Divorce & Separation For The Stay At Home Parent
Many people will have spent the Christmas and New Year break reflecting on their home life and family relationships.
Some may have wondered whether the relationship with their partner is truly fulfilling and whether it is likely to be sustaining to the end of their joint days.
Some may be thinking that it has been fine until now – but that something is missing.
The emerging shape of separation for home-makers
For some people this feeling is merely a dip. Goodness knows we have had a torrid 20 months of it and any doubts need to be assessed from that perspective. Some relationships can and will rediscover their mojo. But for others, there is something more profound at the heart of this, and expert help will be needed. ‘What next?’ may involve a separation and a transition into a different hereafter.
We have a lot to say about how that transition is managed – to ensure that everyone gets through it in good shape for what lies ahead. But the focus of this blog is not on the questions of process choice but on what lies ahead.
Families come in a myriad of configurations each with a unique background. But the courts love their stereotypes of:
- Married and Not
- Home-maker and Earner
In this blog we examine some of the unexpected things that may need to be expected for the married and separating ‘Home-maker’ spouse.
The court says that you should receive a full 50% share of what the marriage has built up (and perhaps the same for bits brought into the marriage too – depending on the way in which they have been used/relied on or integrated). Any provision beyond this is based on “needs”. Even if you are working with your partner to agree your own solutions, you are likely to be negotiating under the shade of this principle.
Mindsets have changed – a culture of generous provision in the noughties has given way to:
- An aspiration to ending any ongoing financial support;
- The likely curtailing of lifestyle over time;
- An expectation that each separated party will earn where child-care responsibilities permit.
So any established assumption that your role was that of a stay- at- home parent may well not last into the separation years. You will have your needs met but there is almost bound to be a falling away from the standard of living during the marriage, unless it is provided substantially from your own efforts.
Many parents work well together in the co-operative parenting of their children and this continues into the separation years.
For others there may have been a habit of low-level engagement by one parent with the children. However, this can change dramatically at separation. A partner, for example, who seemed utterly work-defined and therefore absent during the marriage years may suddenly become very anxious for involvement after separation. The court is likely to back this aspiration and the current professional mindset is largely that it is right to do so: “where safe”, you will hear, “a child needs a relationship with each parent.”
Generally therefore separation is bound to involve the child in the challenges of at least some to and fro in their life – finding a way to make that work well will profoundly help your children in what lies ahead for them.
For you, as the Home-maker parent whose parenting skills have been honed through many years of child-upbringing, this can be tough. In particular, if the other parent has had a more difficult relationship with the children it will be particularly tough, and if that parent is reacting badly to the separation, you are bound to have anxieties. For those who have endured the long-lasting, even if very low-level, trauma of a coercive relationship, you may need to come to terms with the children now spending their time with their other parent without you to protect and smooth the way for your children.
The concept of Gillick-competence means that increasingly as children age and mature, their own views will prevail. But up to the early to mid-teen years, substantial time with the other parent should be expected. Your focus is likely to be on how to help your other parent be their best and give of their best so that the children can have arrangements that work as well as possible for them.
A long process
Some may enter this phase assuming that there are simple “snap-together” solutions that are identified quickly and which – by and large – work ok: they think that it is simply a question of finding the website that gives the guidance and the answer.
As experienced family lawyers, we are in the business of carefully crafted and tailored solutions: there is no sequence of clear steps to one answer but instead the application of principles with a range of possible solutions and these need to be worked through from the ground up for each family. To equip you for the best for the next chapter ahead:
- there will be cost;
- it will take time; and
- it is going to need effort and hard work on your side too.
Once you find the right team to help you, they will work efficiently and you will feel listened to and supported. But no-one has a great solution to drop into your lap.
Some of the difficulty that can cause a long and drawn out process is because of who is involved: a formerly trusted spouse may react to the challenge of separation in previously unseen ways.
If you are aiming to do this well then managing this process with kindness, consideration and respect for what your spouse is going through is likely to help towards a better future, achieved more quickly and at lower cost. You might also seek out counselling expertise (we have our own in-house counsellor Jo Harrison here at FLiP to support our clients). This may:
- Help to deal with your own responses;
- Build futures that will work well for your children; and
- Help you to understand how your spouse is likely to be reacting and how that situation can be managed for the best.
What underpins much of the above is this: that your turning for assistance at the close of this chapter in your life is not a moment of reckoning. A court outcome is more likely to be a pragmatic solution. But given the costs involved of taking a case to court, most people will do better to find their solutions away from the doors of the court in careful and well thought through negotiations and agreement.
And of course there are upsides to this new future. What should lie ahead is independence:
- what is yours is yours;
- you have control of it rather than a mere partner’s involvement;
- The choices and opportunities you will have will be fully your own; and
- The life you create will be based on your values, your creativity and your warmth and sense of well-being – a domain in which your children are likely to flourish as never before.
What could be next?
At FLiP, we are well used to sitting down with clients for an hour or so to answer the question – on a confidential basis – what is likely to happen? For some clients, it never goes further than this – for others it leads to relationship counselling from which a different and sustaining relationship emerges. And for others it can be the start – when you are ready and when the time is right – to examine the possibilities beyond marriage. We will talk about how to prepare for what lies ahead, how the start might be managed and what support might be available for you.
For further information, you might want to take a look at the experiences of divorce and separation from some of our former clients in our divorce diary series.
If you would like to speak to a member of our team, please contact us below.