Law and legal affairs: Even if a split can’t be avoided you can have a good divorce

JANUARY is traditionally the time many couples separate. A combination of financial and emotional stress over the festive period together with living in close proximity with extended family can be enough to signal the death knell for an already shaky relationship.

The recession has made people think twice about separating. A depressed housing market coupled with a diminishing ability to obtain credit is forcing unhappy couples to stay together. The rationale is that if they tough it out for a short while, the housing market will recover. Most envisaged a few months or, at the outside, a year, but with no sign of the recession lifting many now cannot see light at the end of the tunnel.

Research shows that living in a strained environment is unhealthy and is particularly toxic for any children of the relationship. Although couples think that they are successfully shielding their children from their relationship fallout, it is almost impossible to do so.

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The consequences of this are many: ill-health, alcohol dependence, children underperforming and acting up. The stress can cause the best of people to snap. Domestic abuse, whether verbal or physical, is common. This, regrettably, often leads straight to court. While court is sometimes necessary for protective orders, in most cases it is unnecessary. The strain of a court battle only adds to the financial and emotional pressures. The couple becomes polarised and often communication breaks down. Co-parenting becomes impossible and the children are caught in the middle. Grandparents and mutual friends inevitably end up taking sides and everyone is unhappy.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If a relationship isn’t working out it is better to accept the position and move on. Don’t put off the inevitable for the sake of the children or because of financial restraints. There exists a new breed of family lawyer who recognises that the best way to assist a client is to encourage dialogue with their partner and to put first the best interests of the children. These lawyers offer clients a collaborative divorce; the clients and lawyers sign up not to go to court. They resolve to treat one other with respect and dignity. They know there will be good days and bad days. They understand that sometimes emotions get in the way of making good decisions. They are able to call on the services of trained therapists who act as divorce coaches to help. They know that children often tell separating parents what they think they want to hear rather than what they really feel, and can offer the assistance of child specialists who help to create workable parenting plans.

Above all, they believe clients are best placed to make decisions. If unused to dealing with family finances, they will provide the support of financial specialists. No-one will be pushed into a settlement at the door of the court with no time to consider the consequences.

These lawyers are skilled and creative, recognising that no two families are the same and won’t try to pigeonhole clients.

In a traditional negotiation or court scenario, asset values are obtained and apportioned in a formulaic manner. In contrast, I have been involved in collaborative divorces where the couple, because they were still on good terms and had creative collaborative lawyers acting for them, were able to retain the family home for the wife and the children and ensure that the husband had a decent property in which to exercise contact. The mortgage remained in joint names and the wife applied for tax credits to supplement her income.

In another case, both parties made an application to the bank to write off a loan where the bank had not followed standard procedure. As the couple presented a united front, the bank was forced to write off a substantial sum.

Essentially, by “collaborating” both couples were able to work together to achieve the best settlement possible for themselves and their children.

Tips for a good divorce:

1) Get out of an unworkable relationship sooner rather than later.

2) Keep open the lines of communication.

3) Don’t use your children as pawns. Listen to them.

4) Seek professional help as soon as you can.

5) Don’t believe all that you hear. You can divorce well.

• Cath Karlin is a partner with bto solicitors