While it is difficult to imagine many divorces will be ‘good’, there are certainly things that can be done to make a divorce better than it otherwise might be.
Paul Linsell, our head of Family Law, shares his ten top tips for having the best divorce possible:
1. Acknowledge the impact of the divorce
The divorce will likely be one of the most stressful periods of your life, where you are juggling a variety of competing challenges and worrying about an uncertain future. It is important to acknowledge that this will have an impact on you and to try to take steps to look after your physical and mental health. It is also important to acknowledge that your former partner, any children and your wider family and friends will also likely be impacted. Put bluntly, it is not a situation that any of you would have wanted and, although you will all be experiencing it differently, it is highly likely that you will all be finding it tough.
2. Consider a holistic approach
Divorce can be overwhelming. There is often a lot to consider and it is easy to get caught up worrying about a particular issue – whether that be the reason for the relationship breakdown, the worry about where everyone will physically live, ensuring there is enough money to pay the bills or getting the legal process underway. It is sometimes easier to think of divorce as a series of interconnected processes or separations, each of which needs to be managed and addressed. These include the process of physically separating (i.e. no longer living together, moving personal possessions and so forth), emotionally separating (i.e. processing the loss of the marriage for you and potentially the loss of family life for all), financially separating (i.e. untangling the financial relationship and moving towards financial independence) and legal separation (i.e. ending the legal relationship the marriage created and ensuring all matters are addressed properly and fully).
3. Seek help as early as possible
Getting the right help and getting it early can often make the biggest difference. You should be careful to think about what help you might need - again the structure of emotional, physical, financial and legal can be helpful in considering what support may be needed. The chances are you will need help from more than one person and options could include friends and relatives, a divorce solicitor, a mediator, a coach, a therapist, a financial advisor, an accountant and so on. A team approach is likely to be best and seeking out people who can work together is often beneficial. You should also be careful about who you seek help from, considering whether they are ‘too close’ to the issues, whether they will adopt the right approach for you, whether they are professional regulated and reputable.
4. Plan your divorce
The majority of divorces are not quick. They will require an investment of time, energy and money in order to get right. A good family solicitor will help you to plan all of this so that you can decide what works best for you in terms of where to focus the investment. Considering what will need to be done, when and by who will generally lead to better outcomes and help break the process down into more manageable chunks. It is also helpful to consider setting ‘divorce goals’, such as where you want to be in 2 years’ time, how your relationship with your ex-partner will look, what your priorities are and so on.
5. Consider how you would like to resolve any disputes
It is rare to avoid all conflict when going through a divorce and disputes will arise. It may be that there are high-emotions driving those differences or it may be that there are simply differences of opinion on things such as decisions regarding the children or finances. Broadly, there are two ways to resolve any such disputes: by finding a compromise or by handing the power of the decision to a third party. In turn there are then various different processes that can be used with either option. It is a complex equation in balancing which process may be best and again one where expert assistance is likely to be beneficial.
6. Set the right tone at the outset
The early communications in divorce are so important. If issues can be raised in a non-confrontational manner then the chances of that continuing are far higher, resulting in an overall process that is often quicker, easier and less expensive. You should therefore consider carefully what you do and say in the early stages; avoiding point scoring, wanting to ‘win’ or making unilateral decisions.
7. Consider how you are communicating
It is not just at the outset that communication is vital. Undoubtedly, this will often be one of the toughest issues for people experiencing divorce as any communications may result in big emotions and possibly the triggering of negative cycles of behaviour. It is generally best to adopt a factual, business-like manner when communicating on issues that are difficult. If possible, trying to be empathetic in the communications is also a great way to building a healthy environment for resolving the issues arising on divorce.
8. Focus on the children
Putting any children at the front and centre of everything to do with the divorce will lead to better outcomes. This is not just for the children either; parents that have put their children first are likely to have a better outcome themselves in moving forward from the divorce. A simple way of maintaining the focus on the children is to ask “How will this impact the child” at every stage and with every decision to be made. It may not be possible to always shield the children entirely, but if they are the focus then whatever the impact of the divorce it will be minimised as far as possible.
9. Don’t rush
It is always important to take advice early, but it is equally important (save where advised time critical action is needed) to not then rush through the divorce. Too often the divorce is seen as a process with an end point (usually defined by the legal end point of the marriage being dissolved) that is to be reached as soon as possible. Many believe that once this point is reached that they can start to ‘move on’. While that may be true for some, as set out at point 2 above, the reality is the divorce is multi-faceted and each of the processes of separation needs to be worked through. If any one of these is rushed, it may result in making the others that much harder to navigate.
10. Focus on the future
Understanding the reasons for the relationship breakdown is undoubtedly important, especially for processing the emotional separation. However, there is always a danger that the need to understand the relationship breakdown (or perhaps more commonly to attribute blame for it) can push people into a cycle of focusing on the past, at the expense of considering the present or future. If this cycle spills over into the decisions that need to be made for the future then the chances are that compromises will be harder to find, poor choices may be made and drawn out and expensive processes will be endured. Thankfully, the legal process is changing in 2022 to remove the ‘blame game’ in divorce, which should make it easier to focus on the future.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.