What are the 4 Elements of Divorce?

What are the 4 Elements of Divorce? by Susan Ingram

{3:30 minutes to read} When most people are going through a divorce they don’t think about the various elements that come into play during this difficult process. They are often overwhelmed with emotions (anger, resentment and sadness, among them) that come up during this extremely difficult time of their lives. They often become stuck in the disputed details of their lives, and are unable to see the Big Picture of what is in play and thus understand the essential interaction between the 4 elements of divorce. Those elements are:

The Legal Divorce

This term refers to the legal framework for divorcing. State laws dictate the issues that must be resolved when a couple is divorcing, such as the division of their assets and the payment of child support.

Under the law, a divorce is either contested or uncontested. An uncontested divorce is obviously preferable if a couple can discuss and resolve their differences without having to litigate and hand over the decision-making to a judge.

The Financial Divorce

This element refers to all of the money-related aspects of a couple’s lives that have to be separated and resolved now that the couple is divorcing. That means that the couple needs to share and discuss all information regarding their marital assets and liabilities.

Assets can include their home, bank and investment accounts, and retirement plans. Liabilities can include monies that are owed, including the mortgage or other loans on their home and credit card debt.

The Children’s Divorce

If a couple has children, all issues related to the children need to be discussed and resolved. This includes money-related issues such as basic child support payments (food, shelter and clothing for the kids) and extra expenses for the children (all other expenses, including childcare, unreimbursed medical expenses, tutoring and extracurricular expenses).

And, of course, all issues related to parenting arrangements need to be worked out by the couple. This includes parenting plans detailing when each of the parents will have the children on weekdays, weekends, holidays, and vacations. The “best interests of the children” is the standard applied to these decisions.

The Emotional Divorce

The emotional aspect of divorce is often the most challenging. I refer to it as the “emotional umbrella” that is positioned above all 3 elements and has a profound impact upon each. Both parties are dealing with their own anger, disappointment and sadness, often in varying degrees and at different times in the process.

In many cases, there are ways in which these emotional factors can be addressed and worked with – so that a couple learns to communicate and negotiate with each other on a more constructive basis.

I will go into further detail on this last point in my next blog. So stay tuned!

One response on “What are the 4 Elements of Divorce?

  1. Bob Ciampi, LCSW

    Hi Susan,

    I am a therapist in New Jersey and I see couples in my private practice. I agree with your elements of divorce”, but I would add one more – the Spiritual Divorce. As couples go through the divorce process, I have worked with clients who feel lost and begin to question not only why the divorce happened, but they have questions about themselves, their identity, and a “who am I now?” mindset if they identified as a couple and now find themselves single. Also, divorce is a loss; the loss of a marriage which can develop into depression that is associated with any loss. Loss of identity, loss of the marriage, and a sense of questioning ones self can be pronounced in a Spiritual Divorce.

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