Why separation doesn’t work

Divorce|Separation|June 13th 2016

In this extract from the second edition of Marilyn Stowe’s book Divorce and Splitting Up: Advice from a Top Divorce Lawyer, she discusses why she doesn’t believe separation actually works.

I do not like the concept of “separation”: when a couple agrees to live apart from one another for a temporary or extended period. I see it as a halfway house offering little if any consolation to either party, for the following reasons:

1. It is not necessary for divorce. The idea that you have to separate before you can get a divorce is a myth that is seemingly perpetuated by every pub lawyer in the land. It is true that two years of separation, providing both parties consent, can be one of the “facts” used to prove that “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage has taken place. It is also true that if there is no consent, then the couple must live apart for five years before one of them can seek a divorce against the other’s will. However, these are not the only “facts”.

2. In my opinion, it is impossible to recover from the effect of a broken relationship during a period of separation. Both parties are leading completely separate lives, meeting different people and perhaps becoming romantically involved with others. At the same time they are not truly free, whether they consented to the separation or not, because they are not yet divorced.

In surveys of situations that cause the most stress to people, divorce regularly comes second only to the death of a spouse. In a way, divorce can be compared with bereavement: the body has to be buried before one can even begin to think about getting over a death. Divorce is a way of breaking with the past.

3. Sometimes one partner has decided that the marriage or relationship has come to an end, but cannot bring themselves to tell their partner the awful truth. Instead, this person hides behind the charade of a separation.

“Let’s see how it works out for the next few months”, they say, giving false hopes and dreams to their partner. Months later, when these dreams are shattered, it is at a substantial emotional cost to the partner who worried, waited and hoped because they were not in a position to accept the blindingly obvious.

I believe that if a marriage is going to succeed it does so with both parties living together. If neither party can live with the other, or if one party feels that the marriage is over, then the kindest way out is to end that marriage as quickly as possible. Sometimes it is necessary to be cruel to be kind.

Download your copy of Divorce & Splitting Up: Advice from a Top Divorce Lawyer for just 99p here. All profits are donated to the Children’s Society.

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

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  1. Lynne says:

    I’ve read the book through a couple of times and found it really helpful but mine seems to be an unusual case and I’d appreciate any advice.

    I made an agreement with my estranged husband not to take child support or maintenance on the basis that the house would transfer to me. Unfortunately, I never got anything in writing. At the time the children were around 7 & 9 years old.

    The children are now 19 & 21 and my ex is asking for his “half” of the equity in the property. So for the last 12 years he has paid nothing, and done nothing, towards the upkeep of the children or the property, but has now conveniently ‘changed his mind’.

    I have trawled the Internet, but can’t find anything similar. I wondered if anyone may possibly have ever come across similar cases and what I could expect the outcome to be.

    I currently still live in the property with the boys and my partner. My ‘husband’ moved in with his new partner several years ago in a property owned by her parents. They have since bought that property and renovated it, although I am aware that the property & mortgage are only registered in her name as he is still currently on the mortgage for this property.
    His circumstances are far better than mine. His new home is worth far more than FMH. Both his and his new partners parents are quite wealthy and they will obviously both have a decent inheritance to come at some point. They also have no children and do not support ours.
    I’ve been paying interest only on the mortgage so I’m no better off than when we separated. I have had to maintain the FMH over the years and that has been quite costly as the original renovation was never completed. I have no large inheritance heading my way and my youngest son is studying at university and still needs financial help. To cap it all I had to declare myself bankrupt about 18 months ago.

    I’ve given a brief basic outline below and would really appreciate any experienced views on my situation.

    Bought property in my sole name October 1994
    I also paid deposit of £8000
    Both worked full time
    Did renovation work to house prior to moving in
    Moved into property/Cohabited from Jan 1995
    First child born March 1995
    Second child born Feb 1997
    Married Sept 1997
    Remortgaged 1999 in both names
    I worked part time from having first child
    Separated June 2005
    I petitioned for divorce in 2005 but husband refused to respond. Divorce never went any further.

  2. JamesB says:

    Better an end in horror than a horror without end. A German saying. It is not kind to be cruel, that’s sadistic.

  3. JamesB says:

    I do understand and appreciate your point though, and the law needs to be changed to be less cruel, which I agree with you on and the article and the outdated reasons.

    The point about delay. Decent people don’t lead with unreasonable behaviour, quite often people lie about doing 2 or 5 years rather than make up inflammatory UB petitions.

  4. JamesB says:

    Or, some people wait the 2 years. Some people rightly find the separation period necessary before they can move on and date, which is why Government put it there as was what they wanted most people to use, after research all this. Lawyers broke that with instand dodgy UB petitions. I agree with you that this area of the law needs reform.

  5. JamesB says:

    Lawyers have corrupted the use of the Unreasonable Behaviour petition away from its supposed use from domestic violence and mental cruelty (probably where the author got the saying about cruelty) and supporting people in that boat to be practicably indefensible made up lies and nonsense to push through a divorce, racking up fees and animosity in the process. Also coming up with contradictions in terms such as anodyne UB (utter bollocks) divorce petition.

    Anyone who has received a petition for divorce based on unreasonable behaviour will tell you that they are never anodyne, and are insulting and defamatory and rubbishes the marriage that was had and makes divorces harder, which is why lawyers will push for them and to not communicate with ex so as to make money from the process.

  6. JamesB says:

    An Unreasonable Behaviour petition is never kind, only a lawyer would say such a thing and it is fairly insensitive (also like a lawyer) to say that. Being kind would be to offer to lie and say 2 years have gone, or 5 or ask the other side to petition on grounds you want them to, or to wait, otherwise, you are asking for trouble, which is why lawyers like it as more trouble is more lawyers bills. The law needs to change, on that I agree, and perhaps UB petitions are currently necessary as a means to an end, however, to call them kind is having a laugh by lawyers at their clients expense while squeezing them for money and is bad.

  7. JamesB says:

    The law really needs to change on this. It was written when was thought divorce was uncommon and for the rich to do in stages nicely, UB was thought to be for domestic violence and not abused as a means to an end with any nonsense used as a (dodgy) peg to hand a dodgy divorce petition on as it is now, which is bad.

  8. JamesB says:

    This article should be entitled why separation doesn’t work for divorce lawyers.

    It doesn’t as it decreases hostility and fees.

    2 years Separation with consent divorce is from a gone era and was meant to be for vast majority of divorces by parliament. Idea was that things could calm down and things could be dealt with less adversarial events for a better future together or more likely apart. Instead lawyers corrupted it to ramp up their fees, calling it more in their clients interests to fight for what they can get day 1 and ramping up costs and lawyers fees in the process to their lawyers advantage.

    Lawyers taking a broader view of society and whether to go for 2 or 5 years, no, they looked at their band balances instead. I don’t blame them I blame the dodgy politicians and ‘experts’ who wrote the stupid law which needs replacing, in the meantime calling it kind is bad. It is what it is and that is undermining marriage and divorce and making a bad situation worse and lawyers fees more expensive.

    With regards to separation. I have seen once out of about more than 10 times people get back together following it. Even then I lost contact and am not sure if it worked long term.

    The reasons for separation? Well, if it is about wanting to get your own way, which normally are, go to counselling, if it is because you don’t like or cant be in same room with the other then fair enough.

    If you look up divorce in a dictionary it will say separation anyway, which makes the premise of the article invalid. Essentially if it is about ‘in law’ then I agree the law needs to change to be less adversarial. Should there be a long waiting time for divorce for reflection, no, probably not, people can get back together if they want regardless on if they have had administrative divorce anyway. Lawyers have made marriages worthless in terms of commitment these days anyway so any period for reflection is from a bygone era when marriage vows meant something and were there to be reflected upon.

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