How to Help a Loved One Through a Divorce

November 26, 2019

The ending of anyone’s marriage often has far-reaching ripple effects and it’s difficult to know how to support a loved one without getting too involved or picking sides. Although the road to divorce is well-traveled, the stages of divorce most individuals experience are rarely well understood.

There is a relatively predictable pattern of emotional responses that people feel when something unexpected happens with the acronym of SARA: Shock – Anger – Resentment – Acceptance. While you would expect the divorcing couple to feel these stages intensely, don’t be surprised if you feel some of them as well. Here is what your friend is likely to experience at every phase and how to support them: 

SHOCK – Readiness 

It is common for both spouses, as well as family and friends, to consciously or unconsciously feel shocked that the marriage is not working out – even if there had been a lot of well-known problems. The best way you can help a friend is likely to just be a sounding board. To have the healthiest restructuring of their family, they will benefit from reflecting on what they really, really want and why. Divorce is an evolution and their needs and wants may change as they move through the process. Encourage them to open accounts in their own name, order a credit report and review our readiness checklist.

ANGER – Resourcing

As the shock starts to wear off, anger may set in. This is often painful but necessary to move forward. While it may be tempting to give your friend advice, giving them resources is likely the best way to help. No two divorces are the same and it’s important to keep in mind that divorce is truly a lawsuit. No matter how close you are, there are likely family and financial details that will impact their case that they haven’t shared with you. They will benefit from understanding the pros and cons of the different divorce processes. In addition to your help as key emotional support, they will need to hire an attorney and potentially other professionals such as a mediator, therapist, child specialist, financial expert and/or divorce coach.


As the couple negotiates their asset split, sharing of income and parental responsibilities, the full reality starts to set in. It’s common for new information to come out that shocks one of the spouses, and potentially you and other loved ones as well. This creates new cycles of anger and resentment that must be acknowledged and processed to create a healthy future. To gain acceptance along with a settlement they won’t regret, your friend needs to avoid making decisions when they are in the shock phase or too deep into the anger or resentment phases.

The most important decision will be whether to settle or continue negotiations. It is critical your friend understands the legal and financial ramifications of everything in their proposed Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) before signing. BDF’s SettleSmart SM analysis can help them gain confidence in settling their case at the appropriate time. Helping them protect hope on the darkest days will be the best support you can give them.

ACCEPTANCE – Reimagining & Reinforcement

As the divorce finish line comes on the horizon, acceptance and excitement can lead to imagining a new future. It will still be hectic as they separate their physical and financial lives. An experienced Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) can ensure all the tax and financial issues are addressed and create their new strategy to provide the cash flow and growth needed to fund their next chapter. You can encourage them to take some time for a “Decision-Free Zone” giving themselves space to settle into all the changes they decided on during the process.

Divorce is a roller coaster of conflicting, but not mutually exclusive, emotions for most involved. While it often feels like an uncontrollable process, understanding each phase helps everyone involved feel like they are more in control. The best way you can help your friends is your understanding, support and connecting them with the right resources.

Our BDF Divorce Practice Group is experienced at helping divorcing women and men hire the right attorney, decide when is the appropriate time to settle and separate their assets to minimize the cost, complexity and collateral damage from divorce. Please contact your wealth manager or email for a copy of our roadmap to help those you care about who are affected by divorce.

A wealth manager and owner at BDF, Heather L. Locus, CPA, CFP®, CDFA® founded our Women’s Service Team and leads our Divorce Practice Group.  She loves solving complex problems by balancing the financial and emotional components with tax and legal issues. Heather educates women and men on how to transition through new phases of life with confidence and peace of mind. She authored The Next Chapter: A Practical Roadmap for Navigating Through, and Beyond, Divorce and you can read her latest divorce tips at Forbes. She has been named one of the Best-In-State Wealth Advisors by Forbes, a Five Star Wealth Manager according to Chicago Magazine and was named a Top 200 Wealth Advisor Mom by Working Mother.