.

Tips for being a good co-parent:

  • Consider your children's developmental needs and stage of life. Children who are years apart are going to need different things from you and your co-parent. "[Parents] tend to look at children as a unit, "Cocharo says. "But really look at your children as individual people with different needs."
  • Maintain schedules and routines as much as possible. That includes school and extracurricular activities. The less you disrupt their lives, the better. And try to attend those events in person as much as possible.
  • Don't ask your children to update you on your ex-spouse. Seeking personal details about your child's other parent puts them in an uncomfortable situation.
  • Don't badmouth your former spouse in front of the children. It can lead to anger and resentment toward both of you.
  • Be present with your children, both physically and emotionally. Remove distractions (like your phone) when they're with you.

4. Bolster Your Emotional Self

It's normal to struggle and feel physically or emotionally drained after a divorce. In fact, people often go through a roller coaster of emotions when a marriage ends.

Getting past the anger, resentment, disappointment, sadness, and other negative emotions that often accompany divorce can dramatically improve your quality of life.

Tips for bolstering your emotional self:

  • Schedule time to talk with a trusted friend or family member. Engaging with others increases your sense of belonging, eases your stress, and might make you happier.
  • Get moving. Just 15 minutes of running a day or an hour of walking can greatly improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. It can also relieve tension and stress, boost your energy levels, and put you in a better frame of mind. And, it may open you up to new friend groups.
  • Practice yoga, mindfulness, or meditation. Doing so can help you flip the negative narratives going through your mind to find some good in them.
  • Speak to a licensed professional therapist. A therapist can help you navigate the struggles you face following a divorce, give you a new perspective of the experience, and help guide you to a better place, emotionally.

There Is Life After Divorce

"Divorce is the hardest relationship challenge you'll ever face. It's also one of the few times in your life when you're at a crossroads of self-improvement," Dr. Klapow says. Which makes life after divorce a great opportunity to move beyond your experience and focus on what's next.

"Learn how to look at yourself more intimately, how to be okay by yourself, and what a relationship really takes to survive," he says. Once you can do that, "you'll come out a better person on the other side."

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