I am often asked why I chose from the very start of my career as a Solicitor to be a family lawyer. Surely that must be stressful and traumatic is the question many have asked me over the years?
I often respond by saying that yes, it can be but more often than not it does not need to be. I explain to clients that they are on a path and that they (not I) will choose how rocky that path needs to be. My recommendation is to take the smooth motorway and not the bumpy mountain track.
In the press you hear tales of how people have spent literally tens of thousands on their divorce and financial settlement and how awful an experience it was for them. It does not have to be like that.
I often tell my clients, at the risk of sounding patronising, that (where they have children) the divorce or separation and sharing out of their finances is just the start of it all. They will have to face up to each other at birthday parties, weddings, christenings etc. for the rest of their lives otherwise their children are going to really suffer. Who wants a Kramer-v-Kramer set of parents who cannot even communicate on a basic level? Do they want to be able to attend a child’s wedding without casting daggers at their ex-spouse over the wedding breakfast table?!
If you can start to focus on the practicalities of your separation in terms of where you and your spouse or partner will live with any children you might have and how the other assets will be divided up rather than getting entrenched in issues relating to the breakdown of your relationship, then you will find the process far easier.
So, with this in mind my top ten survival tips for divorce or separation are as follows:
- Think of your children first - not as a commodity to be shared but as living breathing individuals in their own right.
- It takes two to tango - remember it takes two people to have produced your child and in most cases those two people should, in the absence of safety concerns, be able to bring that child up together – even if they are separated. Communication, communication, communication is the key to making this work!
- Can the guilt - Don’t feel guilty if your marriage has broken down – do what is required to make the process as seamless as possible. In my experience children, where their parents have separated and dealt with that separation sensibly and maturely, are able to accept their parents’ separation and divorce. It can be a better life for them than living with two unhappy parents who stay together but in a silent war zone.
- Leave the kids out of it - never bring your children into your dispute. It is not their responsibility to shoulder your emotional burden. Any arguments or issues about seeing their other parent or where they live are for you to share with your ex-partner or spouse and not for them to be involved in. It simply isn’t fair on them and it will damage them emotionally.
- Consider all your options - give consideration to all ways of resolving your separation – mediation, collaboration, arbitration, solicitor negotiation are all viable alternatives to fighting your case in Court. Court should always be the very last resort. It is stressful and costly and invariably takes away control from you and your ex partner or spouse to decide on your own lives.
- To be informed is to be armed - make sure you know both your and your partner’s financial circumstances. The “full and frank financial disclosure” your family lawyer advises you about is important. Consider this – would you expect a Doctor to diagnose a medical condition without examining you, carrying out some blood tests or a scan/x-ray? Why then would you expect your family lawyer to give you in depth advice on financial settlement without financial documentation on both your and your partner’s situations?
- Tone down the anger – this sounds easier said than done particularly if one of you feels the marriage breakdown was not your fault but it will make resolving your separation so much easier if you can try to put your emotions to one side and think about the practical solutions.
- Don’t rule out counselling – whether on your own or as a couple or as a family. The aim is not necessarily to rebuild your broken relationship (although I am glad to say occasionally that does happen) but to minimise the hardship to your children and to each other.
- In most cases less is not more - accept that you are likely to have less than you did when you were together. It stands to reason that two people paying for one home and supporting each other will have more income than two people separated and paying for two homes. Be reasonable in your expectations on separation. You may need to go back to work if you have not had to before to help make ends meet and you may have to accept that the family home will need to be sold or that you have to pay over a share of your pension.
- Choose a good lawyer – yes I hear you say at this point, I might have expected this from a family lawyer but it really is important. Choose a Resolution Accredited Specialist or a Family law Panel member ideally from a firm with collaboratively trained and mediator lawyers. They will guide you through the process to make sure you have picked the smooth motorway rather than the bumpy mountain track!
If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this article, please contact a member of the Family Team.