17th May 2016

Divorce Diaries

The Divorce Diaries: experiences shared.

It is critical for practitioners to understand the emotional impact of divorce and separation as well as the legal implications. In her latest article for Solicitors Journal, Family Law in Partnership associate Carla Ditz looks at the Divorce Diaries website recently launched by Family Law in Partnership.

As family law practitioners, it is our role to help clients focus on the bigger picture. This is an extremely challenging task at times, given the nature of the job and the emotional state of each client, but one thing is certain: whether your client is a high flying business executive or a stay at home parent, uncertainty, apprehension and often fear lie at the core.

While solicitors build up years of experience and expertise in their chosen field, clients can also benefit hugely from emotional guidance and hearing about the experiences of others.

In this article, we will look at the resource of shared experiences: diaries of those who have been through the divorce process and what they wish they had known at the start. These can be found at in our Divorce Diaries website.

Emotional rollercoaster

After the death of a loved one, divorce is considered to be the second most stressful life experience a person can undergo. One would hardly expect someone to deal with complex financial and child-related affairs immediately following the death of a spouse, for example, so why should it be any easier for a client whose marriage has just broken down and who is mourning the end of their relationship?

Therefore, not only must family lawyers advise their clients on their legal position, but we must also offer an equally important service, namely empathy and emotional support. In many cases, this task is referred to counsellors or therapists when solicitors recognise that a client is better served by someone with expertise in this area.

While there are many websites providing information and support for those going through family breakdown, few focus on providing users with stories of real life experiences and lessons learned. Divorce Diaries has sought to fill this gap. It is the brainchild of James Pirrie, a solicitor, mediator, collaborative lawyer, and arbitrator at Family Law in Partnership who explains that ‘for some time we have wanted to create a community of support between our clients. What we have been able to do, through the generosity of a number of our clients, is to bring together in the Divorce Diaries website their experiences of going through a divorce or separation.

For those who choose not to seek emotional support in the guise of counselling or therapy, there will be a missing piece in the puzzle of the overall divorce process experience and this can have significant implications for that person, even after they are divorced. Highlighting this very point in his divorce diary, ‘Louis’ mentions that ‘the emotional part of the divorce takes a very long time to come to terms with and no legal process will help you with this’.

Of course, not everyone will take up counselling or therapy, but no matter the client profile, they can still benefit from reading about the experiences of others and what has been learnt along the way.

The right process

A common theme which pervades the diaries is that emotional distress can create a distorted view of what is actually going on or being said, which, in turn, can provoke irrational or angry responses. This is where we, as family lawyers, must force the client to take a step back and ask them to see how quick-fire and ill-considered responses can in fact inflame a situation further and certainly will not progress matters to a meaningful end.

Another theme which comes across is the importance of choosing the right process. It is crucial, therefore, that clients are informed about the array of processes available, ranging from solicitor-led negotiation to mediation to collaborative law to litigation to arbitration.

Speaking of the collaborative law process, ‘Frances’ writes: ‘I am certain that finding a divorce process that took away any feeling of a fight was the right thing for me.’ ‘Kate’ writes: ‘There’s no doubt that I chose a non-confrontational process, including mediation, because it was a way to keep the relationship cordial between us as parents and with the children. We co-parent and we have a positive relationship.’ Both experiences reveal the futility of a long-drawn-out litigation process where another option is much better suited to both the parties and the circumstances of the case.

The emotional impact of divorce and separation is indiscriminate and clients will manage it in different ways. Sharing experiences of the divorce process can be invaluable. Every case is, of course, different, but the Divorce Diaries website seeks to record client’s observations on their own experience, and common themes often emerge. Understanding and appreciating the emotional ramifications as well as the legal implications is critical to each cases. Providing a holistic approach to  your clients cases will ensure they receive the support and guidance they need.

Our Divorce Diaries website can be viewed here

If you would like to share your own experience of divorce and separation, email us at hello@divorcediaries.co.uk

This article first appeared in Solicitors Journal 160/10 on 15 March 2016