A Family Solicitor’s 7 Tips for an Amicable Divorce
If it’s becoming clear that you are heading towards a separation or divorce, it’s common to feel that you want the process to be as amicable as possible.
This may be due to practical considerations. For example, where there are children or pets whose care will need to be negotiated in the future. Any remaining feelings of friendship, respect, or affection may also play a role in the desire for an amicable separation.
Amicable divorces aren’t always easy, and you may not emerge from the divorce as close friends. However, they can often result in less stressful divorce proceedings, which are less likely to turn into expensive legal battles in the courts.
This stability can be beneficial for both spouses as they move forward with their lives. It can also be a healthier start to any co-parenting relationships that may need to continue for some time.
The Benefits of an amicable divorce
A more respectful process
Divorces are often a time of upheaval and heavy decisions about your future, so it can be a daunting and stressful prospect.
However, divorces are often easier when you feel as though you’re working with your spouse towards a solution you can both live with, rather than exchanging demands or threats. Working with someone when your relationship has broken down can be difficult, but it has its rewards.
Contentious divorces are extremely emotionally taxing, both for you and any family members caught in the middle. They can also lead to court decisions which may feel unfair or out of your control.
In contrast, amicable divorces are far more likely to reflect any agreement you may have negotiated with your spouse. Often, they also cause less high emotion and conflict, allowing you to conserve your energy for other matters and leave the relationship in a more dignified manner.
Preserving family relationships
Keeping a divorce cooperative can feel particularly important when there are children involved. A parent or carer separating from their partner can mark a huge change in a child’s life, which they might find upsetting even in the best circumstances.
When the divorcing couple are unable to come to a decision about how co-parenting will look, or are in open conflict over other matters, it’s easy for children to feel stuck in the middle. They may also feel as if they need to pick sides, or manage their parent’s emotions.
Amicable separations can provide more stability and consistency for children, and reassure them about their new normal. It also means they are less likely to be put at the heart of court proceedings which they may find upsetting.
Amicable divorces also allow parents and carers to practise communicating about their child. This can be key in effective co-parenting moving forward.
It may save you time and money
The legal fees associated with litigation can quickly get expensive for everyone involved. Contested court proceedings can also draw out your divorce over a much longer period of time than you would like.
This can delay you when it comes to starting your new life. For example, if financial matters are not settled, it may be unwise to buy a new property or merge your finances with a new partner.
If you are able to settle matters between yourselves, divorces are achievable on a much shorter time scale – sometimes as little as 6 months.
There will always be some expense associated with the divorce process, but by having amicable, constructive negotiations you may be able to save yourselves from excessive costs.
When might an amicable divorce be more difficult?
Amicable divorces are generally less common in cases involving abuse or domestic violence.
They also may not be possible when a spouse refuses to communicate about matters, or is unable to communicate civilly, even through a mediator or legal professional.
Our Top Tips for a successful Amicable Divorce
Use therapy or counselling constructively
During the separation and divorce process, individual or family counselling can be invaluable. Even in the case of an amicable divorce, it’s normal to have a lot of strong emotions about the end of a relationship that counselling can help with processing. You may also find it useful to have someone external to talk about the divorce itself with; compromises are often necessary but they can still be upsetting.
Dealing with some of these thoughts and feelings away from your spouse can help you to go into negotiations about finances or children with a clear head.
As much as possible, be open and organised with your finances
To come to a fair settlement, it’s extremely important to be transparent about your assets and finances. If you don’t accurately disclose your financial position to your spouse and their legal team, it can significantly delay your Final Order. It can also lead to conflict between you and your spouse.
Even when everyone has the best of intentions, gathering your financial documents and finding out details about your pension can take some time. For this reason, getting organised and starting the process as early as possible is a sensible idea.
As a couple, the information you will need to gather includes:
- the value of any homes or properties you own
- the balances outstanding on any mortgages
- what your incomes are
- how much you have in individual and joint savings
- any debts either of you have accrued
- the details of any pensions
- what benefits you each will be entitled to when you separate
- what your outgoings are likely to be once you no longer live together
- whether you are able to get a mortgage on your own
- what appropriate housing will cost you
Depending on your circumstances, you may need the services of other professionals, such as a pensions expert or financial adviser, to find the information or to understand the impact on your financial position.
3. Decide on your boundaries, and where you can compromise
You’re unlikely to get everything you want in a divorce. You and your partner might have very different ideas about what you’d like child arrangements to look like, for example, or you may both be emotionally invested in continuing to live in the family home.
When facing a disagreement with your spouse, it’s important to make a distinction between what you need – for instance: a secure place to live, sufficient income to live on, security in retirement and a continuing relationship with your children – and what you want. Once you’ve done this, there are other things to consider, such as
What you are entitled to
When divorces enter court proceedings, the starting point for the division of assets is usually 50/50. You may then end up departing from an equal division depending on the length of the marriage, the needs and resources of both parties, child care, and other considerations.
As long as the court considers them a fair outcome, privately agreed settlements are often more flexible. However, it’s important that you get legal advice before committing to anything, and don’t agree to anything that puts you at a severe disadvantage.
Seeking legal advice can help you to understand where you stand and give you a good idea of how different settlements or arrangements might affect your future. A family lawyer can also give you information about the approach a judge would be likely to take in the event that you are unable to agree with your spouse. This means that you can come into negotiations from an informed position.
Particularly if your children are older, they are likely to have their own preferences about what their future will look like. If you decide to discuss this with them directly, it’s important to approach the conversation in a way which is appropriate to their age and understanding of the situation. When discussing arrangements with them, make it very clear that you are really interested in their opinion, and you are not asking them to choose between their parents. It’s also important to make it clear that your love and care is not conditional on their decision. You may choose to do this with a family counsellor or mediator present.
When considering child arrangements, parents should also consider some practical matters. This might include work schedules and whether your children would be able to reliably travel to their school from where each parent will be based.
Thinking things through
When you’ve considered the above, you can sort different matters of negotiation into a list of priorities, or categorise them under headings such as
- Assets or conditions you must have, no matter the cost
- Assets or conditions you would like, but would be prepared to negotiate if necessary.
Preparing this before you enter into negotiations can help you feel more confident about any decisions you make. As a general rule, the more matters you are able to be flexible about, the more straightforward the negotiation is likely to be.
Look into collaborative law processes
Collaborative law is a voluntary process where both spouses agree to settle matters out of court, through a series of face to face settlement meetings. Each spouse will have access to their own solicitor trained in dispute resolution and the collaborative process.
This process is aimed at those who would like the benefits of coming to an effective agreement out of court. These can include:
- Feeling a greater control about the decisions being made
- Family relationships which haven’t been put under the pressure of court proceedings
- Often a quicker and cheaper divorce process
For more information, take a look at our blog about reaching an amicable settlement through collaborative law.
5. Be Specific when it comes to Child Arrangements
Sometimes, as dynamics and circumstances change, child arrangements might need to shift over time.
However, when first coming up with a co-parenting plan, it’s important to consider the details. This will mean they are less likely to show up as unpleasant surprises later. An example of one common mistake is deciding when a child will see each parent on a regular week, but forgetting to discuss what a fair solution for school or religious holidays might look like.
One useful tool for this discussion is a parenting plan. You can make your own version or download one off the cafcass website. Many parents find it useful for ensuring that no stone goes unturned, from pocket money, to involvement in education, to managing any health issues.
Keep it respectful
When seeking an amicable divorce, it’s important to focus on the best outcome for your long term future, rather than on your emotions in the moment. This is true when it comes to the specifics of your negotiations, but it’s also true of the way you communicate with your spouse.
Divorces often run alongside hurt and extreme emotions. You might reach a stage where it’s difficult to speak respectfully with your spouse face to face. If this happens, try not to give into the urge to get drawn into fights or conflicts, as this will often not work in your favour. It may cause constructive negotiation to break down, or fracture already delicate family relationships.
If you find yourself unable to speak constructively directly to your spouse, there are other options. The presence of a mediator or your legal team in a round-table meeting may help. You may alternatively be able to negotiate partially or entirely though your lawyers, or through writing.
7. Use professional help as required
DIY divorces can look appealing from the outside, but they come with risks. To protect yourself and your family in the future, it’s important to turn any casual agreements into a binding and enforceable arrangement. For this, you will need the services of a lawyer.
There are many other professionals who may be able to play a part in guiding you to the best and fairest agreement. These can range from mediators and divorce coaches, to specific experts such as pension or property specialists.
Family or divorce lawyers can also advise you as to whether your agreement is fair and sustainable, or if it might make you vulnerable in the future. If you wish, they can also help directly with negotiations.
Harbour Family Law are a firm of collaboratively trained family lawyers, based in the wider Bristol area. We always aim to help our clients towards a fair, respectful solution, and preserve family relationships as far as possible. Contact us today for an initial conversation about your matter.