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Will your divorce be amicable, acrimonious… or agonising?

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After 30 years as a family lawyer – and more than 12,000 divorces – I have concluded that in human and emotional terms, divorce cases can be divided up into three categories: amicable, acrimonious and agonising. 

1. The amicable divorce

Both parties agree that their relationship has run its full course. This is the easiest type of divorce – for lawyers and clients alike.

2. The acrimonious divorce

One partner has treated the other so badly that reconciliation is simply not worthy of consideration. An acrimonious divorce can become nasty, but it is still relatively clean-cut.

3. The agonising divorce

This one is the saddest of all.  One partner wants a divorce and the other doesn’t. The refusenik partner denies that the marriage is over, and puts up every possible obstacle to the divorce taking place. This is done out of sheer bloody-mindedness, or because the partner still harbours the vain hope of a future reconciliation, even to the point of ignoring the pile of solicitors’ letters as they build up beneath the letterbox.

Such an approach, while understandable from an emotional point of view, can be very expensive in terms of both health and finance. Years of constant stress and turmoil, caused by this denial of reality, can take its toll on even the fittest and most well-balanced of people. A nervous breakdown can be the end result.

I advocate holding a marriage together wherever possible and, in my book, I have dedicated a chapter to rescuing a relationship. I maintain, however, that a relationship can only be saved when both partners believe that it is worth fighting for – and when they are both committed to that fight.

Please take my advice, because I have seen the damage that false hope can do. As sad as it is, if your partner is set on dissolving the relationship, there is little point to your efforts to keep that relationship going indefinitely.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t often happen that both people agree the marriage has broken down and go their separate ways. Often that decision is made by one person only. The other has no choice but to accept that decision, with the greatest sadness.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. JamesB says:

    The trick is not to marry someone who is a quitter to try and avoid this.

  2. JamesB says:

    The trick is not to marry someone who is a quitter, to try and avoid painful divorce.

  3. Luke says:

    I think the trick is not to get married at all – you have no idea what that person is going to be like in 5 years let alone 10-15.

    Cohabitation is not ideal but it is better than marriage – at least for men.

    BTW – both parties agreeing a divorce may not end up amicable once the lawyers have them fighting for finances and custody. Our adversarial system is not helpful in delivering an amicable divorce.

    • Dawn says:


  4. JamesB says:

    Re : Our adversarial system is not helpful in delivering an amicable divorce.

    I agree with that completely.

  5. Chris Reid says:

    This is such an important message for those going through a divorce. A divorce does not need to be made any more difficult than it already is. It is always best to work as well as you can to make things peaceful.

  6. JamesB says:

    Marilyn, if you are still there and reading this, I am interested, of the 12000, how would you split them numerically between the categories 1,2,or 3 that you mention please? The press seem skewed by the messy ones and I find your opinion and experiences worth listening to.

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