It may be hard to come to terms with, but you’re probably reading this if you know divorce is inevitable. If you are in that position, you may find it comforting to hear that divorce needn’t be painful, nor expensive. Here’s my guide to your next steps for a sensible divorce.
Take a conciliatory approach to the divorce
Unless you have been separated for long enough (two years if your ex-partner agrees but, if not, five years) or your ex-partner has committed adultery, you will have to rely on allegations of your partner’s unreasonable behaviour to start divorce proceedings. This can appear very adversarial.
However, you can still keep your ex-partner on good terms. If you make the allegations mild in nature (the test of unreasonable behaviour is an objective one), and send a draft copy to the other party before sending it to court giving your ex a chance to suggest minor amendments, then this should get your divorce off to a good start. You may also want to agree to each pay your own costs, or to split costs equally.
Focus on the important bits
The divorce itself is really the straightforward bit. If there are finances to sort out, keep the divorce as simple as possible and save resources for the finances. They can be expensive to resolve. They generally take longer to deal with and require more specific specialist advice.
For example, you may wish to explore whether the family home should be transferred to one party, sold immediately or whether a sale can be delayed to allow one party to remain living there with the children until they have reached the age of 18 or finished school.
If there are financial issues, get organised and find out up-to-date balances of your savings & investments and values for property and pensions and your income. Some of this information can take a while to obtain. Both parties have a responsibility to each other and to the court to share details of their financial arrangements.
The sooner both parties disclose their financial information the better, as both parties will be able to get proper legal advice about how the court would deal with settling their finances. Being dishonest about resources doesn’t help either party. Once distrust sets in, it can lead to acrimony and greater costs and lasting pain.
The starting point for division of the matrimonial assets is equality. However, there are reasons why equality wouldn’t be fair, and it is important at this stage to get good legal advice from a solicitor who knows what approach the court will take to settle the dispute.
If both parties take a realistic approach, there is a good chance they will be able to reach an agreement and obtain a financial order by consent, avoiding the need to attend court and the high legal costs connected with that. A legal dispute can be expensive, and it is important to keep your costs in proportion to the things you are arguing about!
Consider the needs of the children
If there are children involved, think about their needs first, second and third. Children pick up signs of stress from their parents, so the better you cope, the better your child is likely to cope.
Therefore, seek help where needed to get you through the process, whether from a family lawyer or a counselling service such as Relate; don’t involve the children in your dispute with your ex-partner, and listen to what they have to say. Contact or residence disputes (i.e. arguments about where the child is going to live) are, in most cases, settled between parents without the need to go to court. If the argument enters the court arena, the consideration will be all about what is in the child’s best interests.
There will be times when a different approach is required and sometimes court proceedings are unavoidable. An initial consultation with a family solicitor should help in any event by providing you with an overview of your options and an idea of what your costs are likely to be. In 2014 Aviva published a survey showing the average cost of divorce, putting each party’s costs at £22,000 (£44,000 in total). If you can have a sensible divorce you more likely to keep your costs, and your stress levels, to a minimum, which must be good for everyone involved.