Divorce can be, without doubt, one of the most emotionally and financially draining experiences of one’s life. On top of the upheaval caused by the breakdown of an often long relationship there are a multitude of other administrative considerations which many people struggle to face. This is difficult to reconcile with the emotional intensity of divorce - children must be catered and cared for, wills often need changing, and the division of property and assets creates a somewhat more complex picture than simply signing the divorce papers.
As family solicitors, we at Peters May understand exactly what hurdles people face in divorce and what solutions make the process as stress-free as possible. Whilst the law is changing with a view to making divorce a less-acrimonious affair, there is assistance outside of the justice system which we often advise clients to seek first (indeed the President of the Family Division of the Court of Appeal has recently emphasised the importance of using the justice system as a last resort).
With that in mind, we have outlined a few tools which, in our experience, have been of great value to those going through a divorce.
Negotiation between parties
This is so often forgotten! There is a sense that, just because a divorce is underway, lawyers must be immediately deployed to make sure that ‘everything goes smoothly’ and that both parties are protected. In fact, the reality is that leaps and bounds can be made in progressing matters by first discussing arrangements with your ex-partner. Not only can this help to resolve any issues quickly, but it saves significant costs which can be put towards providing for each party’s needs as they move on with their lives. It is inevitably a good idea to keep a written record of any discussions which you have with your ex-partner and try to keep any conversations as structured as possible.
Mediation is an equally useful tool which many divorcing couples find beneficial in resolving disputes before they become irreconcilable. In any event, it is mandatory for parties to consider mediation before going down the road towards court, so it is well worth doing if you have found direct negotiation with your ex-partner difficult.
Mediation involves a neutral third-party facilitating discussion between parties with a view to reaching agreement. Think of it as assisted negotiation! Family mediators are usually family legal practitioners themselves and can be used for disputes over children, finances, or both. They are not on anybody’s ‘side’ and may be able to give some perspective on how best to resolve issues.
Again, cost is a major driver to settle matters early and of course an agreement through mediation will mean that you will have certainty sooner and be able to move on. An excellent resource from which to find and compare mediators is the Family Mediation Council, which registers family mediators as having met particular standards. It is always best to find someone who both you and your ex-partner feel comfortable working with since mediation is a collaborative and non-adversarial process after all.
As alluded to above, divorce has an unhelpful mix of emotional upheaval and administrative and legal confusion. It can be very difficult to keep on top of everything alone, particularly when you are feeling low. Whilst at Peters May, we pride ourselves on our personal service and empathy to all of our clients, it can be disproportionately expensive to use lawyers for emotional support when you are already paying them significant sums for the legal work. Divorce coaching can provide an alternative.
Reset Divorce Coaching, run by Amanda Gardiner, offers bespoke services for clients seeking support and advice through their divorce. She gives a concise summary of what divorce coaching involves:
“Divorce coaching in short, is practical and emotional support which will enable you to positively survive divorce and avoid the pitfalls that make it such a destructive process.”
This encompasses dealing with rejection and heartbreak, financial planning, support with divorce papers and providing a general sounding board for your questions.
Of course, if there are particularly complex issues which arise out of the divorce then formal legal advice may be required. However, divorce coaching is personal by nature and can be tailored to operate alongside lawyers so that the focus remains, taking as much pressure and stress off you.
Choosing the right solicitors
As mentioned, if a divorce involves, for example, complex asset structures or child arrangements then solicitors may need to become involved. Indeed, it may be that, despite your efforts, you have been unable to come to an agreement with your ex-partner. It is important to remember that, like all of the above, you must be comfortable with the solicitors you choose. Communication is key and you have to feel secure in instructing lawyers about your personal life. We are a small firm at Peters May, but we have found that our clients have really valued the personal service and discretion which this allows us to provide. There is a risk that large firms, whilst they have benefits of their own, will pass your case to various different lawyers (often junior members of the firm). This can make the process feel more procedural as a result. We are happy to discuss your particular needs and ensure that you are receiving the right advice particular to your circumstances. In terms of finding the right solicitor for you, it is important to speak with firms in person to get a truer sense of how they can help you.
Clearly, any of the above avenues can be explored either in isolation or in combination with one another. It is the case that many people simply do not know of the options available to them when divorcing and who is available to help guide them through both such a legally and emotionally difficult time.