“It’s not an amicable divorce, but it was not exactly a tight love affair anyway.”
So said European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker the other day, with a hint of grim humour.
But what does it take to achieve an amicable divorce, and is such a thing even possible? I’m not sure it is, and obviously the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage may make it extremely difficult, but there are certainly a number of steps that you can take towards achieving an amicable divorce, including the following:
- Mutual respect:
This is key, as everything else really flows from it. Without respect for your spouse, you have no chance of achieving an amicable divorce. Just because the marriage has broken down, that doesn’t mean that your spouse has suddenly become a ‘bad’ person. Try to see their point of view – if you do so, you may understand that their wishes may not be as unreasonable as you first thought. Obviously, an amicable divorce cannot be achieved if you proceed with the unfaltering aim of attaining all your objectives, without considering the other party.
- Put the children first:
This is said so many times that it may seem trite. However, every family lawyer will be able to give many examples of cases in which one of the parties puts their own interests before those of the children. If this happens, it simply isn’t possible for the divorce to be amicable. On the other hand, looking first at what is best for the children can often mean that everything else falls into place, without the need for argument.
- Don’t go rushing off to court:
In most cases it is not necessary to issue court proceedings at the first opportunity. Indeed, it can be counter-productive, as court proceedings will usually be perceived by the other party as an aggressive step, making them less inclined to be amicable, and therefore less inclined to agree matters. The best approach (and, indeed, in most cases the approach that the court will expect you to take) is to try to agree as much as possible before court proceedings are instituted. That way you will stand the best chance of avoiding damaging and expensive contested court proceedings, and therefore of keeping things as amicable as possible.
- Be careful about fault-based divorce:
Unfortunately, we still have a divorce system whereby unless you have been separated for two years you must prove that the breakdown of the marriage was the fault of the other party, whether because they have committed adultery or because of their unreasonable behaviour. Obviously, alleging adultery or unreasonable behaviour can be a sure-fire way of ensuring that the divorce will not be amicable. Consider, therefore, whether you really need to divorce now, or whether you can wait until you have been separated for two years (it is still possible to sort out arrangements for children and finances without having to wait for the two years). If you do have to divorce now, then either seek an admission of adultery from the other party (there is no need to name the person with whom they committed adultery), or try to agree allegations of unreasonable behaviour with the other party, before issuing your divorce petition.
- Consider mediation:
An obvious one. If you can’t agree matters with your spouse, either directly or through solicitors, consider the possibility of going through mediation, whereby a trained mediator will help you both try to reach an agreed, and hopefully amicable, settlement.
- Keep your emotions out of financial arrangements:
Sorting out finances is often the biggest source of animosity between divorcing spouses. However, it can be helpful if you put emotions to one side and concentrate on practicalities, in particular: what are the needs of the parties? Remember, courts are not usually interested in why the marriage broke down, or in punishing one party for their behaviour. Courts are not sentimental either, so be prepared to make hard decisions about who has what, and what items of property must be sold.
- Lastly, look to the future, not to the past:
This is really all that the law is interested in. What has happened has happened, and the law can’t change that. It can, however, ensure that the parties are in the best possible position to face the future. So, difficult as it may be, try to put aside any feelings of anger and hurt, and concentrate on doing the best for the future for both of you, and in particular, for any children.
Even if you take these steps, it may still not be possible to achieve an entirely amicable divorce, and obviously it requires the cooperation of the other party. Still, if you do take these steps then you are likely to at least have a divorce that is quicker, cheaper and less stressful than it might otherwise be.
As for the UK’s divorce from the EU, that may be a different matter…