When to See a Divorce Therapist

Updated April 10, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
"Divorce can happen to anyone, and it doesn’t mean that you failed. There are several reasons why couples divorce, but one thing is always the same; it’s a new beginning. A Divorce therapist is a wonderful way to get started in your new beginning! They are unbiased and prepared to help you make the most out of your new life. Be ready to start living the life you have dreamed of!"
- Dr. Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPCC

Finding a divorce completely free from stress, upheaval, and intense emotions is rare. Divorcing is a major life change. The skills couples need to navigate such a change successfully are the same as those required to successfully navigate a marriage. If the marriage is over, both partners will likely have trouble working together toward a constructive divorce. One or both partners may also need help recovering individually. Divorce therapy can help mitigate the negative effects associated with the divorce process by leveraging the expertise of a therapist.

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Are you uncertain about your divorce?

How does divorce therapy work?

Divorce therapy can be structured in several ways. You and your partner may decide to seek marital therapy and, in the process of marital therapy, decide to transition to divorce therapy. You and your soon-to-be ex might have already decided to divorce but are choosing to use a divorce therapist to keep things amicable. You can also visit a divorce therapist individually to help unpack your marriage and navigate the divorce process's emotions.

Those who attend divorce therapy often work on these common issues, either together or individually:

  • Post-marital communication
  • Financial arrangements
  • Division of household chores and duties
  • Transitioning to new living arrangements
  • Child-rearing and custody disagreements
  • Intimacy problems
  • Healing from a traumatic relationship
  • Grief over the loss of a relationship or family role
  • Planning for the future

From marital therapy to divorce therapy

Sometimes, the line between divorce and marital therapy can be blurry and indistinct. Many spouses who attend marital therapy with their partner have already considered divorce. Often, one spouse is against divorce, and one spouse is ready to commit to the decision to separate.

A skilled therapist can help the couple break down the factors driving their feelings about their marriage.

If you and your spouse have not yet committed to divorcing, or if one partner wants a divorce, but the other does not, your therapist may initiate discernment counseling. Discernment counseling is designed to help spouses considering divorce reach a point of confident clarity regarding their decision.

At the end of discernment counseling, the spouses will decide on one of three options: continue the marriage with no changes, attempt to repair the relationship through marital therapy, or dissolve the marriage, perhaps utilizing divorce therapy. For couples who decide to follow through with a divorce, reaching the decision through discernment counseling is associated with a smoother divorce process overall.

Once the decision is made

Discernment counseling is not the same as divorce therapy, but it often precedes it. You and your spouse may also have initiated the divorce process without participating in marital therapy or discernment counseling. In that case, your relationship with a divorce therapist begins after the decision to end the marriage has been made. Marital therapy is not a prerequisite for divorce therapy.  

Divorce therapy is designed to help smooth troubled waters between you and your partner. If you're concerned that you and your spouse are no longer cohesive enough to engage in divorce therapy, don't worry. Divorce therapists are well-prepared to handle post-marital conflict. You and your soon-to-be former spouse are likely to benefit from the process.

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Attending divorce therapy together

If you and your spouse decide to attend divorce therapy together, the therapist will initiate the process by establishing the goals you and your former spouse would like to achieve. Many people seek a divorce therapist for general mediation of the divorce process. In mediation, the counselor helps you resolve key issues related to property, financial support, custody, and planning for the future. The focus is on enhancing practical communication between you and your partner; the therapist helps address disagreements as they arise and keeps communication productive.

Divorce therapy can also help you and your former spouse establish ground rules and new techniques for co-parenting. Most parents love their children, regardless of their feelings about their spouse. In high-conflict divorces, co-parenting strategies may be ineffective or entirely absent. If negative interactions between you and your spouse have made communication and co-parenting difficult, divorce therapy can help improve the quality of your interactions, as well as improve parent-child relationships.

You can also go beyond co-parenting and include your children in the divorce therapy process. Family therapy following divorce is an effective way to build a new family dynamic. The therapist helps you define new roles for family members and correct developmental distortions. Children are also given an opportunity to grieve the loss of an intact family healthily.

Attending divorce therapy alone

If you do not feel that you need to attend divorce therapy with your former spouse, or if they refuse to go with you, you can still participate in therapy alone. Many people attend divorce therapy solo to help them recover from the divorce or better understand their past relationship. Individual therapy can be initiated before, during, or after divorce. No matter when you seek help, the therapist will help you address your concerns and will provide coping strategies to help you manage ongoing stress.

Unlike a divorce support group, individual divorce therapy puts the focus on you and your needs. Therapy can be particularly helpful if your marriage has affected your physical or emotional health. Many people also seek therapy to prepare for their next relationship and ensure they find a partner with whom they mesh well.

Deciding to see a divorce therapist

Visiting a therapist at any stage of the divorce process is likely to be beneficial. Determining whether to initiate divorce therapy requires self-reflection and understanding your and your spouse's goals. Knowing where you are in the divorce process and honestly assessing your marriage is necessary to know what you desire for the future.

Stages of divorce

While several models have been developed to explain how spouses move through divorce, four broad stages are commonly accepted. A therapist will approach your marriage and divorce differently for each stage.

  1. The pre-divorce decision stage. In this stage, the decision to separate has not been made by either partner. Martial dissatisfaction is high, intimacy is low, and those outside of the marriage may know that the problems are serious. There may or may not have been attempts at reconciliation.

  2. The decision stage. At this point, the decision to divorce has been firmly made by one or both partners. Each spouse may experience anxiety at the prospect of separation. There may also be renewed marital intimacy for a short period. This stage ends when the decision to divorce is accepted, and conflict often renews regarding how the divorce should proceed.

  3. The transition stage. This stage is characterized by emotional recovery from the marriage. Spouses often decide the terms of the divorce during this period. Anger between spouses may increase as each experiences an upswing in self-regard.

  4. The healing stage. By now, most former spouses have begun re-stabilizing after the divorce. Interactions between spouses can be unpredictable; their ability to work together and plan constructively can come and go.

Alone or together?

The stage of your divorce and your spouse's willingness to work together cooperatively are important factors in deciding to attend divorce therapy alone or with your spouse. If your spouse is willing to attend with you and your divorce is in the first or second stage, discernment counseling will likely be helpful. Spouses in the third stage may find divorce mediation beneficial. If your spouse is willing to attend therapy with you, both you and them can avoid nasty disputes over children or assets.

Co-parenting or family therapy is often pursued in stages three and four. The decision is based on the needs of you and your former spouse. Even if the both of you are amicable and communicate well, therapy may be beneficial for addressing concerns before they arise or helping children adjust. Many people in stage four also choose to pursue individual therapy for help recovering from the marriage or divorce process.

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Are you uncertain about your divorce?

How can online therapy help?

Marital discord and divorce can be stressful and overwhelming. Visiting a therapist online can help you reduce stress and remove barriers to accessing therapy, like traveling to an office or being restricted to nearby therapists only. Online therapists use the same evidence-based techniques as traditional therapists and can offer assistance at any stage of the divorce process. You can attend with your spouse to decide if divorce is right for you, mediate the divorce process, or help address parenting issues. You can also meet with a therapist alone for help recovering from your divorce. Online therapy has been thoroughly researched and found to be just as effective as visiting a therapist in person.

Takeaway

Divorce therapy is an effective way to manage several concerns that arise during the divorce process. You can see a therapist to help decide if a divorce is necessary, to receive divorce mediation, or to develop better parenting skills. You can also attend individually to manage your own growth and feelings surrounding your divorce. How you approach divorce therapy depends on the stage of your divorce, your spouse's willingness to participate, and your individual goals for the process.

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