Etiquette of Divorce

Whether we realize it or not, a good part of our day involves rules of etiquette relating to many minute occurrences. At the cash register at the market, we don’t cut in line. When we place a phone call, we politely introduce ourselves. And for most of us, it’s elbows off the table during dinnertime.

Rules may vary according to culture, but they exist for all types of matters, from how to choose a leader to individual rights. Whether these rules are implied or written, their purpose is to help people get along and create a standard by which to live harmoniously.

With close to half of the marriages in the U.S. ending in divorce, it should come as no surprise that there are rules of behavior during the divorce process. Divorce etiquette matters.

Why Have Divorce Etiquette?

People enter marriage with a great deal of hope of an ever-after happy life. When dreams meet reality, it can be painful. At the same time, there are finances and children’s lives at stake. Certain rules of behavior can help us maneuver the tricky path of splitting up. Divorce is rarely straightforward, and a bit of courtesy can help both parties involved.

Much of the negative behavior that emerges during the divorce process is caused by hurt, bitterness, and anger. Seeing one’s dreams go up in smoke is difficult – and is precisely why rules of behavior come in handy during such trying times.

How do Couples React during the Divorce Process?

Divorce does bring out the worst in some people. They can fight about anything:

  1. How to divide up the wedding presents.
  2. Who gets custody and visitation rights for the dog.
  3. Who gets that old sofa?
  4. Who keeps the mutual friends.
  5. Who takes the kids to sports practice.

Most of the time, the answer is logical, but two bitter people don’t always act reasonably. While most arguments will involve money, pettiness can reduce an argument to who keeps the blender (even though neither party has used it in over a year). And, again, that is why certain rules can guide their behavior. Custody and support of children are also hot topics.

A neutral party, such as a mediator or divorce lawyer, can help cool some of the anger.

Help With Etiquette

Even if both parties have agreed to split, marital counseling can still have tremendous benefits. It can keep the divorce from going off track with pettiness and keep the focus on what really matters. There is a chance that one of the spouses was caught off-guard by the divorce and is having difficulty handling the process. A discussion with a marriage counselor can help that person see what problems existed and for how long. A marriage counselor provides the opportunity to talk and clarify things that have been left unsaid.

How to Tell the Children

If there are children involved, talking to them becomes a big part of the divorce. Proper rules and etiquette make it clear that both parents should speak with the children and provide the necessary comfort. Whatever the rules for talking to the kids, number one should be to never badmouth the other parent, regardless of whether it is deserved or not. Children should never be made to feel that the other parent doesn’t love them anymore or that the split is their fault.

The children’s main interest will most likely be how the divorce will affect them directly, so that should be the parents’ focus.

Separation – Otherwise known as the Purgatory Before the Divorce

It is during the separation period that couples need to discuss their finances and children. While they may not agree on some or many issues, it is important to keep the discussions polite and civilized instead of letting emotion run amok. An excellent rule of etiquette is that respect is not just for those with whom we get along – it becomes particularly important when we are dealing with people with whom we are having problems.

When discussing the division of assets and child support, more than likely both parties will feel cheated. The dispute, or discussions, can continue for weeks and months. Bitter behavior can raise its ugly head when one party delays payment to the other or continues to legally dispute an arrangement out of simple spite – such as who gets the dog. A divorce counselor can help keep the issues focused.

Rules Following the Divorce

Once the court has approved a child custody agreement, both parents are obliged to follow court orders. However, good etiquette requires that parents allow for extenuating circumstances. If the non-custodial parent will be out of town on an important matter during a mandated child visit, the custodial parent can make allowances and be flexible. There are no rules that say it is necessary, but it is good manners to help people get along – which is the basic definition of etiquette.

Telling Friends and Family

In addition to telling the children about the divorce, sooner or later family and friends will need to hear the news. Perhaps the best time to tell them is when they extend an invitation involving both of you. Your response can be, “Thanks, but our situation has changed, and Bill/Susie and I are no longer together.” If others ask personal questions, it is okay to say, “I am not prepared to discuss this yet, but thanks for your concern.”

When it comes to the office, the only information that needs to be shared is insurance information or an anticipated name change with the relevant person, and perhaps one’s immediate boss. Otherwise, cubicle silence can be golden.


Proper etiquette is important. But what is it? It is not about which fork to use or how to hold a wine glass. Etiquette is about manners and how we treat other people. Most of us already treat our friends and family reasonably well, so etiquette is most needed when we deal with people whom we are not too fond of at the moment.

Etiquette is about putting someone else at ease and showing kindness. This may not be easy to do when dealing with an about-to-be-ex-spouse but rising above the anger and bitterness shows respect. The kind of respect we have for ourselves.

The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.

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