Life After Divorce: Practical Tips for a Fresh Start

Starting over after a divorce can be challenging, but it's far from impossible. Here's some guidance from an attorney and a therapist to get you off on the right foot.

Whether you initiated your divorce or it was sprung on you, restarting after a split can be extremely difficult. Divorce, after all, is an often complicated process where you're facing a mix of emotions and a possibly confusing settlement process. Add in the fact that you have to figure out the daily workings of your new life, and it can seem overwhelming.

But there are ways to make your life after divorce easier. Putting together a trusted network and organizing a clear, easy-to-follow plan on what to do after a divorce can go a long way. We talked with several experts, including a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a family law expert, to provide the best tips on starting over after a divorce and easing yourself into this new stage of your life.

Gather a Trusted Team

No matter the circumstances around the end of your marriage, the first step in planning for your post-divorce life is finding a trusted team of providers, says Lindsey Egan, a family law attorney based in Massachusetts. This will be your go-to support network, a group that should fully understand your post-divorce needs.

"Consider yourself as almost part of a sports team that is kind of working collaboratively to an end goal," Egan says.

Now, the exact team members will be up to you, depending on your goals and how you want to achieve them. But here are some potential experts to consider:

  • Financial planner, who can navigate your post-divorce budget and what financial challenges you might encounter.
  • Parenting coach to help you help your children work through this challenging time.
  • Therapist to ensure you're working through your feelings and taking care of your mental health.
  • Family law attorney, who can help you through your divorce settlement and any post-divorce questions.
  • Friends and family to provide extra support and take some of the pressure away from you, whether that's help with the kids or in your daily activities.

It's important to note, however, that you are the boss. Your team should be there to walk you through this new stage of your life, but only in the way that works best for you. Egan suggests taking some time to find your voice, tell people what you need, and advocate for yourself.

Set Achievable Goals

The time immediately post divorce should be about separating yourself from your former partner and learning what it means to succeed in your new single life. This is when you have the opportunity to regain control, and the best way to do that is with manageable goals, Egan says.

"Take back your space, whether that's physical space, finally adding feng shui to a bedroom that your partner never wanted you to do, or clearing up some headspace," Egan says. "Take back your space, redefine it, set attainable goals, and try something new."

Spend some time with your dedicated network to write down some objectives both in the short term and long term to help you start over. Think about the practical goals you'll need as well as the more rewarding ones that are more self-focused. Here are some to consider:

Practical Goals

  • Calculate living expenses. Set an accurate budget that takes into account the new changes in your life.
  • Set an income goal. Your financial needs might have changed after your divorce, so find out what you'll need to live comfortably.
  • Create a savings fund. If you don't already have one, a savings fund is essential in planning for your long-term future, especially with children.
  • Think about how you want to interact with your former partner. Find a healthy way to interact with your ex-spouse, whether that's through clear in-person communication, written communication only, or a third party if it's best to keep separation.
  • Think about your living accommodations. If you're staying in your house, decide if that's where you want to be long term and start planning for that. If you moved, set goals for your new home.

(For more particulars, especially in the period leading up to divorce, see our divorce checklist.)

Other Goals

  • Consider what makes you happy. It's important to set aside some time for yourself and do things that make you happy, whether that's new hobbies, traveling, or just finding a new book to read.
  • Think about what you want your dating life to look like. Take a break before rushing right back into dating, and think about what you believe a healthy relationship should look like to you.

Find the Best Method of Co-Parenting

Divorce is complex, and if you have children, it might look even more daunting. But 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.

Cocharo emphasizes that the key is finding out what works best for your child, taking into account their developmental needs and what stage they are at in life. Children that are years apart are going to need different things from you and your co-parent. She gives the example of three kids, ages two, six, and ten. Whereas the ten-year-old might be able to go to one parent's house for a week at a time, that might not be appropriate or helpful for a two-year-old.

"[Parents] tend to look at children as a unit, "Cocharo says. "But really look at your children as individual people with different needs because of their different ages and gender."

That's why it's crucial to find out what method of co-parenting works for your family as a whole, considering the individual needs of your children first and then your former spouse and yourself. Reach out to your team to get their opinions and set up a solid, well-documented plan that both parents agree on. Again, there's no right or wrong answer here as long as the children's needs are put first.

Additionally, no matter what method of co-parenting you choose, keep a positive environment, Cocharo says. Studies show that children exposed to consistent parental conflict are more at risk for psychological and social issues. Constant fighting will only make things more difficult for your family to move forward.

"You need to get to the point where you love your kids more than you resent your ex in order to make a future co-parenting relationship successful, healthy, and as least acrimonious as possible," Egan adds.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help

We've already mentioned it's important to have a strong, trusted team around you, but it doesn't have to end there. It's normal to struggle and feel physically and emotionally drained after your divorce, so you should never be afraid to ask for more help when you need it.

Help can mean talking to a therapist about your emotional struggles or a parenting coach to help you navigate co-parenting. But it can also mean asking a family member out for coffee to get away from your daily stress or asking a friend to set up a playdate for your kids to distract them from your divorce. Egan emphasizes that it's okay to utilize all the resources around you and not shy away from saying what you need.

"So it's really important that you can tell [your network], ‘Hey, listen, this is what I need from you right now, or it would be really helpful if I could get this,'" Egan says. "That's going to get you through a lot of the struggles as you navigate the new path forward."

If you're unsure of reaching out to someone at the moment, look for resources that might be easier to access. There are websites decided to help with mental health and others that can provide parenting tips, financial tips, and other goals as you're learning how to overcome your divorce and move forward.

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