Divorce: A New Chapter
by Lisa De Silva
At a difficult time of life, such as when you are facing a divorce, you want as much support as possible. Lisa de Silva covers some of the options here to make it as easy as possible for you and your family
According to official statistics 42% of all marriages end in divorce. The impact on those involved in terms of the emotional heartache and financial burden can be traumatic, but recent years have seen developments in the legal world to help ease the process. What’s more, there is now a trend for celebrating this life-changing event with a divorce party, to shift emotions of loss and failure to those of rebirth and renewal.
Here we take a look at the different legal processes and options available when a relationship breaks down, along with looking at ways to navigate the emotional landscape of divorce.
GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE
Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (England and Wales), anyone seeking a divorce must prove that a partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour. Alternatively, if both parties agree, a divorce can be granted after two years of separation. If there is no consent from either party or no evidence of fault, a couple have to have lived apart for five years in order to divorce. These legal requirements can make a divorce a lengthy process and needlessly acrimonious with the need to appoint blame. Currently, the government is preparing to launch a public debate on proposals to modernise the divorce laws with a ‘no fault’ option. If this is passed into law, it would mean that the sole grounds for divorce will be the ‘irretrievable breakdown of a marriage,’ making the process less confrontational and much quicker to process.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PROFESSIONAL ADVICE & EXPERTISE
Negotiating the legal language and processes of divorce can be challenging, particularly at a time of enormous emotional upheaval and the support, expertise and experience of a legal professional cannot be underestimated. Many family law solicitors offer an initial consultation for a fixed fee, which will help you to understand how the grounds for divorce and issues relating to children and finances apply to your specific circumstances. Splitting up property, pensions and assets can be a minefield and professional legal advice allows you to make an informed decision as to how to proceed.
For those who decide to forgo professional help and opt for a DIY divorce, there are two major risks: firstly, if one partner feels hurt and hard done by during the process it can lead to a contested divorce, which is a hugely expensive and long drawn out procedure; secondly, it is important to understand that a decree nisi simply dissolves a marriage, it does not cover financial arrangements and without a separate legally binding consent order covering finances, both parties can be vulnerable to a future claim on their property, pensions and assets.
THE LEGAL PROCESSES OF DIVORCE
In recent years the legal system has recognised the damaging emotional and financial impact of divorce and has introduced a number of new resolution services in an attempt to minimise the effects of divorcing on couples and families. The aim is to try to make divorce more collaborative, open and transparent in order to achieve a fair outcome as quickly and cost-effectively as possible without costly court proceedings.
Divorcing couples can now choose from a wide range of options which include:
A DIY divorce is where both parties negotiate their own agreement before instructing a solicitor to make what has been decided legally binding. While this may seem the most cost-effective way of divorcing, without the help of a legal professional to alert you to your rights and the full implications of your agreement, things can go wrong. If this results in a contested divorce it could end up being a very costly option.
In this scenario a couple appoints an independent and impartial mediator trained to resolve issues raised by divorce such as childcare arrangements and the division of property, pensions and assets. Often mediators are trained solicitors and so have the legal expertise to ensure a fair outcome for both parties. Once agreements have been reached, the mediator prepares a Memorandum of Understanding which is taken to a solicitor to be made legally binding. This reduces solicitor costs and can help to make the process less acrimonious.
This aims to resolve issues face to face with the couple and their respective lawyers sitting down together to settle any issues and reach an agreement. There is no need for lengthy rounds of legal correspondence or for costly court proceedings.
Family arbitration is a quicker and cheaper option than going to court. An arbitrator is appointed by a couple to hear both party’s case and make a decision based on the evidence. It can be used for just one issue if necessary, for example if you agree about everything aside from pension rights, arbitration can be used to resolve the issue.
LAW COURT DIVORCE
Both parties appoint a lawyer and communication is exclusively through legal channels, before court proceedings in which a judge will make the final decision on what is a fair outcome in terms of childcare and the splitting of property, pensions and assets. Needless to say, this type of divorce is extremely expensive and usually involves a lengthy timescale.
COPING WITH THE EMOTIONAL COST OF DIVORCE
Nobody goes into a marriage expecting it to result in divorce, but inevitably some relationships break down. When this occurs, there will be a sense of loss, failure, hurt and possibly guilt to contend with. For those with children, negotiating this complex maze of emotions can be especially challenging.
One of the most important things at this time is to find a way to support yourself. Find a friend or counsellor you can offload to and try to find a relaxing and distracting activity you can use to give your mind and emotions a break from the turmoil. This could be a form of exercise, tackling a puzzle or crossword or cooking yourself something nutritious. You will feel emotional so do let yourself cry and rage to release some of the tension. It’s also important to get enough sleep, which can be difficult given the circumstances and in some cases a meditation tape or some relaxing music may help.
The popularity of Divorce and Separation Retreats is growing and a weekend workshop offering legal, financial and emotional support could help you in moving on. There are also Divorce Coaches and Counsellors who can offer a similar service. Divorce is a major life event and there is a growing trend to support this landmark occasion with a Divorce Party. Ultimately, many people divorce for positive reasons and a party is a chance to celebrate this time of rebirth with friends and family and can help you to look forward.
HELPING CHILDREN THROUGH DIVORCE
Divorce can be a traumatic event for children and however hard it might be, it’s important to talk to children about your ex-partner in a neutral way so they do not feel they have to take sides. Reassure them that what has happened is not their fault and that both of you will continue to love and care for them. Think about what is appropriate for the children to know and when explaining what has happened try to be as factual as possible and use age- appropriate language. For example, if an affair is involved, describe it as a close friendship. It’s also important to encourage children to talk about how they are feeling and to give them as much continuity as possible, so do try to keep to daily routines.
Possibly the most important factor is keeping a ‘functional friendship’ with your ex-partner to allow you to successfully co-parent together based on shared values and boundaries. Bird’s Nest Parenting can work for some, where children stay in the family home and parents take it in turns to stay with them, while the other one lives in a flat nearby. This is less disruptive for children and can be cost-effective as only one property needs to be big enough for your offspring. However, this relies on you and your partner maintaining a good relationship and can need adjusting if new partners come onto the scene.
While there’s no doubt that divorce is a stressful and challenging time in anyone’s life, maintaining respect and consideration for your ex-partner represents the best way of minimising the damage and being able to move on in a positive way.