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How to have a good divorce

This week is Good Divorce Week – an event put together by Resolution to highlight the ways in which is it may be possible to prevent a divorce turning acrimonious.

Although perhaps seen by some as a trite cliché in family law, it is true that every marriage and every relationship breakdown is unique. But a further truism of separation that doesn’t quite get the same attention is that everybody has to deal with the fallout of the end of their marriage. Does this always have to be adversarial – is it possible to have an amicable divorce, indeed, even a “good” divorce?

Where to begin when separating

Following separation, it is often hard to know where to begin, where to start in the uncoupling of a life shared with another person. Separating couples must disentangle lives intertwined with arrangements for children, complex finances, friendships, pensions, grandparents and wider family relationships, business interests. However these complicating factors need not necessarily be contentious and the source of a deterioration in the remaining relationship with your ex-spouse.

It is rare that one party will ever be wholly and exclusively at fault for the breakdown of a relationship. With that in mind, we might consider the foundation of a “good” divorce with the five C’s:

  • Communication
  • Compassion
  • Collaboration
  • Commitment
  • Compromise

Communication

Agreeing how you will both communicate, in what forum, under what circumstances and respecting the other party’s requests for clear information at agreed times can be a helpful foundation to good communication.

It would be unrealistic to suggest that things will always run smoothly when two spouses separate. Arguments and fallouts, often over comparatively trivial issues, may be commonplace. There will perhaps be moments at which you feel you can never deal with your ex again, that they are being wholly unreasonable simply to spite you.

In those most testing of times, it is recommended that communication is conducted in writing, usually by e-mail.  It allows individuals to consider what they want to say, to pause and reflect before their position is made clear to the other party. Written communication represents a clear record and touchstone through negotiations and lets the other party digest and distil the correspondence in their own time.

Compassion

The burden of separation is rarely borne equally. For one spouse the separation may have come out of the blue and be unexpected, whilst for others it may be a shared decision that is simply processed emotionally at a differing rate.

It is vital to appreciate that everybody will deal with separation differently. Some may need time to grieve for a lost relationship, others will not process the emotional elements of divorce in quite the same way and prefer to seek solace in dealing with the separation in a more “transactional” fashion. Either way, it is important to remember that you and your spouse are both tied to the separation together and should respect that the parties’ approach to that may change through the course of that separation process. Respecting the fact that each individual will deal with divorce differently and showing compassion towards your spouse through that process will go a long way to salvaging a relationship long after the Decree Absolute is pronounced.

Collaboration

Working collaboratively through the divorce process will frequently reduce animosity and conflict as parties separate. Agreeing on the shared objectives of each individual involved, their worries and concerns and how these might be managed, together with an understanding of goals of each individual can aid a better understanding of each parties’ approach to divorce.

Divorce proceedings and associated matters do not automatically have to be adversarial and played out in conflict.

Commitment

When considering separation, it is important to have an idea of what you want at the end of the separation process. There will be both a worth and a value to many of the issues in dispute. It is important to know what your objectives are and commit to those, but this need not necessitate that those objectives are kept close to your chest.

If it is important to you that the children stay in the family home, to allow them to continue their education at a good, local school, commit to that position but recognise that it may carry a cost. The continued occupation of the property may only be sustainable if other financial elements are not pursued. If it important to you that the children see you have a positive relationship with your ex, commit to that position equally, but recognise that there may be a trade-off for this too. There will be disputes that may be of limited significance to you but of great importance to your ex. It is important not to take an oppositional view point for the sake of it, recognising what can be lost by doing so.

Choose your battles carefully. It is important you work closely with your family law solicitor, ensuring that your position is reasonable with good prospects of success. Appreciate that in making decisions about what you want, they will always carry an “opportunity cost”, but that committing to a position will afford the parties a greater certainty and focus in discussing those elements of separation.

Compromise

To compromise is not to concede. Concession involves giving up, compromising recognises moving to a middle ground where both parties give and take to an acceptable level. This distinction is vital when considering matters in separation, whether reflecting on arrangements for the children or the wider matrimonial finances.

There is no weakness in compromise and it is often the pervading element of any positive post-separation relationship between spouses. Recognising that both have valid positions that may oppose the other to a degree, but that by finding shared, agreed elements of a dispute, the parties can begin to manoeuvre a path through to reaching an agreeable decision on a given issue.

The final tip is to realise that both of you are not alone. There is always help and support for those that need it. This can be support from a good divorce solicitor on dealing with complex legal matters, or dealing with complicated financial elements – your solicitor will be able to recommend accountants, independent financial advisors or mortgage brokers that you may need to turn to in the coming weeks and months. Equally, there are resources for other necessary support too. The Citizens Advice Bureau will be a helpful repository of information and guidance, your GP, family and friends may assist with much of the heavy lifting to, in addition to counselling or other professional support to deal with the emotional elements of divorce.

Hawkins Family Law are family law specialists, meaning we have years of experience with cases regarding divorce, family matters and more. If you are looking for reliable and accredited legal advice regarding your divorce or getting a divorce, speak to one of our team today.

Philip Hunter

Philip is a Resolution member and formed part of the campaign to support no fault divorce proceedings. Philip is also contributor to the legal and national media on family law issues.

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