Does it have to be that way?
The Government thinks not and is now spending £14m producing a “good divorce guide” and providing support services for couples struggling to cope as their marriage comes to an end.
It will be interesting to see what officials come up with but they’re likely to focus on the need for both partners to put aside their emotions and be prepared to compromise. The sooner both sides accept this, the better the chances of reaching a quick and relatively painless settlement.
Children can be one of the main sources of conflict with one partner using them as a weapon against the other. This can be emotionally damaging for the children involved and the courts will clamp down on it very quickly.
The law puts the needs of children above all else in divorce proceedings and will do what is best for them, even if that is not to the liking of one or other of the battling parents. Judges try to ensure that children retain contact with both parents and the Government has recently backed this approach, stressing the need for “shared parenting” wherever possible.
It means there is little point in one parent trying to deny the other contact, unless there are concerns about the safety of the child in cases where abuse may be an issue.
It’s also important for couples to be realistic about money. Some men resent paying maintenance, even if they’ve been married for 30 years and their wife has stayed at home to look after the children. In these circumstances, men have to accept that the financial settlement may compensate the wife for the fact that her earning power diminished while she gave up work to concentrate on the family.
By the same token, women divorcing after a short marriage that hasn’t produced children and hasn’t interrupted their careers or earning capacity may have to accept they’ll get no or very little maintenance.
Both partners also need to be honest. There’s been a growing trend recently of people trying to hide some of their assets in secret accounts or in someone else’s name in order to get a better settlement. This rarely works and can cause further complications and expense.
If couples still can’t agree despite their best efforts then it may help to try mediation. This is an informal process in which a trained mediator helps the couple to resolve difficult issues. The mediator’s role is to act as a facilitator to help the couple share information and reach an agreement. It is not to offer advice or favour one side or the other.
Once the couple reach agreement, the mediator will record it in two summaries. Both husband and wife should then give those summaries to their respective solicitors so they can form the basis of a consent order.
Divorce is never likely to be a pleasant experience, but if couples can learn to put their emotions aside then at least the pain and heartache can be kept to a minimum.
Please contact Charles Goodbody on firstname.lastname@example.org or in our Warminster office on 01985 214444 and Westbury 01373 865577 if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.