I have often thought that there should a mental health category called traumatic divorce syndrome. Divorce does not have to be traumatic, but there are losses that disrupt much of what we all value as as part of our family lives. Here are what I hear from clients as the top five things that cause emotional trauma and distress.
1. Sudden move out without notice. You go to work just as you do every day and when you come home, half of the furniture is missing, your bed is missing, you can’t find any cooking gear, and all of your favorite artwork is missing. There is dirt and debris all over the floor. Many people feel as if they have been robbed. The unexpectedness and randomness of the removal of personal belongings sometimes as the same emotional impact as if you had been invaded. From a legal perspective, there is very little, if any remedy, other than to start discussing what items you want back, and what items you want to trade. This is only stuff. Grieve it if you need to, but don’t let property affect your emotional stability.
2. Sudden removal of children without any knowledge of where they are, or having any schedule to have contact. Unfortunately, when emotions are running high, getting a stable parenting schedule BEFORE a change is not always possible. Take a deep breath, and talk to your lawyer about how to establish a regular schedule that is legally enforceable as soon as possible.
3. Divorce planning. It is really upsetting to people to know that their spouse spoke with a lawyer to plan for the right time to leave, to have the paperwork ready, and how to initiate the separation process. From a logical standpoint, every separation and divorce has some degree of planning, because it is such a big move. When this is emotionally upsetting, it isn’t really that there was planning done, it is that the person who is hit with the fact of divorce all at once has not had the same amount of time to process emotionally, and may need time to emotionally deal with what has happened. If you need time to process, then take the time to process. There is no benefit to rushing the divorce process fastere than you are ready to proceed. On the other hand, you can generally only stall as long as there is not a trial date, at which time a judge will go to the end result for you and your spouse.
4. Having a restraining order for domestic violence filed against you. If there is genuine domestic violence, this is what should be considered appropriate consequences. I had a client upset at having a restraining order filed against him, when he didn’t feel it was justified. When I asked him what happened, he told me that he just shot at her with a gun but just intended to scare not hurt. Well, too bad, there are consequences. However, if it is just an argument, and both sides are pushing each other back and forth, having a restraining filed against you can feel like an accusation of being a violent person, when that isn’t who you are. It can be relatively easy to get a restraining order, depending on how someone tells the story. It is not always as easy to keep the restraining order in place, if all of the facts are brought out.
5. Supervised parenting time. Supervised parenting time is reluctantly ordered by the court, and usually for strong safety concerns. If you have supervised parenting time, you probably need to think about why it has been ordered, and what needs to be done to change it. It is a strong stigma.
Ultimately, you choose how you want to deal with divorce traumas. You can decide to address the issues and make this an opportunity for personal growth, or you can not deal with the issues, and be triggered by emotional residue for years to come. Hopefully, you will choose to process the trauma and move forward in a healthier manner!