The First Steps to Divorce

Many of you have been in the position of either deciding to divorce or having been asked for a divorce. Either way, you will be making important emotional, legal, and financial decisions with a person with whom you are most likely in some kind of conflict.

As you consider how to go about setting the wheels in motion for the next stage of your life, balancing your needs with the needs of your soon-to-be ex-partner and your children can be challenging. This may be a time when you feel extreme fear, disappointment, and anger, as you set about the task of creating your post-divorce family.

The affects on children of divorce are well documented and we know one of the best indicators of resilience in children after a divorce is the absence of conflict between their parents. As you determine what your first steps are, consider the amount of help you need to manage any conflict you may experience. The well-being of your children depends on it.

There is an array of divorce models to choose from. The models are different in how they address conflict, the involvement of professionals, and the consideration of the needs of the children. The following is a list of various models to consider as you decide what divorce option is right for you.

The Kitchen Table Divorce

Many parties can to sit down together and work out a parenting plan and financial decisions with the help of a few books and documents. NoLo Press has many books that are helpful. These parties still have enough of a relationship to collaborate without needing the help of divorce professionals. Their children are not caught in the middle of their conflict and can depend on their parents to work together on their behalf.

Mediated Divorce

Some parties opt to work with a mediator to determine how they will co-parent and decide their financial arrangements. They may opt to work with a mediating attorney for the financial decisions and a mental health mediator with an expertise in custody decisions. Often an attorney and mental health professional will team up to offer their services together. This helps in talking about the overlapping issues involved in co-parenting and financial arrangements. The parties may wish to have individual attorneys review their agreement after the mediation is completed. The impact on the children is fully discussed with the mental health mediator and incorporated into the parenting plan document.

Collaborative Divorce

This model was developed to explicitly help keep divorcing couples out of court. It is designed to be a transparent process predicated on the idea that the parties work with a team of professionals (attorneys, mental health, and financial specialists) to determine their post-divorce parenting and financial goals while working towards achieving them with a win-win frame of mind. Should either party decide to bring their differences to court, the team discontinues working with them, including their attorneys. The children, too, have a voice in this process as most teams include a child specialist to meet with the children and have their thoughts and feelings represented in the process. While children do not need the burden of deciding anything about their living arrangements, they benefit from feeling they are heard.

Court-Based Divorce

This may be the model most people are familiar with. Each party retains their own attorney, they work at making decisions through 4-way meetings with both attorneys and both parties. The information and positions regarding custody and financial arrangements are exchanged through paperwork. Within this model there are opportunities to work with a court mediator (usually 1.5-2 hours) or private mediator to try to resolve differences. In some states, and in some counties within those states, the mediator may be asked to make recommendations if the parties do not come to an agreement regarding the parenting plan. If needed, the recommending mediators might also meet with the children to help them offer the most appropriate custodial plan.

Litigated Divorce
In some cases, the above court-based model does not help the parties reach resolution and may then moved to trial wherein a judge determines the final outcome. This may happen if there is substance abuse, domestic violence, one parent wanting to move away, etc.

This is a brief thumbnail sketch of the available choices and may not be representative or exhaustive from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Please consult a mental health professional with expertise in divorce or a family law attorney in your area.

© Copyright 2009 by Shendl Tuchman, PsyD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Elizabeth R

    December 22nd, 2009 at 6:09 PM

    That was an enlightening article Shendl! Thanks for the information. I wasn’t aware that there were so many alternatives. What’s the main difference between a mediated and collaborative divorce? They both offer attorneys and MH professionals.

  • Fletcher

    December 22nd, 2009 at 6:14 PM

    Elizabeth: Is it the involvement of the Child Specialist in the Collaborative approach that differentiates them perhaps? That’s how I read it.

  • Yolanda

    December 22nd, 2009 at 6:35 PM

    I don’t understand why any couple that can sit down together and do the Kitchen Table Divorce are getting divorced! If you can be that civilized about ending your marriage, can you not work together enough to save it?

  • Neil

    December 22nd, 2009 at 7:30 PM

    Couples fall out of love just the same as they fall in love. You can’t prevent that from happening. The Kitchen Table couples could already had been to marriage counseling and therapy and examined their relationship in depth. However you can’t make a person that’s fallen out of love with you, fall in love with you again. If they can’t get that loving feeling back, why stay together?

  • Gabriel

    December 22nd, 2009 at 8:02 PM

    I think the most loving thing you can do in a relationship, when only you want it to continue and not both of you, is set your partner free of it. Partners and spouses can simply outgrow each other.

  • Philip

    December 22nd, 2009 at 8:38 PM

    It would be interesting to know what percentage of divorcing couples fall into which category. I’d wager that several are in the “I’ll see you in court” category. With divorce comes bitterness and dramatics on at least one party’s side. Up the odds by having kids thrown into the mix, and the claws come out. We talk about kids playing adults off against each other? Until you or a close friend’s been through a divorce, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Only this time the roles are reversed.

  • wendy

    December 22nd, 2009 at 10:10 PM

    There is not only the emotional dimension to a divoce but also the physical one…learning to live away from your partner and also the property and other things can cause a dispute…it is a time of immense mental stress.

  • Marsh F.

    December 23rd, 2009 at 1:56 AM

    A divorce is a stressful time for both the partners, no doubt about it. But people must try and get through the process peacefully and in an organized manner. It will save them and the other person from a lot of stress and agony.

  • Kallie

    December 23rd, 2009 at 5:57 AM

    My parents stayed in the marriage for the kids. I can’t tell you how much happier I would have been as a child if they would have just gotten a divorce sooner.

  • Shendl Tuchman

    December 27th, 2009 at 11:03 AM

    Happy Holidays everyone. Thank you all for the comments on my article. I’m glad it generated some discussion.

    One of the big differences I see between mediated divorces and collaborative divorces occurs in the discussion process. In a mediated divorce, the parties take positions, expound on the reasons their idea is best and rely on the mediator, attorney or MHP to get them to a place they can both live with. When working with a recommending mediator, the parties may never come to an agreement and the mediator will write up their observations, letting the court know their ideas about what is best for the children. In the collaborative model, the parties are guided in an effort to have a mutual goal and to explore many possible scenarios that will help them to achieve that goal. The process is managed by the team. The content is determined by the parties. It is sometimes likened to the collaborative team being the crew of an airplane. They know how to get you where you are going, you have to decide your destination.

    The role of the Child Specialist is a difference as well. The collaborative process offers the most connection to the children. It certainly isn’t completely absent in all the other models.

    While I don’t know the statistics on this, it is my understanding that many people have kitchen table divorces, many more than we might think. People end their marriages or relationships for many reasons. Often the reasons are mutual and their concern for their children is respectful. For obvious reasons, I don’t see many of these people. Sometimes someone will want to have individual therapy to help make the transition to the next part of their life.

  • Elizabeth R

    December 31st, 2009 at 8:33 PM

    I appreciate you taking the time to add further clarification, Shendl. Thank you for that! I don’t think divorce is ever easy, even the most amicable ones.

  • Rosalee

    December 31st, 2009 at 9:02 PM

    I wanted my divorce badly and was the one that filed. I felt a loss when I got it. Is that strange? I wanted out. My husband was an alcoholic in the second half of our marriage. He never stopped drinking. Yet once the divorce finally came through, I was upset. I don’t understand why. Is that common?

  • Ginger

    December 31st, 2009 at 9:20 PM

    All these divorces happen when you give in at the slightest bump in the road. Y’all want out now as fast as you want in. Try working at it! I was married a long time because I wasn’t expecting my man to fall at my feet.

  • donna ferber, lpc, ladc

    January 2nd, 2010 at 6:10 AM

    One of the most difficult things you will ever have to do as a parent is tell your children that their parents are breaking up. It is important that you shift your focus from your loss to your children’s loss. Divorce is about the dissolution of a husband-wife relationship. It marks a change in the parent-child relationship. Awareness of this difference will support you in supporting your children. In talking with your children, stay focused on their feelings about this experience. If you focus on the spousal relationship, your own feelings may get in the way of good parenting.

    Here are some tips for explaining the divorce to your children:

    • If possible, both parents should be present. This illustrates to the children that you will still be able to co-parent.
    • Tell them close to the time that one of the parents is planning to move out. Telling them months in advance doesn’t “prepare them.” It only makes them anxious and worried.
    • Tell them calmly.
    • Keep it age appropriate. Don’t give them information that is over their heads.
    • Keep it short and sweet.
    • Explain that divorce is between the adults and that parents do not divorce children.
    • Ask for questions. Answer honesty with age-appropriate information. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that. When I do, I will tell you.”
    • You don’t tell your children about marital issues, like your sex life or money problems. The details of divorce should also stay between the two of you.
    • Explain to your children the ways the divorce will affect them directly, i.e., will you move, will they stay in the same schools, and so on.
    • Remember that divorce begins for the children the day the living situation changes. On the day one parent leaves, that is the day their parents’ marriage ends.
    • Let your children cry if they need to. It is important to let them grieve.
    • Reassure them that you will not leave them, even if you are angry (which is some children’s biggest fear).
    • Reassure them that you will always love them.
    • Notify their teachers, scout leaders, karate instructor and anyone else who has contact with your child, so they can be aware of and sensitive to your child’s needs.
    • Be prepared for any and all reactions from, “that’s too bad, what’s for dinner?” to crying and yelling. Stay calm and be reassuring.
    • Remember your children will be as healthy about this as you are. They will take their cues from you.
    • Continue to talk with your children about the process. One conversation is only the introduction. As uncomfortable as this may be for you, your children need your guidance and support.

    Remember , when you tell your children that their parents are divorcing, focus on their needs. Keep your feelings and thoughts about your spouse to yourself.
    Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC
    Author-From Ex-wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce”

  • mike

    April 12th, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    I read a book by David Xzenre on amazon that helped a lot. In fact i think it stopped my divorce! I know it changed my marriage forever….

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