The Way In Which Individuals Respond To Losses Relating To Divorce

Posted By Pasadena Family Law Attorney || 12-Jul-2010

My last Blog entitled, "Emotions Play an Integral Role in Divorce Proceedings and Therefore Must be Understood by the Attorney" explained that "the emotional impact of a divorce is as severe as that of a death in the immediate family" and that "most of the literature on the psychology of divorce treats divorce as the death of a relationship." At the conclusion of that Blog, I stated, "It is horrific that 'both our court system and our culture at large' encourage people to make the most important decisions relating to the dissolution of their marriage, including but not limited to selecting an attorney to represent them, at a time when they are most vulnerable to making major decisions that they will later regret. Yet, when people are grief stricken following the death of a spouse, they are advised to 'try and avoid making major decisions at least for the first year following the loss.'"

After I released that Blog, a family law colleague of mine in New York advised me of information he had learned at Continuing Education Course entitled, "Stress and Sanity in Everyday Practice." A "Stress Assessment" was provided by a psychiatrist and based upon the Homes and Rahe Life Change score. Although it was established in the 1960's/70's, that Life Change score is still validated by most mental health experts. The "Top 10 List" for adults is as follows:

10. Retirement (45)
9. Marital Reconciliation (45)
8. Fired at Work (47)
7. Marriage (50)
6. Personal injury or illness (53)
5. Death of a close family member 63)
4. Jail term (63)
3. Marital separation (65)
2. Divorce (73) [the score is 90 for non-adults]
1. Death of a spouse (100)

As can be plainly seen, the stress of a divorce comes second only to the death of a spouse. Moreover, as mentioned in my last Blog, "when it comes to divorce, certain aspects of loss become slightly magnified." In other words, the manner in which people process and manage the stress/loss caused by a divorce is more destructive to themselves and others because they are able to act out against the other person who was involved in that relationship. The following are some examples "of the losses that are part of a divorce: loss of companionship, loss of financial security, loss of a sexual relationship, loss of time with children, loss of an extended family, loss of status as a married person, loss of self-esteem, loss of friends, etc."

The way in which individuals respond to loss is influenced by personality, family, culture, and spiritual and religious beliefs and practices. The difference in the way society treats the grief from the death of a close family member and from divorce is exemplified by the fact that the United States Department of Health and Human Services - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's website refers to grief as something that occurs "after a death or loss" and all of the organizations it lists which provide "information and support for coping with grief" deal with grief stemming from the death of a close family member.

If interested, a person can easily find a support group to help cope with the loss and grief caused by the death of a loved one. Such groups can be found in local newspapers, through friends and family, mental health care professionals, funeral directors and through an internet search. What is disappointing to me is not the fact that the Homes and Rahe Life Change score has been around and accepted since the 1960's/70's, but that nothing has been done to alter the way in which people are encouraged to handle the grief resulting from the death of a marriage (or a non-marital relationship involving parents).

How often does a friend or family member refer a person going through a divorce to a support group or to a mental health care professional to help the person cope with the loss and grief caused by the death of their marriage? Instead, we encourage people going through such losses to handle their loss and grief in destructive ways by going to war with each other in the courtroom (the family law court).

We should keep in mind that a family is defined as "a fundamental social group in society typically consisting of one or two parents and their children." Unless I am missing something, the family still exists even after the marriage ends. It is the year 2010 and we still cannot grasp that very simple fact. How much collateral damage must we cause each other, our children and society as a whole just because a marriage is ending? What type of familial relationship is left behind, even though it often still consists of "two parents and their children"? I know one thing for certain. Whatever grief counseling or grief therapy the members of those families could have used before they created this type of collateral damage was minimal compared with the type of mental health care they require after causing such destruction. Unfortunately, most people do not seek out such care and could not afford it any longer because they transferred their financial resources to their attorneys who encouraged such behavior. We are certainly a very enlightened society, aren't we?