This Is What It Feels Like When Your Divorce Is Final

by Michelle Dempsey
Originally Published: 
Sad divorced woman sitting in a car looking out the window
Anna_Om / Getty

Divorce sucks, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It doesn’t matter if you’re the one who wanted the split or the one who was left behind confused and bewildered — if there’s one thing to know about the divorce process, it’s that it fucking sucks.

And that’s just the way it is.

My divorce was finalized just a few weeks ago, after 11-months of mind-numbing back-and-forth bickering and banter. I always wondered what it would feel like when it was finally over, when the emails and invoices from my lawyer would stop coming in, when my ex and I would come to the agreement that made us both feel content in our new situation as divorced parents.

But when you’re in the thick of it, the “end” feels like a dirty fantasy you’re too scared to think about for too long – because just when you get excited, just when you think you’ve turned that corner and a mediation date is near, so-and-so needs to make a change to the pick-up time on the third Thursday of every month. Cue the anger and expletives.

Let me put it this way: The divorce process is the equivalent of throwing your gum out of the car window and having it fly back, bounce off your forehead, and get stuck in your hair.

Which is exactly why, throughout my year-long divorce process, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Finished. Dunzo. People would constantly ask me, “Are you still going through the divorce process?!” as if they were shocked that ending a marriage legally wasn’t as easy as returning a pair of shoes at Nordstrom. And each time they’d ask, each time I’d get on another call with my lawyer, each time I thought we had reached a resolution only to find out that, once again, we hadn’t, I’d wonder if it would ever end, or if I’d just go broke and bat-shit bonkers in the process.

And then, almost out of the blue, I got the email I was beginning to think I’d never see – the one with my final hearing date – the day that would make it officially over, forever.

I didn’t sleep at all the night before I was set to be in court. I replayed each event of the previous year in my head, wondering if I had made all the right decisions, fought for everything I needed to fight for, and worked to create the best possible parenting plan for our only child. My hearing was set for 8:45 a.m., bright and early. I drove to the courthouse in the same kind of fog you’d have if you were driving yourself to the hospital for surgery – scared, slightly nauseous, sweaty and shaking.

What was I so nervous for? I wanted this day to come for so long, didn’t I?

And then it hit me – it wasn’t the official divorce stamp I was longing for, it was just an end to the fight that I so desperately craved.

Whether you’re arguing over millions of dollars or who has to spend more money on future pediatrician visits, the divorce process turns everything into the ugliest fight you can imagine. I am convinced that the divorce process was created to reassure you that you made the right decision in leaving your spouse. This process will make you hate your soon-to-be ex more than you ever thought possible, reaffirming your decision to be done with the marriage forever – all while wondering how you went from happily ever after to divorce court.

But then D-day comes, the fight is over, and it hits you so hard.

I walked into the courthouse that Wednesday morning, fighting back tears, and trying to ignore the lump in my throat. Flashes of my past came to me in bits and pieces — my wedding dress fittings, my obsession with finding the perfect song to walk down the aisle to. As I stood in the courthouse security line, wondering if everyone ahead of me was also walking the plank to divorce, I remembered that I once waited so long, if not longer, for that walk down the aisle just four years ago.

As if trudging through quicksand, I made it to the elevator and hopped in for the ride up to the 11th floor. I rode that elevator up with the same pit in my stomach that I had when riding it down from the penthouse of the Eden Roc Hotel on my wedding night – when I was once headed down to the beach to become a wife. Both experiences would leave me with a different fate once the elevator doors opened up, and the irony of it was exhausting.

A friendly bailiff greeted me outside the courtroom. “Why didn’t you check in with me, Ma’am?” he asked as he saw me sit quietly on a bench next to the courtroom doors.

“I’m sorry, sir, this is my first time getting divorced,” I said, trying desperately to lighten my own mood with my awkward quip.

No sooner did I walk into the courtroom, did the judge greet me and ask me a few simple questions before deeming it official. His stamp clunked down on the file my lawyer handed him, as he looked at me with a smile and said it.

Congratulations, you’re divorced.”

“That’s it?” I thought to myself, before collapsing into tears by myself in the hallway of the courthouse.

That’s it.

You see, it doesn’t matter how bad you wanted that divorce. How ready you are to move on with your life, start something new, and forget how hard it was to end things with someone you thought would be your forever. The finality of divorce, the closing of a chapter you never thought you’d have to end, the change of your marital status from Married to Divorced, is like experiencing a death – only you’re both still alive and have to remain in each other’s lives until your children are adults.

I got in my car, called my mom, and didn’t really know what to do next. What does a newly divorced person do? I thought about texting my now ex and telling him it was done. Since I was the only one of us who had to be in court, I wondered if he’d even be thinking about whether or not the process was complete. But for once in my overly verbose life, I could not find the words to say. I figured he had enough common sense to know what was what.

I drove around aimlessly and decided the only thing I wanted to do was pick up my daughter from her last day of school and surround myself with friends. I also went to the mall and spent an ungodly amount of money on designer shoes, which I still can’t explain though I think it had a lot to do with feeling free from legal fees.

The day after my divorce was made official, I woke up feeling clear. A weight had been lifted, in lieu of the scarlet letter “D” being branded on my chest forever. To be able to say that the fight was behind me was extraordinary, though to say the same for a marriage I once had hope for just felt sad – but at least I was out of that awful limbo that is the divorce process.

A few days after that came my last legal bill, which I paid with gusto, while instantly regretting the shoes I had purchased.

I know what you’re wondering – how have things changed with my ex now that I’m divorced?

They haven’t. They don’t. You still share a child; you’ll be in each other’s lives until your child becomes an adult, if not longer. You’ll still have reminders of what once was, whether they’re shoved in your face with anger or they pop up on your Facebook timeline as a memory. You’ll move forward in life — in a new relationship, in a new home, and possibly a in new career with a brand new title: divorced.

Because that’s all it really is – the painful closing of one door, and the beginning of a whole new world.

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