How to Divorce Well

James Pirrie provides his six top tips for getting through divorce and separation well.

 

My 60th birthday and 37 years of working as a family lawyer.  To mark it, here are six top tips for getting through divorce and separation well:-

  • Divorce reasonably:

This is not just some karmic recommendation:  it is strongly pragmatic and is likely to see your best way ahead from the misfortune of separation.  For most people the biggest risk / challenge is not a poor allocation (of child’s time or financial resources or whatever else is the issue); it is the risk of being sucked into litigation, with its high cost, slow progress and the incredible demands that the process will make upon you.  Even the judges at the end of the day, probably will not be pleased to see you.  As the ever-quotable HHJ Wildblood QC gave us this week:  “Do not bring your private law litigation to the Family court here unless it is genuinely necessary for you to do so. You should settle your differences (or those of your clients) away from court, except where that is not possible. If you do bring unnecessary cases to this court, you will be criticised, and sanctions may be imposed upon you. There are many other ways to settle disagreements, such as mediation.”  [The whole judgment is short and is well-worth a read]… you can find it here 

Yes, it is paradoxical that the process that is there to solve the problem really is (for many people) actually the problem, but it doesn’t stop it from being true.  Divorcing reasonably gives you the best chance of avoiding this.

  • Focus on what matters and avoid pointing the finger

Almost everyone emerges from a relationship breakdown instinctively wanting to tell everyone how good they were and that mostly the problems were the other person’s fault.  Avoid.  All it does is generate the same in return and the swift descent into litigation (see point 1!).  It is also point-less.  Children issues are determined by the child’s welfare.  Financial ones are almost always only about an almost monochrome analysis of the black of resources and the white of needs.  Anything else is pointless because it is invisible in the legal analysis.

  • Disclose information fully and early

Your best chance of avoiding court may lie in preparing your case with a ‘weather eye’ on the court’s process.  A careful preparation without errors is going to reassure everybody that there is absolutely no point in that court application.  There is nothing that irritates a court more than incomplete disclosure.  Gaps & omissions are usually found out and will usually lead the court to assume that there is even more than the information that you eventually come clean with.  Doing it early means that the conversation can begin early and doing this before positions harden in the heat of the post separation dialogue has a lot to recommend it.

  • Focus first on the children

They did not ask for this and are often the ones paying the highest price for it.  Thinking through what it is like for them and then doing absolutely your best by them has never worked out badly for any parent.  Getting them through this transition well will be the thing that gives lasting rewards.  Avoid getting stuck with differences of view:  do the best you can but getting an early agreement that you can all just about live with is usually good enough.  Things will change and move on.  It is much more valuable than becoming embroiled in the long fight (which usually generates more fights over the next issue).  For many parents they look back on the litigated process and see that the childhood (the thing that they were fighting over) has passed by whilst they were worrying over the next steps at court.  Early mediation with the right mediator will – for most – get you to the good enough agreement.

  • Get on with it

If you know that you need to separate then get on with it (if you are not so sure, lawyers are not going to help you come to the best decision – you will need personal support from a professional to work this through).  The worst situations are usually generated by cases running on for too long.  Of course be sensitive to pacing – holding back whilst a former partner catches up and gets over the rawness of it all – but if you can each get to that point then don’t avoid dealing with the challenges this separation will throw out because they seem so difficult and let time go by.  Passing months seem to accumulate issues and make solutions harder to find.

  • Get help to manage how infuriating this all is

Our reactions to separation and divorce are completely natural.  That the family law process doesn’t seem to manage or deal with it will be infuriating to almost anybody going through the process.  Leaving those feelings lying about is bound to infect how you manage the decisions and will undermine your aim to divorce reasonably.  I cannot remember anyone who has got personal support from a professional telling me they ever regretted it.

And remember that this is not simple stuff to manage.  Goodness, even divorce lawyers get divorce lawyers to help them when they divorce.  So think carefully before you do it yourself … Never getting guidance at all is complete folly (like stepping out onto an alien planet without any preparation or protection) but even a meeting or two is not going to equip you with the experience or knowledge that you are going to need to manage what lies ahead.  And don’t be drawn into the “I will sort what I can and get legal help if I get stuck” trap.  By the time you have realised that you have problems needing help, you are likely to have littered the landscape with problems to solve.

Yes, another of those family law paradoxes: if you are keen (as we think you should be) to avoid the long process with lawyers going to and fro and costing you a fortune, then usually the best way of achieving that is to get a lawyer in to help you do so.


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