If your New Year’s resolutions read something like, 1. Go to the gym more, 2. Don’t drink during the week, 3. Contact a divorce lawyer, it could be time to consider how to separate as decently and painlessly as possible.
“It is no myth,” says Jacqueline Major, partner and head of family law at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA), “that we receive a surge of enquiries about divorce in early January once people have got through the potential personal and financial stresses of Christmas and are evaluating their future.”
Particularly if one half of a couple decides to end the relationship, and has therefore come to terms with it, but the other half isn’t even aware there are problems, there’s no avoiding the emotional turmoil of divorce.
“But,” says Jacqueline, “that doesn’t mean it has to be endlessly confrontational and hostile.”
What most people, and that includes lawyers, want to avoid is protracted disagreements that end in trial at court – the most expensive and probably most traumatic end to a breakdown in family relationships.
“Rather than having to lay out every detail of the partnership for a judge to consider, constructive negotiation by a lawyer is far better than expensive litigation,” Jacqueline says.
“Costs rise mainly because of bad conduct from the people separating. Couples do better to focus on dealing with the end of their relationship, financial matters and how to best protect their children as constructively, pragmatically and unemotionally as possible.”
Clearly, that can be more easily said than done. But couples who cannot agree between themselves have the option of different forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution to keep things out of court. This can be as successful or unsuccessful as you allow it to be.
Jeetesh Patel, another family partner at HJA, says that mediation can be invaluable in preventing misunderstandings and even mudslinging between couples.
“Mediation is run by specially trained lawyers who are impartial and independent from both parties and will not offer legal advice to either side. As a couple, you meet one mediator together in a room to talk things through.
“There is also the option of using the collaborative process – whereby you each appoint your own collaboratively trained lawyer and attend four-way meetings. Collaborative lawyers will be by your side throughout the process and so you both have their support and legal advice as you go through it”, Jeetesh explains.
“People are often reluctant to go down this route,” he says, “because they are angry and hurt and that can make them stubborn.
“But my advice is that it’s far better to nip those feelings in the bud as soon as humanly possible and to work proactively to build the best future for everyone involved. After all, at one point, you probably loved the other person very much and most people only want the best for their children.”
A third partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, Teena Dhanota-Jones gives her do’s and don’ts of divorcing gracefully:
- Do tell your partner.
- Do communicate and, if possible, discuss how to proceed with interim arrangements, regarding who is going to live where, how you will arrange care for the children and interim finances i.e. who is going to pay for what.
- Do have some emotional support from a friend, family member or a counsellor.
- Do take initial advice from a family solicitor, who will also advise you about alternative dispute resolution and your options generally. Early advice can prevent relatively minor legal problems from escalating.
- Do read the relevant information on the Resolution website; in particular about splitting up and parenting after parting.
- Do ultimately agree the grounds for the divorce.
- Do take joint responsibility for the breakdown of the relationship.
- Don’t start the divorce process before informing your partner, either personally or via your solicitor.
- Don’t siphon funds to other accounts or withdraw large amounts of monies to attempt to hide assets or frustrate your partner’s financial claims.
- Don’t tell the children about the divorce, in the absence of your partner or without their agreement.
- Don’t involve the children in the break up and do not try to alienate them from the other parent.
- Don’t assume you have to be confrontational.
- Don’t solely blame your partner for the breakdown of the relationship.
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Notes for Editors
Hodge Jones and Allen
- Hodge Jones and Allen is one of the UK’s most progressive law firms, renowned for doing things differently and fighting injustice. Its managing partner is Patrick Allen, recently awarded a lifetime achievement award by Solicitors Journal.
- For 40 years’ the firm has been at the centre of many of the UK’s landmark legal cases that have changed the lives and rights of many people.
- The firm’s team of specialists have been operating across: Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Disease, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Family Law, Military Claims, Serious Fraud, Social Housing, Wills & Probate and Property Disputes.
- In 2016, the firm launched Hearing their voices – a campaign to raise awareness and build conversations around the issues and the injustices we might all face.