In the early stages of a separation, you can feel like you’re in a vortex: everything is swirling around, uncertain, and it’s difficult to find anything to grab on to and steady yourself. Here are 10 things that our experience has taught us can help.
- Put children first.
If you have children, their needs should be the guiding factor while you are going through the separation. The research is clear: it’s not separation or divorce as such that can harm children, it’s being exposed to conflict. The very best thing you can do is not to argue in front of them and to agree and maintain a joint message. If you let their needs guide your decisions during this difficult time, you will generally be doing the right thing.
- Read up.
Helpful resources include websites such as The Parent Connection and the Couple Connection, both from relationship charity One Plus One, that give ideas for better communication in difficult circumstances. The Resolution website is an excellent source of information and guidance, as is our own blog, which now covers 5 years of our thoughts about divorce, separation and family law. Also, Relate have done an excellent series of books about managing the process of separation in a positive way.
- Get advice.
The law surrounding separation and divorce is not necessarily what you might think. For example, it might come as a shock to people separating out of unmarried relationships that simply cohabiting with someone, no matter for how long, confers no legal rights as such: the concept of the ‘common law’ wife/husband is a myth. The law about separating out finances or property on divorce might also come as a surprise, particularly the fact that it doesn’t matter in 99.9% of cases who has done what to end the marriage: the financial outcome is unaffected.
- Consider seeing a therapist/counsellor.
This is not about ‘saving’ your relationship. In our experience it can be extremely helpful to see a therapist together during the process of breaking up. A good couples’ therapist can facilitate you both to process any anger, hurt, disappointment, confusion towards each other in a safe space and in a constructive way that means it is less likely to spill over into the rest of your lives, or in front of your children. A therapist can also help you work out how you will talk to any children about your separation, and think through possibilities for the future.
Also, many people also find it helpful to see a therapist on their own, separately, to work through some of the intense feelings that are inevitable in the process of separation. You can get a referral to a therapist via your GP, although you may find there is a waiting list. Alternatively, you can find a good private therapist in your area via the BACP website. Seeing a counsellor needn’t be costly.
Separation can be very difficult to deal with. It is a sign of strength and self-awareness to ask for help.
- Give and take space.
It’s really important to give your estranged partner or spouse space during a break-up, but often this is more difficult than it sounds. Fear, suspicion or anxiety can make it difficult to keep things in perspective. It’s so important to take space for yourself too, and to force yourself to do things that you enjoy or that make you feel better, whether it’s going for a run, spending an evening out with friends, or anything else.
- Be businesslike.
You and your partner or spouse will have to continue communicating throughout your separation, particularly if you share children, pets or a living space. If early on you can take the time to work out how best you can do this to minimise stress, disruption and misunderstandings, you may save yourself a lot of trouble later. For some people, it’s doing main communications by email and using texts in emergencies; for others, it’s limited emergency phone calls and weekly meetings about plans.
Whatever you choose, if you can remain businesslike and communicate with your former partner as if he/she were a work colleague on a project, you will make headway with arrangements much more quickly. Don’t try and have an important conversation at the end of a long working day after the children have gone to bed: you wouldn’t conduct a work-related meeting that way.
- Choose carefully whom you listen to.
Friends and family can be a lifeline during divorce and separation. They love you, they want to support you and they are unquestionably on your side. This means that they may not always be the best source of advice or guidance about present and future dealings with your estranged spouse or partner. Divorce is not unusual and people will carry their own baggage from their own separation, or their parents’, or a friend’s. It’s worth remembering that other people’s stories aren’t your story, and they may have a different agenda to you.
- Don’t worry about the divorce.
The actual legal process of divorce often weighs heavily on the mind of married couples who separate. In fact, this is generally one of the least important issues. Legally, it matters not who divorces whom and why; the process is now done entirely on paper in most cases, and you will not need to see a judge to get a divorce unless there is something very unusual about your case. If you would like more information on what is involved in divorce, click here.
- Seek consensus about future arrangements.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: court is, generally, the least appropriate place to work out arrangements for a family’s future after separation or divorce. Sometimes it can’t be avoided. In the vast majority of cases taking a practical and child-centred approach to arrangements for children’s care, and a commercial and businesslike approach to matters of finance and property, means that you can avoid court. Collaborative law, mediation, negotiating through solicitors, and arbitration are all sensible options for sorting things out without going through ‘the system’.
- Remember everyone has their own truth about why a relationship broke down.
You need to be comfortable with yours, but it isn’t necessary that your ex should share it for you to be able to make plans for the future. This is rarely an area separated couples agree on – and that’s fine.
If you’ve got questions about anything you’ve read in this blog, or any aspect of family law, you can give us a call on 01223 443333 and make an appointment to see Adam, Simon, Tricia, Gail or Sue.