Regular readers of our tweets, blogs and website might already be aware that we’ve just moved offices. You can now find us at 33 Parkside, Cambridge CB1 1JE – a gorgeous Georgian end-of-terrace that feels ‘right’ for us and reflects our true Cambridge heritage on the outside, while being a state-of-the art 21st century office space inside. Did it go smoothly? Well… no, not exactly. The removal firm rather underestimated the time required to shift a 5-partner solicitors’ firm across Cambridge, and poor Simon spent most of Saturday shifting furniture, then most of Sunday limping and bemoaning his bruises. Nevertheless, we’re in, we’re thrilled, and we can’t wait to hear what you think of our new place. But the experience wasn’t a pleasant one, and it’s allowed us to reflect a bit on the process of moving house, which is so often an unwanted and unpleasant consequence of relationship breakdown for our clients.
Houses – our homes – are our base, our foundation, our security. A house is said to represent the self in dreams while we sleep, and homes are often the vessels into which we pour all our hopes and waking dreams for the future together. Children may be born and raised there, communities are built around the home, and many couples visualise their mortgages as mountains to climb together, aiming to reach the pinnacle before a long and happy retirement. For all these reasons and more, the potential sale of the family home is always one of the most emotionally destabilising aspects of splitting up. Whether the house will have to be sold is often the saddest question for a family lawyer to answer, knowing that for the client it is likely to be the hardest reality to come to terms with.
People often say that the three most stressful events in life are death, divorce, and moving house. For our clients, often divorce and moving house will often come together, sometimes when neither event has been a choice, creating a ‘perfect storm’ of emotions that can feel dreadfully overwhelming. However, not everyone has the same experience: for some couples, moving home after relationship breakdown can be a positive experience, when a home can be chosen and furnished without needing to compromise with someone else, and each person has the opportunity of creating a new sanctuary for a new life, a new start. Many people experience divorce as less black-and-white in emotional terms than they had anticipated it would be: the shades of grey and shards of sunlight surrounding a house move can be one of the biggest surprises.
People tend to worry a great deal about how children will cope with a house move. In our experience, they will take their lead from the adults involved. If there is significant conflict surrounding a move, or parents are upset and worried about it, children will be unsettled. Children and adults think about house moves very differently: children tend to be more concerned about the details of the move than the big picture. Adults tend to worry about how safe the road is and whether the garden will be too high-maintenance, while kids can fret about whether they will be able to choose the colour of their bedroom, where pets will sleep, and whether their friends will be able to come round easily. Keeping the channels of communication open with kids at this time is more important than ever, so that they feel they can ask questions and you can understand what they’re concerned about.
On the practical side, there are plenty of resources on the web giving tips for moving house, which can be very helpful: our favourites come from Channel 4’s “4Homes” section and from that fount of all knowledge, the BBC. An article by the Independent even suggests you should hire a “professional clutterologist” to help sort out your things before you move – whoever knew there was such a thing? We thought that we’d just add a few other thoughts:
• Put your support network in place well in advance. Ensure you have a way to sound off about the inevitable frustrations during the process: a best friend to call, or even a counsellor/personal coach to see. This is a very difficult time and bottling up the inevitable emotions will cause greater stress than having a vent for letting them out.
• Get practical back-up for the move. Call all those family and friends who said “is there anything I can do?” and told you they felt helpless through your divorce, and ask them to come and pack with you, look after your children or keep the kettle boiling.
• Get any work done before on your new home before you get in if at all possible, as the move will be stressful enough without having to deal with builders for months afterwards.
• You will never have enough boxes. (Our removers came with a hundred more than we’d ordered and it still wasn’t enough.)
• Do have a painting party but don’t allow people to drink anything stronger than tea and coffee, or the results won’t be quite what you were hoping for (NB – this is from the individual experience of one of the team who will remain nameless, rather than something we have attempted with our new office!)
For us, our move was unquestionably a good thing: it’s been long in the planning, and marks the start of a positive new era in the history of CFLP. We know that we moved location through choice; we understand that many of our clients move through necessity, and we realise the extra level of stress that can add. This experience has reminded us of the need to do everything in our power to make the whole process of divorce, separation or civil partnership dissolution, go as smoothly as possible for our clients, including and especially any house move that happens within it.