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17 September 2020

How do you separate and divorce well?

Rightly or wrongly, many of us are informed about big issues by what we see on TV and what we read in the media. I may cringe sometimes at the TV when they talk about divorce and I am sure medical professionals, to name only one other profession, do the same when watching medical dramas. I know many people are looking forward to some new TV programming and it would appear the wait is finally over, with many new shows being released this week.

One offering from the BBC that caught my eye is the new four part drama, ‘Us’, based on the award winning novel by David Nicholls, which is starting this Sunday. The basis of the drama is a happily married man, Douglas, who has fastidiously planned a grand tour holiday of Europe with his wife of 25 years, Connie, and their grown up son, Albie, as a last big family trip before Albie starts university. The one bump in the road is that Connie has decided that she is no longer happily married and wants to separate. Despite this, Connie agrees to carry on with the trip for Albie’s sake. Will this be the trip of a lifetime that Douglas planned, that brings him and Connie back together? Will it be the final straw cementing Connie’s decision that the time has come for their separation? We will have to wait and see.

The writers have been clear, however, that they really wanted to explore the difficulties faced by couples in this situation and the ups and downs of considering whether or not a marriage is over. Ultimately, this is not a decision anyone other than each couple themselves can make but there are some things that can help make this difficult decision a little easier.

So, what are our top tips for considering separating and potentially divorcing in a positive way?

  • Keep talking – Whilst it may be difficult to discuss matters with your partner / spouse and you may feel much more comfortable discussing matters with your friends and family, as the saying goes, communication is key. It can often be easier to discuss matters face-to-face, that way you are more likely to avoid miscommunication or the perception of a lack of empathy / emotion that can happen with emails / text messages etc. Although this is, of course, subject to you feeling comfortable speaking face-to-face in a safe environment;
  • Think about your partner / spouse’s point of view and compromise – Listen to what your partner / spouse is saying and genuinely consider the reasons behind their positions. Whether you are staying together or you are separating clearly there will be changes, which is something that is going to take work from both of you. If the eventual outcome is to separate then the practicalities of this are probably not going to be the ideal for either of you and, like many things in life, compromise is usually necessary. Try not to become entrenched in your position as this could mean matters end up in court where the decision-making will be taken away from you both;
  • Understand that the implications of relationship / marriage difficulties affect everyone – This is particularly true when it comes to older or even adult children, who it can often be assumed will be less affected than younger, more dependent children. It is important to recognise that it is a big thing for children, at whatever age, when their parents are having difficulties in their relationship and considering when separating that they will need support; and
  • Recognise your own emotions and the impact of these – Second only to a bereavement, relationship problems and in particular the possibility of a long term relationship / marriage ending is likely to be the most traumatic thing that people go through. Even if you and your partner / spouse remain on good terms throughout, the ending of a relationship comes with unavoidable feelings of loss, upset, anger and confusion. It is important that you allow yourself and your partner / spouse time to process these emotions, as it is likely to be very difficult to talk about future arrangements and practical matters at the same time as processing these. It is also important to recognise that we all experience and process things at different rates, so it may be that your partner / spouse needs more time to process things than you. There is often nothing untoward in this and it may help in the long run to provide them with some time.

If you do decide to separate:

  • Remember that separating is a process not a one off event – After years of building a life together it will take some time to disentangle your lives from each other and work out what is right for each of you and any children moving forward. There is no need to add pressure to yourself at this already stressful time by seeking to ensure that matters are completed quickly, after all there is no such thing as a ‘quickie divorce’ despite what the media might say to the contrary. In our experience it often takes between 9-12 months for the legal process of divorce to run its course and associated financial matters / arrangements for children to be discussed, agreed and implemented;
  • Take legal advice early – Taking independent legal advice from a specialist family solicitor will ensure that you are aware of all the options available to you. Speaking to an independent and experienced solicitor can also help to provide an objective view on the situation and may mean that additional practical options are highlighted which you and your partner / spouse had not even considered; and
  • Consider additional professional support – In addition to the support of family, friends and a solicitor, many people find it helpful to have a counsellor or life coach to talk matters through, so they have additional support and advice on building a new life moving forward. This can also help to separate out processing the emotions that are flowing from the more practical matters that need to be addressed.

We will have to wait and see if this advice is taken by Douglas and Connie as they navigate whether or not they will separate and divorce, but if you are considering separating from your partner / spouse and would like to discuss your position in more detail then do not hesitate to contact a member of our highly experienced family and matrimonial team, who will be able to assist you.

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