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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
"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."