As a team of Family lawyers, we’ve long promoted the idea of ‘good divorce’.
This is about enabling separated couples to work through the necessary steps – division of assets, arrangements for their children – together and with as little conflict as possible. Because collaborating to reach joint decisions, as opposed to having the courts impose solutions, keeps the parties in control. It can lay solid foundations for the years ahead, which is particularly important where contact needs to be maintained for the sake of a couple’s children.
‘Parenting Through Separation’ was the theme of this year’s Good Divorce Week – an annual awareness-raising campaign led by Resolution, a community of family justice professionals. It aimed to help separating and divorcing parents put their children front and centre, understand their needs and communicate with them in the best way. This is all hugely important.
I can’t say I have ever advised a parent who wasn’t worried about the effect their divorce would have on their family. Some of the earliest conversations I have with clients are about what will happen to their children, both on a practical and an emotional level. People want to know where their children will live, how contact with each parent will be organised, how the things the children need will be paid for. These are very real and genuinely held concerns by those whose relationships have sadly broken down.
But the reality of divorce can mean that parents who are tussling over details may overlook their children’s needs and feelings. This is especially so as ‘fault’ remains a feature of divorce law. In most situations, blame will be the basis for divorce – it might be infidelity or some other unreasonable behaviour that leads to the marriage’s irretrievable breakdown. In my experience, parents who are arguing over who is in the right and in the wrong can easily lose sight of their children’s best interests. It’s a reason I welcome the planned introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce next year.
But what can parents do? How can they keep their emotions in check? How can they fight their own corner and stand up for what they need out of the divorce, while at the same time shield their children from the negative effects of separation? The truth is that this is hugely challenging. As a Family Law solicitor, I can help people understand the law and how that is likely to affect them and their children. I can help get the best arrangements in place. And I can advise on the types of conversations to have with their children. But the day-to-day management of the situation at home is down to parents. That is why Resolution’s campaign is so helpful, shedding light on the issues families can come up against and guiding them on the best ways of handling things in the short-term – and for the long-term.
Because aside from the immediate pressures of the divorce process itself, the years ahead for parents will present challenges as they navigate ‘co-parenting’. Where both parents have parental responsibility, joint decisions will need to be reached about the children’s schooling and upbringing. Parents will need to be able to communicate on some level to make sure contact with each happens as agreed, holidays are organised, and that both parents are as involved as they want and need to be in the children’s lives. In many cases, this is a bumpy road – at least to begin with. But various sources of help and guidance are available and I would urge families to seek out support when parenting through separation and beyond.
Perhaps the best advice I can give a separated couple is to aim for collaboration. It will be out of reach for some whose relationships are just too far gone. For others, it will still be really difficult to achieve and maintain. But if you can grit your teeth and work with your ex to enable you both to move on, and for your children to build a happy life with each of you, you stand a better chance of being able to look back on yours as a ‘good’ divorce.
I’m a huge proponent of mediation and collaborative law as a way of helping people do this. It can lead to parents resolving issues they’re unable to sort out between themselves. It can help keep relationships on the right track, and even go some way towards building bridges – all of which is crucial if separated parents are to manage their divorce and their ongoing parental responsibilities with their children’s best interests at heart.
For advice on separation, divorce, civil partnership dissolution, mediation, collaborative law, or any other family law issue, please contact Susi Gillespie on 01892 337542 or email [email protected].
As well as being a Family solicitor, Susi is a mediator who helps families work through their issues together, and a collaborative lawyer who works with her client and the other party’s solicitor to reach a family-based agreement without the need for court proceedings.