There’s a real stigma surrounding divorce, and an assumption that it’s inevitably going to be acrimonious and horribly expensive. But it really doesn’t have to be.
‘Divorcing well’ is increasingly the key aim of couples facing separation. Celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow have helped to promote this. The film Marriage Story has also highlighted how the process of legal advice can drive couples further apart. But most couples want to navigate their divorce sensibly (and without breaking the bank). Such is the demand for a positive divorce that in Tatler’s Guide to Divorce there is a whole section focused on ‘conscious uncouplers’.
So what are my top three tips for divorcing well?
Divorce often breeds mistrust. But that stems from a failure to talk to each other. In some ways, separation gives you the freedom to be honest, but often the emotional toll makes couples clam up. This can be exacerbated very quickly if you get into separate legal camps, speaking to your individual lawyers rather than each other. But at the end of the legal process the lawyers will go away, and you’ll be left alone to face the challenges ahead. If you have children, co-parenting is life-long. So get support early on to help you process the emotion – counsellors and life coaches can be fantastic, and use services which keep you talking, such as joint legal advice or mediation.
Choose the Divorce you want
Divorce may not be your choice, but the way you divorce can be. In my experience, most divorcing couples want, above all, to be fair, to themselves, their children and each other. Which is a great place to start because that’s how a Judge will look at it. Viewing divorce as a ‘battle’, in which you each pitch your case at its absolute highest in the hope one person will blink first, is out-dated, hugely stressful and disproportionately expensive.
Most couples do need legal advice as to what will be fair for them. We are all completely individual and unique, in the way we live, raise our children and manage our finances. Your neighbour’s divorce settlement will not be the right fit for you. A divorce, for most couples, is the biggest surrender of assets they make in their lifetimes. So get expert legal advice. But think about how you get it. At The Divorce Surgery, we offer a One Couple One Lawyer service, where one barrister advises a couple together, impartially, about what a court would view as fair for them both, and their children, on divorce. For many couples, this is the injection of impartial legal advice they need to reach a fair deal, and at a fixed cost. There are other options too: mediation, instructing separate solicitors, using divorce coaches. And none of these are mutually exclusive- many couples hop from one to the other as and when it works for them.
This is a fresh start. Look for joy. It’s natural to feel sad, guilty, bereft, and anxious but it’s also good to feel optimistic and free. Focus on the future and surround yourself with people and things which buoy you, and in time you will thrive.
Samantha Woodham is a family law barrister and co-founder of The Divorce Surgery, the first service in the UK which enables separating couples to get impartial legal advice together. It has won numerous industry awards, and has been described as a ‘disruption’ of divorce.