Divorce Advice for the First Year

divorce advice

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

From the minute a spouse says, “I want a divorce,” (or they say it to their spouse), life completely changes, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it’s really really hard. Speaking from my experience, the first year is the hardest, and then things start to get better. But I want to say this: even though it’s hard, that doesn’t mean you can’t and won’t have enjoyment in your life. In other words, it’s not all bad. There are still happy, empowering moments and lots of wonderful lessons learned. But I want to offer divorce advice for the first year that I think might help.


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Here is my divorce advice; a snapshot, or a divorce timeline with certain things that I think tend to happen starting from day one of the separation through 12 months (or four seasons.)

1. The minute your ex says, “I want a divorce,” or you say it, it’s almost surreal.

Sure, it’s been building for months, years, perhaps. You knew it was coming, but it still feels utterly shocking.  Or, maybe you had no clue it was coming. (Yet, as time goes by you begin to realize that you purposely missed all the signs because you didn’t want to see them.) The first few weeks of going through a divorce, you run on autopilot. It’s almost like you are sleep walking through life. You seriously cannot believe this is happening.

My divorce advice:

Take things day by day. Just get through the days trying to get everything done, while allowing yourself to absorb what is happening. Be sensitive to your children. Remember, they probably don’t know yet, so try to act normal and try not to cry in front of them. Crying to others or by yourself, however, is in my opinion, a good thing. Grieving is healthy and normal. Lastly, try to enjoy moments. In other words, don’t write you life off. You still deserve to have enjoyment every day, even from little things.


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2. Over the next month or so, reality starts to kick in.

There’s a pretty good chance, one or both of you will retain Lawyers, and you and your ex come to an agreement on temporary child support and other financial matters. You tell your kids (which I think if you ask most people if they were given a choice between telling the kids their parents are divorcing or being stabbed, they’d take the stabbing.)

My advice: tell the kids together. It’s the first step in showing them that you are still parents who are on the same page when it comes to them. Give them lots of hugs and kisses and talk to them A  LOT. I would suggest getting a therapist at this point, if you don’t already have one because at this point, a lot of pent up resentment is coming out and there can be a lot of anger, and you really don’t want to express it in front of the kids. Therapy is a necessary outlet.


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3. You or your ex moves out.

Now reality is really, really kicking in. This is real! If you are a man who moves out, I don’t know how you feel, but I can tell you I imagine it being gut wrenchingly sad and awful.  If you are a woman, you come home one day and all his “stuff” is gone and it is so sad, it’s nauseating. My advice: Focus on your kids. They are probably really feeling it now. It’s okay to be sad together. There’s a fine line–you don’t want to bawl your eyes out and make your kids feel like you’re not OK, but you don’t want your kids to feel like you aren’t sad about the divorce, either. So, somewhere in the middle is good.


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4. You spend time without your kids.

Another huge blow. You wake up and the house is quiet and you are alone.It’s the worst feeling in the world. If it’s a holiday, that makes it doubly worse. You start drinking wine by yourself (I did this and I would drunk dial my girlfriends and cry.) My advice: minimize drinking, use your support group (your friends) but for coffee or while working out. This is a great time to start networking for jobs, or focus on your current job.

5. You dip your toe in the dating water.

Yikes. This takes you to a new level of depression. There are no good guys (or girls) out there! Some of my dates were actually so ridiculous that they ended up as characters in my novel, “Free Gift With Purchase.” Or, you start dating a bunch of people and you love it for awhile.


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My advice: Just enjoy the company of new people. Take them for who they are. You can meet someone who you’d never want to kiss in a million years and she could end up being a close friend. You could meet someone who ends up helping you in your career. And if you are having fun with dating, great! You deserve to be happy. Just go with it.



6. You find out your ex is involved with someone.

I don’t care whose decision it is to get divorced, when you find out your ex is dating someone it’s like a punch in the stomach. My advice: I wish I had better advice, but you have to just deal with it. Let time go by and see what happens, and focus on your own love life and other great things going on in your life. And don’t think he or she found their sole mate on the first try! Things are not always as they appear.

7. You delve into the legal part of your divorce.

Court orders, lawyer fees, possibly mediation. Thinking of all that still makes me nauseous even after all these years. My divorce advice: Be patient and make sure you trust your attorney. It’s a gut feeling. You know. If you are having a bad feeling, you can switch. It’s not as difficult as you think.


The Center for Divorce Recovery


8. A year to the day he told you he wanted a divorce-or you told him.

You sit and reflect. You think about all the crying you did, all the times you consoled your kids or dealt with their behavior-acting out because of the change, you think about all the fighting and bickering you and your ex did, how much you felt his or her hatred, how many times you thought you might want him or her back, how many times you swore you hated his guts, and two days later, you remembered how much you used to love him.

You think about all the dating, partying, crazy things you might have done. But here is what (hopefully) you are thinking:

I’m in such a better place than I was at this time last year.

I have a job (or my job is going well), my kids are in a better place, not having to deal with the fighting and/or lack of love that was in their home, I’m dating someone I like (or I just don’t care about that right now), and my ex and I are civil and in a good place with each other.


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I will always remember that first year as the most difficult year of my life. But it could be the year I learned more about myself than any other.


Divorce advice:

I think when you go through a divorce, it’s empowering to realize how strong you can be when you need to. How you can think you are falling apart and then realize you are way too tough for that.  There’s a feeling of self-confidence and grace that is beyond rewarding, and it comes from rising out of a brutally difficult situation, handling it with courage, accepting what you can’t control, and having the guts to go out and grab the life you want.

Like this article? Check out, “20 Things I Wish I Could Have Told My Newly Separated Self”

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    Jackie Pilossoph

    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at: DivorcedGirlSmiling.com

    6 Responses to “Divorce Advice for the First Year”

    1. Roxanne

      I like the last part where you say it’s empowering to realize how strong you can be when you need to and that here’s a feeling of self-confidence and grace that is beyond rewarding, and it comes from rising out of a brutally difficult situation, handling it with courage, etc. I am going through an annulment. They are going to send me the answer anytime between June and December. Annulments take 1 year to 18 months until the church sends you a letter in the mail. I have not moved out but he knows I am just waiting for the answer. I was going to move to San Diego in June. That is where I have all my family but we both found out I cannot take my daughter more than 50 miles away from her dad. When I asked him, he said no. I feel a little anxiety about the financial part but I need to go through this because it’s been a living hell for several years. I just didn’t have the guts to take the step. I was married abroad so I don’t know if I can divorce in court. I don’t have a marriage certificate from California or the US. I was just married by the church in South America. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    2. Karen

      My ex left me after thirty years for the woman he had an affair with! He works with her eats with her and sleeps with her. His family is very accepting of this he no longer speaks to his children he threw us away

      • Jackie Pilossoph

        I know it’s really hard not to think this way, but he did not “throw you away.” What he did is disgusting–especially not talking to his children. But, if you look at it from the perspective that HE is the one with the issues, he did what he thought was right for him, he acted completely selfishly, and right now for him not to talk to his kids is very very confused, doesn’t that make you feel a little bit of comfort? He didn’t throw you away, he threw his life away. And I don’t know what is going to happen to him in his new relationship, but issues will come up with him–whether it’s in 2 months or 2 years and he will deeply regret not speaking to his children. Your focus needs to be on YOUR life and your kids’ lives. Try not to think about him too much, but rather how you are going to cope with this and get on the road to a better life. xoxo

    3. Ryan Dress

      This article touched me, thank you for it, Jackie. I am 3 months into a separation. My spouse was “the leaver”– we drifted apart since our child was born 4 yrs ago, but there were no affairs, no constant fighting, none of the usual awfulness, just her deciding she didn’t wanna be married (and perhaps never really did.) Which almost made it worse in some way.
      For me, it has helped to force myself to be around people, even when I don’t want to. (Joined some new clubs on meetup.com) And I’ve taken up meditation and therapy, which have helped me control the negative thoughts and gain a bit of perspective. That said, I keep thinking that “now I’m on my way to living a normal life” only to slip back into overwhelming sadness and anger, and feeling completely lost again. I think this is normal, that we zig-zag through the stages of divorce haphazardly for a while. But like the article said, after one year, I will be in a much better place. I feel that after 3 months even. Even though today has been an awful, can’t-stop-crying day, I am way better off than that first month. I have made some small steps, and those small steps will add up. Just keep waking up, keep drinking that coffee, play with your kids if you got ’em (a lifesaver!). Be kind to yourself, this isn’t easy.

      • Jackie Pilossoph

        Thank you for the message .Sounds like you are doing all the right things to the path of peace and happiness. It will come. I’m sure of it. xoxox

    4. Julie DeMicco

      Thank you so much for this post. Your website is really saving my life. It’s about a year exactly for me now, and I wish I were farther along. I have moved back to Chicago, have a new job, and my divorce is in progress, but it’s all just so hard.


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