25th Jun 2024

Divorce Reconciliation, What Happens When Couples Reconcile?

By Jo Harrison

What Happens if a Separating Couple Decide to Reconcile?


Recent news stories have covered how golfer Rory McIlroy has reconciled with his wife Erica and put their divorce proceedings on hold. We asked our in house relationship and divorce therapist Joanna Harrison and director James Pirrie for their advice and thoughts about when a couple might reconcile.

How often do you see reconciliations once a couple have begun divorce proceedings?

Perhaps more often than you would think! Sometimes what we see is that the act of someone filing for divorce makes people realise what is at stake or realise that their partner is really serious about saying that the relationship is in difficulties. Filing for divorce can act as a wake up call for the relationship.  It is as if difficulties in the relationship propel the couple to a cliff edge but having had professionals introduce them to what lies over that edge, they want to pull back.  It is important that as family lawyers we support clients with the process and the choices that they are making. In most cases they are helped more by an expert in relationships, than an expert in the law – but both have a role.

And Joanna, do you think that can be helpful for the relationship?

Yes, I actually do. I think that if it means that a couple can look at problems they’ve been having rather than trying to bury them in the sand or ignore them, and then take action to address the problems, then there can be some positive development around what has happened. I see this most often when a couple come for help at this point. It’s not dissimilar to what happens when there has been an affair. This can be the end of the relationship but it can also encourage analysis of the relationship and looking at where the problems lie.

Is it normal for people to have thoughts about reconciling?

I think it is quite human to have second thoughts about a decision as big as divorce which can involve so many changes. What we are often doing in therapy with individual clients who are divorcing is helping them to think through their decision, whatever it is, so that they can get to feeling comfortable with it. There is no “right” answer as to when to divorce but there can be growth towards feeling more comfortable with it. I think that it’s really helpful for couples to have their own individual therapeutic support at this time so they can really think about the decisions that are being made.  It might be that there isn’t an actual wish to reconcile or to be in the relationship but that the fears around separating are so high and I think that it’s helpful for people if they can understand their own motivations in relation to reconciling.

What happens if one person is pushing for a reconciliation, but the other person isn’t interested?

Well, we might see this quite often, because it may be harder for one person to come to terms with the ending of the relationship than the other and understandably there may be pleas for a reconciliation. I think it can be really supportive for a couple at this point to hear each other out, to really listen to where they are both coming from, even if they don’t agree with each other, because it can help bring clarity to a situation where one person is really not interested in reconciling.

James, what happens if a couple wish to reconcile when they are deep into a legal process?

Legally it is possible to call things off or put them on hold though it will depend on how complex things have been up until that point as to how complex it can be to unravel them. It is also possible to put in place agreements about how things would go if they then split up further down the line. Emotionally a couple may need to find a way to take stock of what they’ve been through and find a way to put the legal process behind them as well as to look at what has been going on between them. This can take time and it’s important that solicitors are respectful about this sensitive situation at this point.

Do you have advice for separating couples who have children who then decide to reconcile?

Parents may worry that their children are going to be confused if they were getting used to the idea that their parents were separating and are now told something different. Just as with the advice we give to couples when they are telling their children they are separating, we would suggest treading carefully, agreeing with each other how you are going to explain it, and giving children whatever age the space to have their own reaction listened to even if it is uncomfortable for the parents. It can be devastating for a child to keep getting their hopes up, so it is something that in my experience I see parents taking slowly and carefully before telling the children the situation.

At FLiP we take a unique approach to family law. We balance our exceptional legal expertise with care and compassion, delivering intelligent and creative solutions while carefully managing any emotional impact. We have specialist divorce consultants and relationship therapists who are highly experienced and clinically trained to support you before, during and after separation. We have also developed a unique hub of emotional and practical support to enhance the wellbeing of our clients. You can find further information on our dedicated website page here.