7th Sep 2017

Ten top tips to avoid a "messy divorce"

One of the first things I usually hear when I speak to someone considering divorce is “I don’t want to go to court”. In many ways, it’s understandable – after all, the common perception is that divorce involves lengthy court battles that cost thousands.

For a minority, that will be true. But for most people what the media often refers to as a ‘messy divorce’ doesn’t need to be the case. Here are our top ten tips for keeping costs down and maintaining as amicable a split as possible.

1. Timing is key

Divorce or separation is a life changing event and, while some people want to seek legal advice immediately others are not ready to take that step. There is no strict timeline that you must adhere to, so choose a time which is right for you – seek independent legal advice but take time to consider everything and what you want for the future.  If you rush into a divorce when you are not emotionally or physically ready, the process will be much harder.

2. Seek support from a counsellor or friends/family members

The right support –  whether that be from a professional counsellor or the reassurance of friends and family – can be a real benefit at a testing time. As well as helping you to deal with the emotional side of matters and be better prepared for the future, the support of someone ‘outside’ the immediate divorce or separation process can offer a sounding board which helps to put what you are going through into context.

3. Don’t compare yourself to others

It’s easy to think “my friend kept the house and received good ‘maintenance’ - I expect the same”, but it’s important to remember that every family’s financial circumstances are different. You will tie yourself up in knots if you cling onto other people’s experiences and outcomes, instead it’s important to take legal advice and appreciate your own unique situation.

4. Avoid posting on Facebook 

Be careful what you post and share on social media. It’s often the case that one side can move on quicker than the other and avoiding posts about a new relationship or, worse still, angry or confrontational comments can have a real impact in avoiding inflaming, and potentially prolonging, what is a difficult situation.

5. Don’t change the locks

Unless you are at risk of harm – in which case you should seek legal advice immediately – it’s not advisable to change the locks of the family home. If it is a joint property, you both have a right to access and it is not always possible for one party to leave and seek alternative accommodation. However, if there is a logical place that one party can go, moving there could help to avoid heightening tension.

6. Choose your solicitor wisely

All solicitors adhere to the same code and practice the same law, however your choice in family lawyer can have an impact on the type of divorce you have. Some will take an aggressive, litigious stance while others will opt for a more constructive approach and it’s important to be clear which style suits you and your circumstances.

7. Consider the collaborative approach

The collaborative approach offers a non-confrontational way to resolving family disputes. This involves setting certain boundaries and working constructively together. This will help reduce time, cost and ultimately help to promote good will after a split – which is essential if children are involved. 

8. Find out all of your options

People often assume court is the only option rather than what it should be viewed as – a last resort.  Your legal advisor should go through all your options with you at an initial meeting and work with you to find a solution that best suits your own personal circumstances. This may mean attempting mediation, considering a round table meeting or collaborative law

9. Don’t involve the children

It can be difficult, but keep conversations away from the children. No matter what age they are, they do not want to be caught in the middle or used as tools to exert pressure on either side. Such an approach only increases tension and hostility, which of course in turn will increase legal fees.  Keep arrangements for the children entirely separate and, if possible, try and talk to them about the separation and answer their questions together.

10. Don’t spend time arguing about who is to blame

While you are likely to feel strongly about who is at fault for the marriage breaking down, the reasons aren’t actually important in the eyes of the court and generally have no impact on the financial matters. Proceedings are private and the only people who should see the divorce petition are you, your solicitors and the court, so taking a constructive approach – possibly agreeing the wording with your spouse before the petition is submitted – can help ensure you start off on the right path.

Danielle Day is a Collaborative Family Lawyer in Berwins’ industry ranked family law team  

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