What Is A Good Divorce?
In this blog, FLiP Associate Vanessa Asante explains what a “good” divorce is and how to achieve the same in recognition of Resolution’s Good Divorce Week 2021.
Sometimes it is said that the ‘ending’ of things is just as important as the ‘beginning’. The same is also true for separating couples. How relationships and marriages are brought to a close can leave a lasting impact on the couple as well as the wider family. And even though a marriage has ended, that does not necessarily mark the end of family ties.
Going through a divorce can be one of the most deeply challenging times of a persons’ life, with enormous change to contend with. That said, once you come out of the other side, we often hear clients say that the way the divorce process is managed can make a huge difference to their overall experience.
One of our contributors to the FLiP divorce diaries observed: “The divorce is only the beginning. Not the end of the story, especially if you have children. Your husband becomes your opponent… but will always be the father of your children. You will both have happy occasions to attend together: university degree celebrations, weddings, maybe grandchildren. There will also be times when you are both needed for sad reasons: illnesses, accidents, emergencies. In an ideal world as parents you want to keep a friendly relationship.
The ripple effect of a ‘bad divorce’ can be long-lasting, even in the absence of children. A ‘good’ divorce is one in which both parties can be mindful and considerate of each other’s wellbeing and feelings throughout the process and in the longer term. Both parties may not always be in the same emotional place as each other when the divorce process is started. It can often be helpful to give the other spouse who isn’t quite there yet some time and space to ‘catch up.’ From experience, it tends to be the case that discussions on how to resolve the issues flowing from the divorce can be more constructive once each party has had time to process the fact of the separation.
When emotions are high, naturally, it is easy to fall into an escalating cycle of inflammatory remarks about the other, and each party will have their own perspectives as to why the marriage has ended. However, there is rarely a case in which this sort of approach achieves the tangible goals that the party is seeking. Very few people who receive what they perceive to be a hostile solicitor’s letter will respond positively. It only seeks to foster ill-will, increase costs and lead to brinkmanship further down the line. A ‘good’ divorce is one in which the tone of the communication between the parties and their respective solicitors is courteous and respectful. That said, there is nothing wrong with having a difference of view or taking a firm approach when needed. However the key to promoting a good divorce is being more collaborative than combative.
For some people who are divorcing, it can be important that their contributions to family life are acknowledged; whether this has been a financial contribution, or sacrifices made to sustain the integrity of the family and the household. Feeling heard can go a long way to ensuring that these contributions are not forgotten or diminished in the process.
A good divorce might recognise that there are often wider considerations beyond the question of how much a financial settlement produces for you in pounds and pence. Sometimes it is helpful to ask yourself ‘what are the most important principles that I want to achieve’. An important principle could be keeping the children in the same school, or ensuring that retirement needs are met. In considering this, it helps to assess where each of the parties’ priorities are aligned and to build negotiations that are centred around the shared common ground. This may also help in smoothing the path towards a good divorce.
When a marriage ends, it takes compromise on both sides to reach a resolution. A good divorce should ensure that everybody’s needs have been carefully considered. Both parties should have a springboard from which to start to build their new lives in a way that meets their economic and social needs.
In my experience, the mark of a good divorce is one that is carefully thought through in resolving the needs of the children and the financial needs of the parties. Part of our jobs as lawyers is to think through the ramifications of potential agreements to ensure as far as possible that long term needs are addressed and the agreement is one that is functional for both parties. For example, in the case of the transfer of a property from one spouse to the other, what are the tax consequences? Or in a case where there are pressing future liabilities, how are these to be met? What are the income needs of the parties both now and in retirement? Is it possible for mortgages to be raised and properly serviced in order to address housing needs? Often, where seemingly intractable differences arise, a good divorce requires some degree of openness and collaboration between the parties and their solicitors to come up with creative solutions that suit the whole family.
Finally, some people may think that the measure of a good divorce is one that can be obtained cheaply. This can be a red herring. If matters are complex, it is worth investing in early legal advice from an experienced family lawyer, given that the consequences of agreeing a deal that is unsuitable can be pervasive and wide-ranging. Although divorce can be expensive, a good divorce will provide value for money long into the future. The long term consequences of a good divorce can be impossible to quantify.