BBC Morning Live

How to have a respectful divorce

Following our managing partner Amanda McAlister’s guest appearance on BBC Morning Live, we thought you might find it useful to read her nine essential tips on how to have a respectful divorce.

I am very often asked if it is possible to have an amicable divorce, to which I always answer yes, it is, but only if both parties want it to be. In my experience, it’s only really when both people in the marriage or civil partnership have been separated for a considerable amount of time that they’re able to get their heads around what the split means for them and all those involved. You cannot escape the fact that divorce means huge change: wanted or unwanted, it’s still an enormous life event that even for the strongest of people, can create significant worry, insecurity and an enormous hit on a normally stable equilibrium.

What do you need to do to have a respectful divorce?

1. Get professional advice, fast

Understandably you will have lots of concerns, and for many those at the top of their list are will I lose the kids, and do I have to move out of my house? An experienced family lawyer will be able to help you with all your questions and take you through the divorce process step-by-step.   This will help to ease some of the fear and panic and will often feel empowering and prepared for what lies ahead.

2. Phone a neutral friend

Speaking of asking your friends, phone someone you know well, but who is neutral. Tempting though it is to speak to family members and your best mates, these people will, understandably but inevitably, take your side and by doing so they often fuel the problem. You need someone clear-eyed and with no axe to grind who will be honest. Only hearing what you want to hear is rarely the answer.

3. Team work is key

Choose your legal team carefully. It’s not going to help you in the long term if you engage the lawyer with the best record and a top reputation if you can’t connect with them. Do you feel your lawyer is empathetic? Will they be available whenever you need them? Do you feel reassured that they genuinely understand all your concerns? Once you’ve found that lawyer, get in touch with that neutral friend, then decide if you need to consult other professionals, such as a pension actuary or a forensic accountant.

4. Positive communication

Treat your divorce as though it’s a business dealing.  No matter how tempted you are to send a highly-charged, emotional WhatsApp or email, first ask yourself – would I send this to a work colleague? Would I call my boss all the names under the sun and accuse him or her of being a terrible person? Probably not, because all actions have consequences and if you provoke the other party in this way, ultimately, you’re not going to achieve what you want. A civilised, respectful divorce.

5. Do not use social media to try to hang onto your ex

We have all seen examples of people using social media to talk about their pain and hurt as they go through a split. A very recent example is that of celebrity couple Alice Evans and Ioan Gruffudd, where Evans announced on Twitter “My husband doesn’t love me” and went on to say he had left her and their children. No matter how much pain and hurt you are feeling, this is not the way forward and rather than bring your ex back to you it is more likely to inflame an already difficult situation and may even entrench your ex’s decision to leave the marriage. And if you have children, imagine how horrible they will feel as their friends tell them they’ve read all about your parents’ arguments on social media. And this leads me to say

6. Do not badmouth your ex to your children

I can’t stress this enough. It won’t achieve anything other than pain, and studies have shown that emotional conflict can be as destructive as physical conflict. Your children love you both, and you both love your children. Why hurt them? Because that’s all that will happen. I have dealt with some heart-breaking cases where children have been alienated from one parent because the other parent has used them as an attempt to punish their ex. It’s the children who suffer and it’s your duty to do the right thing by them. Sound off to your mate over a glass of wine. Tell your solicitor how badly your ex is behaving. Write it all down in a letter and then burn it. But don’t say anything to your children. One day, when they’ve grown up as well-rounded, well-adjusted adults, you, and they, will be grateful that you behaved well. It will be worth it, I promise you.

7. Develop a routine from the very outset

Know who is doing what, and when. Children need certainty and they will be miserable if they’re always the child who hasn’t got their PE kit for school the next morning or they’ve left their homework at their Dad’s last night because they thought they would be staying there the following day. If you can’t establish this routine with your ex, then look at mediation. A skilled mediator can put together a plan that works for both of you and takes the heat out of any potential conflict.

8. Grit your teeth and work to transform your relationship with your ex

Something has ended, yes, but something new is beginning. If you have young children together you have many years of dealing with your ex ahead of you, so it’s in your interests to forge a new path. Remember, you don’t have to be friends – that’s often asking too much – but always being angry takes a great deal of energy and effort. Easier for your own mental health, and that of your children, to build new boundaries within which you are civilised partners working respectfully with each other in a way that benefits everyone.

9. Keep in mind that there is, truly, life after divorce

No matter how dark things seem or how hard the road ahead looks, it really does get better. There’s a good life ahead for you. Believe in it.

If you are thinking about getting a divorce, you should obtain advice from a specialist family lawyer. Get in touch today. We are here to help you.

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