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Handling the death of your spouse before your divorce is final

When a person dies in the midst of a divorce, the spouse left behind can have a multitude of conflicting emotions. Besides that, the widow or widower is often dealing with the expectations of others and the deceased spouse's new significant other.

Even things like what to call yourself, how to refer to your deceased spouse and how to explain your unique situation to those you meet and date can be challenging. Are you a widow or a divorcee? Do you call the person your late wife or your ex-wife? Many people don't feel comfortable with any of those words.

One clinical social worker calls it "disenfranchised grief." It's a kind of grief "that our society typically does not recognize." Some people feel awkward that family, friends and the clergy person performing the funeral services treat them as the widow or widower rather than the new person in the deceased spouse's life.

Family strains that arose during the separation and divorce can also be a challenge. You may have to plan the funeral with in-laws you became estranged from and perhaps with whom you had a hostile relationship after the break-up. If you and your spouse have children, you also have to deal with their grief, which could be complicated by their feelings toward their dead parent.

Many people in this situation may feel guilt because they aren't as sad as people expect them to be. If the estranged spouse was abusive or unfaithful or if the divorce had been highly combative, it's perfectly reasonable to have mixed feelings about the person no longer being around.

There are also legal and financial matters to settle if a spouse dies before the divorce is final. Your Florida family law attorney can help you sort through those. He or she may also be able to recommend sources of support and guidance for people in your situation. It can help to talk with others who have gone through it and seek advice from them.

Source: The Washington Post, "What happens when a spouse dies in the middle of a divorce?," Robin Eileen Bernstein, May 23, 2017

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