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15 Tips To Avoid A Messy Separation Or Divorce

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No matter how you cut it divorce or separation is painful.  Whether you are male, female, young or old, the one who is leaving or the one who has left.

Relationship breakdown is right up at the top of the list of stressful life events.  Many stressors overlap at the same time.  During this process and long after the dust has settled, those involved will experience a whole range of different emotions including shock and denial, anger, fear and anxiety, remorse and guilt, confusion, sadness and grief. This process can often feel like a roller coaster and at the outset the parties to the relationship will be at different stages of the cycle.

That some couples manage to get through the process without acrimonious and costly court proceedings has less to do with the complexity of their personal and financial circumstances and more to do with the range of emotions experienced during the process and how they cope with them.  Some couples are better able to separate the emotional process of divorce or separation from the legal process.

There is no magic formula contained in this guide that will provide all the solutions, just some practical suggestions that we have picked up over the years by observing how some people manage to get through divorce or separation better than others.  We hope you find something of use to you on your journey.

1) Timing is Key

When going through a separation, the point at which you first see a solicitor is ultimately a decision for you. Unless there is a particular need to seek an urgent legal remedy, it is best not to leap into a formal legal process whilst you are in the middle of your greatest emotional upheaval. 

2) Be Clear About Your Aims

Immediately after separation, you are likely to have well-meaning friends and family working at you to protect yourself.  Seeing your solicitor immediately after physical separation can be helpful at this time by providing you with basic information about the legal system and the processes involved.  At an early stage this may provide you with helpful guidance, for example that might help you come to a practical temporary arrangement that will tide you over until you can think more rationally. Be clear about the information you need in the short to medium term, for example, ask your solicitor what you need to know for the next few months whilst you are coming to terms with the situation.

3) Give Yourself Time To Think

If you have had legal advice, immediately following separation remember there is a limited amount of information that you will be able to absorb during the first meeting, ask your solicitor to follow up the meeting by confirming their advice in writing and unless there is a genuine emergency requiring an immediate decision, give yourself time to reflect on the advice.

4) Choose Your Solicitor Carefully

As tempting as it might be to rush off to Rottweiler and Co fresh on the heels of fury to “get even”, the end result is likely to be escalating financial and emotional cost to you both.  If you are sitting in your solicitor’s office discussing how to “go for the jugular” we would suggest that you may have made the wrong choice.  The role that your solicitor plays can either greatly increase hostility and cost or encourage you both to see the benefits of a constructive non-confrontational approach.

5) Find A Resolution Member

Resolution is a national organisation of family lawyers that produces codes of practice which its member must adhere to.  The codes of practice are designed to encourage a constructive and conciliatory approach to the resolution of family disputes, with the aim of protecting the interests of children and long term family relationships.  It is entirely possible to protect your interests in a constructive way.  Resolution members can also undertake a rigorous accreditation process in specialist family subjects to demonstrate their expertise in a particular field.  At the very least, make sure your solicitor is a member of Resolution, or better still, opt for a Resolution Accredited Specialist.  You can find out details of Resolution members and Accredited Specialists at

6) Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Support

The grief at ending a relationship has been compared to that experienced on the death of a loved one but this is complicated by the fact that there has not actually been a death and the person who has been “lost” still remains.  Allow yourself time to grieve the end of your relationship.

Support from friends and family has its place but you may need someone just to listen. Your solicitor may not have the professional skills to act as your counsellor and long emotional conversations can end up being expensive.  Consider seeking support from a trained counsellor if you need it.  Understanding the emotional process that you are going through, knowing that your feelings are normal and that the chaos is only temporary may help to reduce the intensity and the duration of the crisis.

7) It Doesn’t Matter Who Divorces Who

Unless you are in a marriage or civil partnership, where there is a foreign connection (such as one of you is a foreign national, or one or both parties has lived or worked overseas) where there can be a need to act swiftly, in the ordinary course of things, the basis for divorce and who commences the process has no bearing on the outcome of any financial negotiations and any arrangements for the children.  This can be difficult to accept, particularly for the person who has been left. 

All divorces proceed on the sole ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.  In order for a marriage or civil partnership to be dissolved, without waiting for separation of at least two years, one party will need to file proceedings on fault based grounds.  This is usually done to enable a legal process to commence and is very much viewed by the court as a means to an end, rather than an admission of ‘fault’ by one party.  Courts recognise that each person in a relationship has a role to play in its breakdown and spending a lot of time and money looking back over the history of a relationship to work out who was to blame for its demise benefits nobody.  Fighting over the reason for the marriage breakdown will not change the fact that the relationship has broken down.  Consequently if you are going through a legal process of divorce, your solicitor’s time and your money is far better spent, focusing on working on your behalf to put proper arrangements in place for your children and your future financial security.

8) Don’t Assume Anything

Most of us know a friend of a friend or the hairdresser’s cousin’s auntie who went through a ‘horrendous’ divorce or how such and such went through divorce and secured the house, the children, the family pet and 99.9% of the assets.  There are lots of myths in circulation about divorce and separation.  Every family really is unique and every divorce or separation is different, rather than speculating on the worst, get sensible advice from an experienced family solicitor from the outset.  Facing up to your situation from an informed position, may help to remove some of the stresses involved in the process, which can fuel tension and hostility.

9) Don’t Change the Locks

Nothing sets teeth on edge more (and the solicitors fax machine buzzing) than changing the locks to the family home, without your former partner’s agreement.  Both parties to a marriage or civil partnership have a right to occupy the marital home, until a final decision is made about ownership.  Even if your former partner has left, they are entitled to gain access to the property and changing the locks is unlawful.  If you find that your ex is encroaching on your privacy or if there are genuine concerns about your safety and welfare, contact your solicitor, who can advise you about what to do next, it may be that some basic ground rules can be established until the divorce is concluded or even an injunction may be necessary.

10) Facebook As A Forum For Your Divorce

This is an absolute no no.  If people want to pour over the details of a divorce, they can always go and buy Heat magazine.  As reassuring as it is to get 50 ‘Likes’ when posting how ‘totally unreasonable’ you ex-partner has been, avoid the temptation at all costs.  Facebook postings can be printed off and used as evidence in court proceedings and if you are revealing details of confidential court proceedings, particularly concerning children, you can land yourself in hot water with the court.  Choose a close confidante whom you can trust for support, knowing that they won’t divulge to all and sundry and respect the privacy of the process you are going through.

11) Keep A Sense Of Perspective

In a difficult divorce, ordinary rational thinking people can react irrationally when emotions are running high.  We have seen many cases where financial settlements which couples have worked hard to agree, start to unravel because couples can’t agree about the sideboard from Ikea or the souvenir donkey from Mallorca.  Whilst not wanting to trivialise the emotional attachment that is associated with such issues, if your solicitor sends you a letter from your ex-partner’s representative that has made your toes curl with rage, wait for a couple of days before responding if possible and try to see the bigger picture, wherever possible try to focus on the ultimate final outcome that you are trying to achieve.

12) Don’t Make Drastic Financial Changes

It is natural to feel fearful when going through a divorce.  Everything that was once certain has been thrown into chaos.  Making dramatic changes such as transferring the entirety of the joint savings into your bank account for ‘safekeeping’, is likely to cause a significant amount of mistrust and ill feeling, which can be difficult to recover from if there is to be any prospect of negotiating arrangements by agreement.    Granted there are times when there is a genuine need to be protected but speak to your solicitor first before doing anything rash to make sure you are sufficiently protected.

13) Try Not to Discuss Your Divorce In Front Of The Children

Children have no choice but to participate in divorce.  What children are told and the consideration given to their emotional and physical needs has a very important impact on their recovery.  Children can make a good recovery from the process of separation if the separation is handled sensitively.  Download our free guide also available on our website which provides some essential advice to help your child through separation or divorce, to help you decide what to say and how to say it and how to manage the arrangements.  There will be times when you feel very angry and frustrated with your ex-partner but try to spare your children from the emotional difficulties you are feeling as much as possible.

14) Consider Family Mediation

Most couples want to be able to work out arrangements for their children and their finances with each other but find it difficult communicating with each other.  Find out whether a process of family mediation can assist.  Sometimes the prospect of coming together, even with an impartial trained family mediator can be just too raw and painful but explore different forms of dispute resolution, to find the right approach for you.

15) There Is No Timetable

Remember that there is no one timetable for settling the legal processes associated with separating.  Some couples will quickly resolve these issues and others will worry and negotiate over a longer period of time. For some the transition of divorce will be smooth and for others there is a rockier path, try and remember your goals and you will eventually, successfully navigate the hazards and come out safe and whole at the other end.

At Chapman Pieri Solicitors we offer an initial meeting which is not time limited for a fixed fee of £75 plus VAT. Contact us on 0208 882-9850 to arrange an appointment.