17th Dec 2013

“If we got divorced, all of this would be better.”

Why divorce might not be the only answer to the Christmas challenges you face

It is widely recognised that the Christmas holiday period is very stressful.

The normal everyday pressures of family life are stoked up with additional seasonal worries about

  • How much we have spent on presents and hospitality?
  • How much we could we really afford?
  • Have we done enough to make it special for the children?
  • Can Christmas possibly live up to the expectations we have of it?
  • Will Christmas provide us with a degree of relief and respite from the strain of keeping it all together throughout the year?

Add extended family members, some of whom are more welcome than others, and festive perils such as higher than usual alcohol consumption, tiredness and Christmas parties and it is little wonder that January is annually reported to be a busy month for new divorce enquiries.  In the middle of all of these worries it can be natural to conclude that you would be better of with a divorce.

Once that thought surfaces it can then be difficult to backpedal from it, to somehow unthink what has already been thought.  Suddenly everything can be seen in the light of “How would this look if we got a divorce?” or “If only we got divorced then we would not have to put up with this any longer.”

Unfortunately this is often not the case.

Couples can decide to separate for many reasons.  The thought that divorce would do away with a problem can be seductive but often does not hold up to scrutiny.

If you find yourself contemplating divorce be sure to consider what the issue is that you are looking to alleviate.  

 Is divorce really the answer?

Is this really what you want or are you hoping that going for a divorce will somehow bring about change in some other area?  If so, what is that area and what is the problem with it?

Is there another avenue that you could go down in order to improve things?  A couple of fictional examples will help to illustrate the point.

Scenario One.  Jane and John and the Christmas China Crisis

Jane was beside herself.  All through the year she had been asking John, her husband to whom she had been married for nearly two years, to spend more time at home.  It was not as if he could not do so.  He had his own company and that company employed very skilled people to look after it.  He was able to determine for himself when he had to be in the office or visiting sites overseas.  

Many of Jane’s friends were not so lucky.  Either they, their partners or both of them were employed and so had to be at work at the hours that they were expected to be.  

Jane had become aware that no matter how much she loved John, John quite clearly did not feel the same way.  After all, if he did, he would listen to her requests and would agree to spend more time at home with her.  He never did though.

This Christmas was going to be different.  Jane was convinced of that.  John had agreed back in September to spend a whole fortnight at home.  It was going to be like it was when they were engaged and looking forward to their lives together, before his business had won that big European contract.  

Christmas would remind both of them what it meant to be in love, to be together and to be married to, caring for and attentive to one another.  

In short, it was going to be perfect.  Thank goodness for Christmas.

When the phone rang on Christmas afternoon just as John was about to start cooking dinner for the two of them, Jane instinctively knew that she had been duped.

It was Michelle.  Michelle oversaw the production facilities in China where the product was being made only slightly faster than the company could sell them.  Something had gone badly wrong.  

“Do I have to?”  John had asked, turning his back to Jane as if to shield her from the news – or from his expression.

“How soon do I need to go?” was his next question.

“Well, then, how quickly can you get me there?” was his last question.

“Okay.  I see,” he said with a resigned tone to his voice that sounded a little too forced to Jane.  “Let me get my stuff packed.  Can you come by and pick me up at six?”

That night, alone and lonely once again, Jane imagined what it would be like if she were divorced.

She would no longer be lonely.  She would be with somebody else who loved her and who she could come to love and commit to in the way that she had with John.  Things would be different, wouldn’t they?  And although she still loved John she would come to terms to life without him wouldn’t she?

That thought panicked her for a brief moment before she pulled herself up and dabbed at her eyes.

“It can’t be so bad.” she convinced herself.  “I’m practically living without him anyway.”

Scenario Two Brendan and Hilary and the gift that broke the camel’s back

Christmas Eve had been hell.

Brendan had considered calling in sick.  He was feeling genuinely unwell.  He was aching all over and had not been able to shake off that headache for the last three days.  Maybe it was because he wasn’t eating.  Or sleeping.  He was grateful for all the overtime, of course.  Heaven knows, they needed the money to get that new console for the boys and the bike for Elaine and even then they had had to borrow a little bit more to make up the shortfall.  

In the end though Brendan had gone in to work.  

He got home from the bank where he worked during the day, grabbed a couple of crackers and a bit of cheese that was left over in the fridge, said hello to the children and left a note for Hilary for when she got home from work later, and then he went off to work the doors once again at the nightclub.

It wasn’t so bad, he told himself.  Just a few more hours work of having to take some grief from drunk revellers and then back home with another £60 in his pocket.  

That would help.  

A bit.

The last eighteen months had been awful.  He and Hilary both knew it and had managed to work together to get on top of their spending and start to gradually reduce the debt that they had accrued over the years.  It sometimes felt as if they were getting nowhere though.  A fraction of the monthly payments were going towards reducing the £20,000 or more that they owed and the rest just went into profit for the credit card companies.

Still, Christmas was here.  The children had some great presents under the tree.  At least they would not be embarrassed when they went back to school and he and Hilary had, once again, been able to protect them from that kind of stigma.

By the time Brendan got home, past three in the morning, everyone was asleep.  He sat down heavily on the sofa, just for a moment to look at the tree and the presents beneath it. Within minutes he had fallen asleep too.

It was Hilary who woke him up with a kick.  Brendan looked around him trying to get his bearings.  He immediately realised that Hilary was mad at him.

“I can’t believe you got drunk and fell asleep down here.  On Christmas Eve of all nights.  What do you think the children are going to think?

Brendan looked behind her and sure enough there were the children, giggling and nudging each other.

This did not look good.

“I didn’t have a drink all night.  I just crashed when I came home.  I was shattered”

“Of course not.  Do you expect me to believe that?  I suppose you spent half your wage on beer did you?  Well, you better wake up and open presents with the rest of us and you had better complain about having a hangover.”

There was no hangover but the headache that had been plaguing him for the last few days was as menacing as it ever been.

The presents were opened until there was only one left beneath the tree.  Brendan suddenly felt anxious.  Hilary had bought him a couple of books which was thoughtful and moderate, in keeping with their agreement not to spend a lot on one another.  He, on the other hand, had thought he was doing the right thing when he splashed out on that perfume that she used to wear years ago.  

He had thought it was romantic, that it might cheer both of them up a little, a bit of luxury or relief in the middle of all the grind, the paying down the debt, the two jobs that they were each spending all hours trying to hold down.

Now though, as the present sat beneath the tree, unopened and as menacing as his headache, he knew that the reaction was going to be anything but relief.

Brendan handed over the gift with an apology.

“I’m sorry.” he said.  “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Hilary opened the wrapping paper and looked at the familiar bottle that she had used to enjoy so much.  Immediately she remembered how much it cost and almost as quickly calculated how many monthly payments this overly indulgent gift would have set them back.  She put the bottle down on the floor and raised one hand to her face to hide her tears.  Her shoulders heaved as loud sobs escaped from her;

“How could you?” she managed to say.  “How could you?”

In each of the above scenarios it would be natural to think about divorce.  We think that divorce will sort the problem without really taking stock of just what the problem is.

If the problem is one of intimacy and committing to one another then divorce is a response but meeting and talking with a marriage counsellor, such as those who work with Family Law in Partnership, divorce specialists in London would be another.

One approach would terminate the relationship, the other could, possibly, remedy it.

Similarly divorce is sometimes seen as a way out of chronic and acute debt.  It is not.  After the divorce is done there are still the repayments to be made.  Taking independent financial advice, perhaps further supported by counselling or mediation can again offer the hope that other, more appropriate solutions can be found.

Divorce is a proper response to a marraige that has irretrievably reached its end.  

It is not always the best response to the challenges that many marriages will encounter.

Family Law in Partnership are a different kind of divorce law firm.  We are unique in having family counsellors working with us as part of our team.  This enables us to offer a full service to clients who are thinking about or going through divorce and separation.

If you have concerns about your marraige over this festive period then please do get in touch with us to explore all of your options before making any decisions.  If you choose to go ahead and divorce then we can offer you various ways of moving forward using in court and out of court processes.  You can rest assured that we will always have your best interests and your true wishes in mind.

Should you, or anyone you know, have questions relating to these issues then please email us at hello@FLIP.co.uk or contact us on 020 7420 5000.