Divorce counseling is designed to help couples navigate their divorce as amicably as possible and can help people who have recently decided to divorce (pre-divorce counseling) or are already divorced (post-divorce counseling). Divorce counseling will typically cost between $100-$250 per session (which is similar to the cost of marriage counseling). In most cases, divorce counseling is not covered by health insurance.
What Is Divorce Counseling?
Divorce counseling is a process to help you navigate your emotions surrounding divorce and learn to constructively manage conflict. It can be done with individuals or couples. In general, divorce brings up a lot of painful feelings for both parties and being able to process these emotions can help you heal more quickly and develop a healthier post-divorce relationship with your (ex)-partner.
Divorce requires communication to figure out logistics of finances, schedules, children, friends, extended family, etc. Many couples didn’t have healthy communication skills in the marriage to begin with, and divorce makes communication even harder. Counseling can provide you with the skills you need to navigate difficult discussions and decisions effectively.
“When both people in a relationship agree they’d like help navigating a divorce, divorce counseling can be helpful, says Charlotte Howard, Ph.D. “It is especially useful when kids are involved so that parents can handle the divorce in a way that minimizes suffering for their children.”
Pre-Divorce Counseling & Post-Divorce Counseling
Pre-divorce counseling (also called discernment counseling) occurs before a divorce has been finalized or agreed to. It can help a couple determine if divorce is the right decision, and/or navigate the beginning stages after the decision has been made. If you have children, it is especially important that you talk to your kids about the divorce together, and work through your separation as respectfully and amicably as possible to minimize the negative impact on the kids.
Post-divorce counseling occurs after a divorce has been finalized. It can help you navigate ongoing concerns and conflicts about the children, schedules, finances, etc. It can also help you handle any difficult emotions that surface following the divorce, like a post-divorce depression. Counseling can even help you develop the tools to help your children cope. The reality is that conflict and hurt feelings don’t go away after a divorce is finalized. It’s important to manage this transition and the accompanying emotions to the best of your ability, and post-divorce counseling can help
What Can Divorce Counseling Help With?
Divorce counseling can help you navigate the different stages of divorce, provide a safe place for you and your family to share and process your emotions, provide insight into what went wrong in the marriage, and teach you healthy coping and communication skills.
Here are examples of how divorce counseling can you help:
1. Help You Through the Stages of the Divorce
According to Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, there are five stages of grief/loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Most people will experience some (if not all) of these stages during a divorce, as divorce is a major loss.2 Divorce counseling can help you process and navigate these emotional stages.
There are logistical stages of divorce, too. These include the decision to divorce, legally separating, the divorce itself, and your life post-divorce, including getting over your former partner or dating again. Each of these steps brings its own challenges that a divorce therapist can help you move through.
2. Provide a Safe Space for the Whole Family to Share
Divorce impacts the entire family, including children and extended family. People’s emotional reactions may vary, but everyone will need to process. Being able to process these emotions and the impact of the divorce together can help the healing process, particularly for children.
Children need someone they feel comfortable sharing their emotions with; however, during divorce, it can be difficult for them to share with their parents. A neutral, compassionate party can help kids feel more comfortable expressing themselves.
Plus, even the most well-meaning parents can miss the depth or extent of their child’s pain, and a divorce therapist can also help them listen to and hear their children. Counseling also helps ensure that you stay connected to each other, despite any challenges.
3. Provide Insight Into What Went Wrong
When we have relationship difficulties, it’s easy to slip into what Fritz Heider calls the Fundamental Attribution Error. In other words, it becomes easy to see our positive qualities and more difficult to see the good in our partner. In the reverse, it becomes easier to see the negative qualities of our partner, and more difficult to see our negative attributes.2
This way of thinking is inaccurate and will keep you and your partner stuck in a war about who was “right” and who caused the most damage. If you get stuck in that conflict, your divorce process will be full of animosity and bitterness, which will negatively impact everyone involved.
Divorce is never just one person’s fault, and divorce counseling can help you see that. Having clarity about your role and responsibility in the ending of the marriage is the first step toward forgiving your partner and yourself, which is necessary to heal. It will also set you up for better success in future relationships, if/when you decide to take that step.
4. Help You Develop Coping Skills
Divorce is ranked as the second most stressful life event, after losing a loved one.3 That means that it’s imperative to develop and implement healthy coping skills. It’s common for people to want to turn to things that provide more immediate relief, like alcohol, but unhealthy coping mechanisms will actually exacerbate stress.
A divorce therapist can help you identify healthy coping skills that will ease your stress. These may include things like exercise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and engaging in pleasurable activities. It isn’t easy to implement these skills when you’re in a low place, but a divorce therapist can help you stay on track.
5. Help You Develop Communication Skills
Effective communication skills are important for any relationship, but they’re especially important if you’re going through a divorce and have children. You and your (ex) spouse will have to maintain an ongoing relationship in order to successfully co-parent. Plus, it’s good for children to see their parents develop a new, healthier relationship as co-parents.
A lot of people don’t have great role models for what healthy communication looks like, and it’s hard to implement something you’ve never been taught. A divorce therapist can help you learn these tools and skills so you can move toward developing the co-parenting relationship your family deserves. If you feel like this is a sore point for your family, you might also want to consider co-parenting counseling.
How Will I Know If I Need Divorce Counseling?
If the divorce is impacting your mental and/or emotional well-being to the point that you are unable to be present or complete important tasks, then you may need to seek professional help from a divorce therapist.
Here are nine signs that you may benefit from divorce counseling:
- Changes in your sleeping habits
- Decreased interest in things that usually bring you pleasure
- Decreased energy and motivation, making it difficult to complete tasks
- Difficulty focusing and being present
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Thoughts of harming yourself
- Significant changes in mood (including an increase in anger, depression, and anxiety)
- Feelings of self-loathing
- Feeling like you’re a disappointment
- Thinking you’re not worthy of love or happiness
- Career or education goals are being negatively impacted
It may also be a good time to seek the help of a divorce therapist if you and your (ex)-spouse are struggling to come to agreements or experiencing an increase in conflict. This is especially true if it’s impacting your children’s emotional health.
How Much Does Divorce Counseling Cost?
The cost of divorce counseling depends on two different things: 1) whether you’re seeking divorce counseling individually or with your (ex)-partner, and 2) whether or not you have insurance.
If you’re seeking divorce counseling individually to help you heal from loss and grief, you’ll be paying the price of individual therapy sessions. Insurance typically covers individual therapy as long as your provider can identify a mental health condition they will be treating, such as depression or an adjustment disorder.
If you see a provider that accepts your insurance, the cost of the session will be the price of your co-pay, which ranges from $10-$50 on average. If, however, you do not have insurance or choose to see a provider out-of-network, the cost will range from $75-$150, with the typical cost of an individual therapy session being around $100.
If you’re seeking divorce counseling with your (ex)-partner, insurance will not cover it in most cases, so you’ll be paying out of pocket. This is because insurance only pays for the treatment of medical diagnoses. You can expect to pay the same amount for divorce counseling as you would for marriage counseling, meaning it will range from $100-$250 per session, with a typical cost of $150 per session.
You may be able to locate a provider that offers a sliding scale fee. Regardless, remember that although an additional expense during a divorce can be difficult, it’s often worth the money to improve the family’s emotional and mental well-being.
How to Find a Divorce Therapist
If you decide to move forward with divorce counseling, the next step is to locate a provider who is a good fit. First, try asking trusted friends or family members if they have any recommendations for marriage and family therapists or counselors focused on individual therapy. Another option is to ask a trusted professional (e.g., primary care physician). You can also search a directory of therapists that breaks down a list of providers based on location, cost, expertise, etc. The important thing is to choose a therapist you’re comfortable with and who you feel you can be vulnerable with.
What to Expect at Your First Session
Before treatment, all therapy begins with an assessment period. If you’re seeking divorce counseling as an individual, expect the therapist to spend the first session getting to know you, sharing necessary paperwork, and exploring your goals. They should also share information about themselves and let you ask questions. Before concluding, you’ll discuss next steps. If you’re seeking divorce counseling with your (ex)-partner, expect a similar process.
Final Thoughts on Divorce Counseling
If you’re going through a divorce, whether it’s a new decision or you’re already far along in the process, divorce counseling can help you process, heal, and move onto the next stage in your life.
Divorce Counseling Infographics