Rob and his wife had been together for almost twenty years by the time they divorced. They had both worked throughout the marriage and they had one young child. They negotiated an out of court settlement.
What I wish I had known:
“Amicable” divorce does not mean friendly divorce – even when the process is largely constructive it is still going to be painful, frustrating and stressful – and the process of mourning the loss of the central relationship in your life will lead you and your ex-partner to react in unpredictable and sometimes irrational ways to the process of agreeing financial arrangements etc. No matter how reasonable you think you are being, some aspects of your position will be characterised as unreasonable – don’t take it so personally (hard though that is) – it’s just part of the process of reaching a satisfactory resolution. The legal principles are necessarily vague and flexible – there is no objective “right answer” – just what is right for your child, your ex and you.
The low point:
The realisation that there was no way of persuading my ex into a more collaborative process and that she/her advisers preferred (sometimes rather aggressive and emotive) tit-for-tat correspondence to reach a resolution. I had to accept that I could only take responsibility for my own position and conduct of the process – and not beat myself up about why they were approaching things in the way they were. Empathetic but level headed advice from my lawyer was essential to help resist the temptation to rise to every point of detail or perceived inaccuracy or unfairness – and then reminding myself that my wife’s understandable hurt, anger and worry were probably driving some of that and keeping myself focussed on the end-goal of reaching a resolution where the areas of real disagreement were really quite limited.
The certainty that I did the right thing:
I had enormous doubts and fears before making the decision to leave and tried various ways to avoid divorce – but since the point where I finally made the decision I have never had any doubt that it was right to end the marriage. I have no certainty that I did the right thing every step of the way through the process – I surely made mistakes – but ultimately we reached a way forward that we could all agree on and that enabled us all to move on with our lives. I don’t regret any of that – I had very clear and good advice and then made a decision on what I felt was right. I begrudge nothing and feel positive about what were able to agree between ourselves about our child and the financial settlement we ultimately agreed. Through all the pain I think we managed to keep supporting our child through this time uppermost.
What I would do differently:
I would not have spent so long trying (quite unreasonably in retrospect) to persuade my ex to accept that it was the right decision and naively hoping that we could agree on financial and other arrangements ourselves – it just made the process more protracted and painful for everyone.
Experience of the process used:
Everything was agreed through solicitors correspondence – with the occasional interjection of largely unhelpful direct e-mail correspondence between me and my ex. My ex refused to see or speak to me – entirely understandable but very frustrating at the time particularly given the need to discuss/agree things relating to our child and my perhaps naive hope that we could resolve things in a more collaborative way. But in retrospect, once I got a bit more distance from it, I quickly realised the whole process was nowhere near as bad or as difficult as it felt at the time or could have been. Although we liaised largely by e-mail we did manage to agree all arrangements in relation to our child pretty quickly and without any lawyers being involved – including everything from contact arrangements through to keeping our child out of any outstanding issues between us. That was hugely important to our child in terms of maintaining a stable routine and maintaining our child’s relationship with both of us. The financial matters took a bit longer to agree on and did require lawyers but, in the wider scheme of things, there really was not that much to disagree on. It felt more contentious when I was going through it than in fact it was and it was ultimately resolved without acrimony. I think I just had to get used to dealing with my ex – who had been the most important person in my life and my best friend for the best part of two decades – through the rather impersonal medium of lawyers letters. That’s very hard but given the pain, hurt and anger involved probably for the best in retrospect.