Yes you can and it’s on the rise, according to Family lawyer Sue Andrews.
With close to 40 years’ experience of working with divorced and separated couples, Sue has seen many changes in how the courts and couples deal with matters and based on that she believes that couples who have regard to the following are likely to reach a resolution with the minimum of animosity, cost and delay.
- Respect and communication – separating couples often get bogged down in considering matters from their own perspective which you are unlikely to do if you remember that you were once a loving partnership which involved trust and respect. If you remember this you should be able to communicate which is especially important if there are children involved, because parents will have an ongoing relationship for the rest of their lives.
- Counselling – we often suggest counselling, not only for our clients, but for the couple, since it can be immensely helpful, both to the formal process and relations going forward, to have a discussion in a neutral environment in which each person can air how they feel and why they feel that way. Having good ongoing relations is so important where there are children, but where couples have been together for a long time there is likely to be a close bond with the relatives of the other and both may want that to continue. A couple are also likely to have mutual friends who will want to keep in touch with them both and being able to communicate with each other facilitates all of this.
- Understanding/ taking time – try to put yourself in the shoes of your spouse. It is very rare that separating parties are in the same emotional place at the beginning. One person may have been thinking about ending the marriage for some time, which news may come as a complete shock to the other. If the marriage breaks down because one person has had an affair, the other spouse is likely to feel incredibly upset, hurt and betrayed. These feelings and issues will pervade the resolution of matters unless dealt with and addressed beforehand. Where time is not given and formal steps are pursued with inappropriate haste, a spouse’s feelings alternating between great sadness and anger will usually result in delay. This is often because that person feels scared about, what appears to them to be, their uncertain future rather than a wish to be difficult for its own sake. That person will also need time to grieve the loss of the future they thought they would have. How much time is needed will depend upon the individual, and also probably the circumstances of the breakdown, however we very rarely meet a client who 6 months or more down the line does not feel better, more positive and less entrenched than they did in the dark and grief stricken days of early separation. So taking a step back is likely to be beneficial.
- Seek legal advice and choose your lawyer carefully – look for a specialist, experienced family lawyer with whom you have rapport and empathy and one you do not feel intimidated by. It is often a good idea to get advice early on since if you know what to expect that should remove some of the uncertainty that is often felt, and discussions on a more informed basis are usually more constructive and productive. But do not take formal steps until you are ready to do so unless circumstances dictate a different timescale. Lawyers give advice, but remember it is your divorce and it is you who gives the instructions. Be wary of a lawyer who promises you the earth or who always agrees with what you say. While you may need firm guidance, you need to remain true to your own values and principles.
- Establishing the facts – one of the first tasks in the resolution of matters is “fact finding” this to ascertain the resources and assets of the relationship and to understand all the issues that might impact upon the resolution of matters. A lawyer will provide guidance and advice about an appropriate outcome based on those facts, taking into account relevant legislation and judicial precedents and guidance.
- Be honest – do not play games, unless of course it is your aim and preference to pay significant amounts in legal fees and delay resolution!!
Why are we seeing a rise in cleaner divorces?
Sue thinks everyone has always wanted to separate and divorce amicably. It is rarely the divorce which is difficult, but the resolution of financial matters and sometimes, sadly, dealing with the child arrangements. Definitely in recent years people are not instituting proceedings to deal with such matters unless there is really no alternative.
One thing that may have led to this is that both partners usually now have some measure of financial independence and freedom, and people have access to information and so feel more able to assert their feelings and stress what is important.
Another factor, probably linked to both partners working, is that they are likely to be more equally involved in the lives of their children (whereas in the past parents often had two distinct and traditional roles). Where both partners are more involved in all elements of family life during their relationship, they want that to continue and that is far more likely to happen if former spouses or partners have a civil, and hopefully friendly, relationship.
There is also a lot more information about the impact of an unhappy parental relationship and also a difficult marital breakdown upon the welfare and mental health of children, particularly adolescent children, and therefore the need to keep them not just physically but also emotionally strong and resilient. Children need to know that, despite the separation of their parents, they are loved and wanted by both, and feel part of each parent’s family, even when there are new partners and/ or step or half siblings.
A good divorce is one where both parties have realistic and pragmatic advice about what is fair for each of them and are able to talk frankly and openly with each other to achieve a settlement.