A leading Family Lawyer has set out his top ten tips for couples looking to divorce or separate well and his further top ten tips to stop children becoming casualties of divorce.
Peter Martin, a Partner at Finchley-based OGR Stock Denton LLP who has more than 40 years’ experience in Family Law, prepared the tips ahead of Good Divorce Week which will run from 28 November to 2 December.
Amongst Peter’s suggestions are “reactive decision are usually bad ones”, “try to be rational and objective” and “don’t listen to your friends.”
Peter said: “Having dealt with divorce cases for more than four decades, I have learnt that how one starts the process can dictate the whole tenor of the future of your divorce or separation.
“Certain characteristics repeatedly stand out as leading to what might be termed as ‘constructive’ divorces, which allow divorcees to begin the next chapters of their lives, and ‘destructive’ divorces, which lead only to further pain and suffering. Too often, it is children who suffer most.
“My top ten tips are intended to help people achieve ‘constructive’ good divorces and to avoid the pain and suffering, particularly experienced by children, of a ‘destructive’ divorce.
“I hope these tips will help families emerge from the process of divorce with minimal suffering and ready to start the next chapter in their lives.”
Good Divorce Week is organised by Resolution, formerly the Solicitors’ Family Law Association, and will highlight the organisation’s calls for ‘no-fault’ divorce to become an option for divorcing couples.
Peter Martin’s top tips for divorcing or separating well
As a divorce lawyer – now more accurately called a Family Lawyer – of more than 40 years’ experience I have learnt that how one starts the process can dictate the whole tenor of the future of your divorce or separation.
So here are my top ten tips for an amicable divorce and my tips for trying to protect the children:
- Reactive decisions are usually bad ones. If you are feeling hurt or have just discovered your partner with someone else don’t take any legal actions until the red mist has gone from your eyes.
- Try to be rational and objective. Going through a separation is highly emotional, but try to put that emotion to one side and sit down around a table with a neutral party with the aim of making sensible decisions. Remember that you loved the other person once. There must have been a reason – focus on this not the hurt.
- Decide on your priorities. More often than not one of the biggest priorities is to move on with your life with your dignity intact. The more amicable the divorce the quicker it will be over, leaving you to get on with the next chapter of your life. It is also a lot cheaper.
- Be nice for the sake of the kids. If you have children then it is only in the most exceptional circumstances that it is not in the children’s interests for their parents to get on with each other and remain friendly, even if they are separated or divorced.
- Go to a good family lawyer. Find a family specialist committed to working out solutions as amicably as possible and in a way that will preserve your relationship with your spouse. If you can, use mediation or collaborative family law.
- Expect a big change in your lifestyle. Your life is going to change dramatically, it is the surprise of this that can often lead to resentment and breed conflict. Your partner’s life will be changing too and they will be having the same problems adjusting as you are. Yes really.
- Don’t do it the celebrity way. Every week there seems to be another celebrity couple fighting out a dirty divorce in the media. You don’t have to fight dirty to get the best result – in fact, in reality, judges will frown upon it when making their settlement.
- Don’t listen to your friends. Turn to them for emotional support but remember that every marriage is different and every divorce is different. Just because friends think it is a good idea, doesn’t mean it is.
- Be the bigger person. Even if your nearly ex is trying to play dirty, don’t rise to the bait. It is easier said than done, but I often hear from people who years later regret that they allowed themselves to get lowered to that level.
- Think about divorce before you get married. Think about what your situation will be if things don’t work out and how you think the other person is likely to behave in those circumstances as well. Consider a prenuptial agreement. Realism does not have to be anti-romantic.
How to stop children being casualties
Divorce affects children. How badly is, to a large extent, up to the conduct of their separating parents who can either make things worse or better.
So here are my top tips for minimising the damage:
- Reassurance. Children need to know that separation does not mean they will be losing a parent. Ideally work out in general terms the arrangements for the children and then tell them together and without blaming the other person. Tell the children it’s not their fault, as they may well think they have some responsibility as a result of their behaviour. Yes, really they do, it’s not just a myth.
- Try not to argue about the divorce, the children or finances in front of the children or within their earshot. If you argue about maintenance, where the children will live and contact issues in front of them, there is no point in telling them the separation is not their fault.
- Be civilised. The children need to see that it’s possible for their parents whom they love to still get on even if they don’t love each other. Try to do occasional things together, especially with schooling. For a child to see his or her parents cooperating about the major issues is incredibly important in enabling them to have their own future relationships.
- Don’t be negative if your former partner wants to be more involved. Fathers often want to be more involved with their children than mum’s feel they were before. There’s a realisation that if the children are not around every day more effort is needed to maintain a good relationship.
- Avoid blame. Knowing that one parent blames the other makes the children take sides. Let the children know it is OK to enjoy themselves with the other parent. This helps them to enjoy being with the other parent without feeling guilty.
- Don’t bad-mouth the other parent to your children, or to others in front of them. Remember your child is part of both of you. Attacking the other person is attacking part of them.
- Don’t cut off grandparents. They will usually side with their child. You should both tell them not to when the grandchildren are around. Let them know what you are doing to minimise the damage to their grandchildren and tell them to do the same. Help from grandparents can be very useful and should not be cut off.
- Use a shared calendar. You can do this electronically and both use it to put in important dates and tell each other things but also have the same child friendly wall calendar in both homes so the children can see when they will be with each parent. This provides huge reassurance.
- Try to divorce amicably. Use mediation or collaborative law to try to develop a civilised and dignified separation. For more details on how to do this, look at our website.
- TAKE ADVICE. Not from friends or family but objective advice from a specialist solicitor. There’s an old legal adage that a lawyer who acts for himself has a fool for a client. How much more so if, in the emotion of family breakdown you try to do it yourself. Of course there are cost consequences but believe me, the cost is far less than the cost to your children and to you of getting it wrong.