When Divorce Ends in Familicide

Divorce, as we do it in our society, goes to the heart of all losses, like death. Rarely, however, do we expect it to result in death. I have discussed the ways in which people move through the divorce process, move through change, the alteration and restructuring of family relationships, and come out on the other side of this process with a reclaimed sense of self and a protected sense of family. This week, one family blew apart in a scene of annihilation, supported by the litigated divorce process and the lack of recognition of just how deeply disturbed/distorted the view of life can become.

There are people who can never move through divorce, never get past their pain, rage, and disbelief at what has become of the life they planned for. There are people who need to stay attached/connected to former spouses through negative emotional interchanges just as a way of staying connected at all. There are people who cannot absorb or digest life-changes, who cannot cope, who cannot ‘move through’.
The stresses and strains of adversarial, litigated divorce support a win-lose mentality. The sense of loss can be subjectively far greater than what judges order or what is stipulated to on paper. In a distorted world view, loss can be insurmountable, and unacceptable.
The idea that a husband and father would willingly, premeditatively annihilate his family and then himself is unimaginable to most of us. We think it has to be a sign of some tragic misstep, some ‘snap’ of the psyche in an otherwise loving soul. We forget that love is a four-letter word that describes a subjective experience, and that we don’t all agree on the definition of that experience. We forget that love can nurture another, as much as it can poison, that love is manna from heaven and toxic to the soul.

Rarely, but sometimes, loss is unacceptable, unsustainable, undigestable, irreconcilable, and the solution is to obliterate the perceived cause of such unbearable loss, as well as that which has already been lost.

My work as a divorce professional is, in part, about trying to notice how people move through divorce, and to draw attention to those who are struggling to manage, to provide the necessary support whenever allowed to. Sometimes, it’s impossible to know.

2017-02-09T10:37:59+00:00
  • Well done article.
    Very difficult and tragic subject.
    These cases need the best that the system has to offer.
    Sadly, that rarely happens.

  • Anne Wennerstrand, LCSW-R

    Thank you for the wisdom you articulate in this article on such a difficult and complicated subject. There is so much to think about in the wake of this tragedy and you have articulated the issues with tremendous grace.

  • Dr. Allison Bell

    Thank you, Mark and Anne, for your kind, gracious comments and support!