A Pro Guide To Keeping Your Divorce Calm And Civil

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Going through a divorce is one of life’s most emotionally wrenching events. That’s a statement that’ll come as no surprise to those of us who’ve parted ways with a spouse. But what might surprise you is just how many emotions the experience can pull on, and they’re often the same ones felt during a bereavement according to Linda Lamb, who’s been a solicitor since 1995 and is director of LSL Family Law. But it’s anger that we’re talking to Lamb about below. From how emotionally and financially damaging your rage can be during proceedings, to measures you can take to prevent it from getting in the way of the best possible outcomes for all parties, this is how you can keep your divorce as calm and civil as possible.

In your experience, what are the most common causes for divorce in 2019?

It’s down to an individual’s expectations, so obviously there’s a wide spectrum of reasons. Mostly, it’s not a case of both parties suddenly hating each other. Instead, one will realise that, over the years, they’ve grown apart and have less in common than before. There are so many different factors that can contribute – anything from marrying too young, to one person in the relationship changing their career and shifting their life goals. Other common causes I’ve found include sexual problems, disagreements on having children, the strain of having disabled children, relocating for work, all forms of domestic abuse, family involvement… there’s a lot of reasons.

There’s a big trend for what we’re calling silver splitters. We’re seeing a lot of people retiring, realising that their relationship was strained even with work keeping them apart for most of the week, and that they can’t bear the idea of spending the next 25 years together solidly, every hour of the day. We’re also seeing far more people getting divorces and going into same-sex relationships, too.

So you’ve just discovered you’re facing divorce. What are your first steps to getting through it calmly?

I think it’s worth noting that it’s rare for both parties to be in agreement when it comes to getting a divorce. Usually one has gone through it in their head, so mentally they’re a few steps ahead. The thing people don’t understand about facing separation is that you go through the same mental trauma as a bereavement – there are stages of sadness, confusion, denial and anger. With that in mind, what’s important is seeking advice from people who aren’t focused on making things worse. That should mean going to a counsellor rather than to friends who are likely to have some level of investment in and bias about your relationship. And, of course, finding the right solicitor.

So how do you find the right solicitor?

Avoid the classic rottweiler who’s going to fire off threatening letters to your ex-partner. That only fans the flames. The situation will balloon out of control and, unfortunately, that’s when children get affected emotionally. Look for a solicitor that recommends dispute resolution – mediation or collaborative law. These are the least painful options, and also happen to be the least costly. With these, the family pot of money is preserved for the family and not spent on huge legal fees, which can get up into the hundreds of thousands of pounds. The courts should always be seen as the absolute last resort.

What’s one thing people shouldn’t do at the start of proceedings?

It’s hard, but it’s so important to not say negative things about the other party, both verbally but also, obviously, on social media. It comes back to children again. When they hear or see mum slagging off dad, they interpret that as “If you hate dad, then you must hate 50% of me”. Can you imagine the pain that must cause? If my clients are really angry and have a huge amount of rage directed at their ex-partner, I suggest drafting an email, parking it overnight, looking at it the next day, and not sending it.

What other tips do you have about keeping things civil during the process?

Again, I really recommend seeking counselling for the duration of the process. A counsellor is there to help with emotional support, and to put into context what’s happening. It’s so easy to get stuck in the past during a divorce – going over and over what went wrong and what could have been different – and a good counsellor will help you make sense of the situation in order for you to move forward.

Finally, should you stay in touch with your ex?

If you have children, then you will have to. You have to communicate. If you don’t, your kids will divide and rule. Going to parents’ evening together, for example, sends a really positive message and suggests you can agree on things, can be civil, but also are still equally invested in what your children are doing in life. If you don’t have children, then I don’t know what the purpose would be. I was divorced, like, a million years ago. I don’t really keep in touch with my ex-husband. That said, I was very fond of his mother, so I do speak to her, every now and again.

Craft beer drinker, Devonian, fisherman and former content director of Coach online, Chris contributed style coverage and features between 2016 and 2019.