4 steps to take if you’re having divorce second thoughts or regrets

Welcome to the second part of our expert series, with our panel of legal and psychology professionals answering your common questions around family law. (You can read part one, how to divorce a narcissist, here). This article discusses why second thoughts and regrets on divorce can happen plus what to do when they arise – before, during or after the fact.

By Esta Pinto

If you’ve been having second thoughts or regrets about separation or divorce, you’re not alone. Divorce regrets and second thoughts are all completely normal, and even to be expected. According to the Australian Divorce Transitions Project, around 22% of women and 31% of men affirm that with hindsight, they wouldn’t have separated. On the other side of the coin, regrets about staying married are equally as real. (Source: Quora). 

With that in mind, our dedicated team of lawyers and an industry-leading Clinical Psychologist gave us some friendly, holistic advice on what to do next if you’re experiencing second thoughts on divorce. Whether you’ve been thinking about separation, you’ve applied for a divorce, you’re well into divorce proceedings or the divorce has been finalised, read on to learn more.

Featuring professional advice from:

Firstly, why do people have second thoughts about divorce?

Divorce regrets and second thoughts pensive man sitting in park pondering

In her experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Colleen Respondek explains why she’s seen these thoughts occur amongst clients and reveals some typical reasons for having them.

“After a period of time, the person could find that they miss their partner and the life they had, and practical and financial problems may be mounting. Sometimes, people who have taken the initial steps to separate may reconsider after having time to reflect. For example, the couple may have separated due to an affair, addiction, or other indiscretion, and then later decide ‘I can forgive this because I still really love that person,’ she shares.

“Sometimes the ex-partner will find a new relationship and the other person may suddenly have second thoughts, desperately wanting their ex-partner back. While this can sometimes work, care should be taken that a resumption of the relationship is for the right reasons.”

Colleen continues. “I think it’s like a lot of things. If people find that there’s many many problems and hardships that they face as a result of the divorce, they may have second thoughts. Simply because they didn’t realise it was going to be so difficult. They didn’t realise that life would change so much.” 

“But it is very normal and common for people to have second thoughts about divorce and separation because it’s such a major decision and there are usually pros and cons for every divorce,” she adds.

4 steps to take if you’re having second thoughts or regrets on divorce proceedings

So should you act on these thoughts? If yes, then what’s the most pragmatic approach? We’ve narrowed down some potential next steps you could consider taking, based on the advice of our expert panel.

1. Think about the “why”

Every relationship is different and as such, the reason for each person to reconsider their separation will be unique. 

Associate, Stacey Ward, shares wisdom. “I encourage clients to think about the reasons why they are having second thoughts. Is it for the children? Is it because they are scared of the unknown and the big changes? Also whether they think the reasons for their wanting to separate in the first instance have, or are likely to change,” she says. 

Stacey further explains.“If their reason for re-considering is because they are scared of what the future may hold now that they are single, I encourage the client to speak to a psychologist, counsellor or join a community (such as the divorced women’s club) so they have a support network around them who understands what they are going through and can help them through the times of uncertainty.” 

Colleen advises similarly.

“Think about the reasons why you broke up in the first place – are those things that you could now live with? Or would the same problems come up again? How willing is the other person to try again? And how willing are they to do the work that it’s likely to take to make all the changes that will make it all worthwhile? These are serious questions to consider prior to taking any actions.”

You could also try journaling or writing down the reasons for your separation, divorce or reconciliation to help get your thoughts in order and get some clarity.

2. Talk it out

Couple having coffee and talking about divorce regrets

After reflecting on the serious questions outlined above, if you are still re-considering your divorce, Colleen suggests initiating a conversation with your ex-partner.

“Perhaps talk with your ex-partner and be upfront about how you feel. Generally speaking for two rational people, having the conversation stating ‘I don’t know where I am, I’m really confused’ is probably good, especially if the relationship is going to work at some time again in the future,” recommends Colleen.

“Unless of course, that person has been dangerous or aggressive, then I wouldn’t advise you to talk about it with the ex-partner. Rather, I’d advise you to seek professional help from a psychologist, relationship counsellor or similar,” she affirms.

3. Do both parties feel the same?

After talking with your ex-partner, you should get a sense of where the other party is at, and whether they’re reciprocating these thoughts and feelings, or not.

“If both parties recognise there are issues in the relationship they would like to work on, it is important that both take steps and commit to trying to resolve the issues, with the assistance of a counsellor if necessary,” notes Sunshine Coast Practice Leader, Charlotte Monaghan. “If one party wants to work on the relationship and the other party does not, however, it is equally important to recognise that and know when to draw a line in the sand.” 

“Consider some counselling options and perhaps try a trial separation if necessary instead of a final separation,” suggests Brisbane Head of Legal, Vanessa Hernandez.

4. Take it slowly and know your legal rights

Our panel has some final advice if both parties are ready and willing to try working on the relationship again.

“Be cautious, take it slowly, think things through,” says Colleen. “The further into the divorce process and property settlement you are, the more complicated it’s going to be to try and undo things. So take it really slowly because there’s potential for people to be re-hurt, including the two parties involved, their children, and the extended family.”

“There is no problem with pressing the pause button. The most important thing is to know what your rights are so you can make informed decisions,” says Perth Head of Legal, Anna Carr. “Nothing is irreversible, except death. Nothing is impossible.” 

No matter what stage you are at in divorce and acting on any second thoughts or regrets, sound professional advice is always advised so that you can make an informed decision either way.

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