Splitting up with your partner is painful, no matter what the circumstances. A lot of people worry that the process of sorting out the legal aspects of your separation will make things worse. Many new clients who come to see me (or, these days, appear on my laptop screen!) emphasise right from the off that they want to keep everything amicable between them and their ex.
Fair enough. Not only does this reduce stress, it can also help to keep your legal costs under control. So, what can you do to keep things as friendly as possible while you sort your divorce out?
The main ingredient is a spouse who is willing to play their part in being constructive - which is obviously outside your control by this stage - but there are a few other things worth bearing in mind.
Be clear on your priorities – and share them with your divorce lawyer
Whatever the circumstances, it’s easier to navigate the divorce process if you are clear about your priorities. An amicable divorce does not have to be completely conflict free, but it will probably involve picking your battles. Knowing what you're prepared to compromise on and where you need to dig in will make this process easier. You may be prepared to let some things go on the basis that you and your ex will need a working relationship as parents for years to come. Or you may simply want to be able to stay, if not friends, at least on friendly terms, especially after a long relationship.
Knowing what matters to you most will help you make decisions. Part of my job is to explain how the law views your situation and what your options are. However, what to do about this is your choice, not mine. Sometimes following the letter of the law produces an outcome that just doesn't feel right or fair to you. If you both agree to a different approach, there's normally no reason why you can't choose to be more generous or flexible than the law requires.
A clear sense of priorities will also help you have a good working relationship with your lawyer, your ex, and their lawyer. This will make the process more cost-effective as we can stay focused and deal with negotiations efficiently. There’s also less risk of getting bogged down in arguing about the minutiae of what's in solicitors’ letters, rather than focusing on solutions to the big issues - your kids, your house, financial planning and daily living expenses.
Be open to different approaches and ask for help
Negotiations between lawyers, or going to court, are not the only ways to get things sorted out. We may recommend an alternative approach, such as collaborative law or mediation. These approaches aim to help you and your ex to work together to reduce unhelpful conflict and focus on solutions. If there’s something you genuinely can’t agree on and you need a decision from a third party, using arbitration rather than going to court can have significant advantages, including a speedier resolution to your case.
Sometimes, the issues that arise in a separation are not specifically legal matters, or are about broader issues that the law can't really influence, such as differences in parenting style. If these problems are not addressed, or you don't have enough support, they can spill over emotionally into the legal negotiations and make those more adversarial. We can refer you to sources of additional support, whether that's from a counsellor, a family therapist or even a parenting support group. Addressing these issues outside the legal process can make it easier to focus on the nuts and bolts of the separation - and it's also a way of being kind to yourself during a very difficult time.
Know when to be a bit less friendly
Saying all this, it's also important to remember that there are times when keeping it amicable isn’t for the best. It is completely understandable to want to avoid the financial and emotional scars of a difficult divorce. You've probably heard horror stories from friends who have gone through it. But you normally only get one shot at sorting out your finances on divorce, so the price of the best long-term solution may be to accept the need for some conflict in the short term. If you are focusing on keeping it amicable because you're afraid of how your ex will react if you stand your ground, or you feel your ex has all the power to decide how things will be done, you may be at risk of signing up to an arrangement that is not in your best interests and that you will come to regret further down the line. If so, sometimes being amicable may have to give way to getting the right deal for you. And if the negotiations are conducted in a professional way, things should not become personal or involve any unnecessary conflict.
Don't be afraid to speak to a solicitor
Keeping negotiations professional is one of the reasons to use a divorce lawyer. Sometimes people worry that getting us involved will make it harder to have an amicable divorce. Actually, it should make it easier. If things are civil between you, a good divorce lawyer isn't going to start winding up your ex for their own satisfaction - our aim is to help you to solve your practical and legal problems quickly and efficiently.
It can also make it easier for you and your ex to maintain a good relationship if you delegate the tougher conversations to the lawyers rather than discussing things directly. And if you are concerned about a power imbalance between you, having a good divorce lawyer in your corner is essential. While we know legal costs are always a concern, where possible we will offer you fixed fees for specific parts of the process, helping you to keep your fees under control.
Even when you both want to remain on good terms, divorce is never going to be an exactly pleasant experience. Getting sound and practical professional advice can help steer you through the more difficult parts of the process, and help you to decide when to stand your ground. While we can't guarantee your divorce will be completely amicable, we will do our best to achieve an outcome you are satisfied with - and make the process as painless as possible along the way.
Contact our Edinburgh and Glasgow family lawyers
For more information on our divorce services and how we can assist you through the process, please contact our family law lawyers in Glasgow and Edinburgh on 0131 247 1243 and visit our dedicated Divorce and Separation page.
The content of this webpage is for information only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice and should not be treated as a substitute for specific advice. Morton Fraser LLP accepts no responsibility for the content of any third party website to which this webpage refers. Morton Fraser LLP is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.