As you may or may not know, this is ‘Good Divorce Week’. What? I hear you cry. How can there be any such thing as a good divorce? Surely that’s a contradiction in terms?
Well, not according to Resolution, the association of family lawyers. Good Divorce Week 2018 is a campaign run by the organisation aimed at raising awareness of how parents can minimise the impact of conflict on their children, and calling on the government to reform divorce law. Stowe Family Law are supporting the campaign and I thought I would add my views on the subject of a ‘good divorce’.
I should begin by saying that for most of the time that I practised as a family lawyer I was myself a member of Resolution. Resolution’s ethos is that family law matters should if possible be dealt with in a constructive, non-confrontational way, and I have long supported that view, even when it was not ‘fashionable’ to do so. However, my membership lapsed when I gave up practising nine years ago. I now have no affiliation with the organisation, and am therefore under no ‘obligation’ to support this or any other of its campaigns.
OK, having got that disclaimer out of the way, what do I think about the idea that there can be such a thing as a ‘good’ divorce?
Well, a divorce certainly can be amicable. I saw that hundreds of times in the course of my career. Often the parties both accept that the marriage is over, and the divorce is a straightforward process enabling them to get on with their lives.
But I don’t think Good Divorce Week is really about such cases. It is about all the other cases that aren’t conflict-free. And it is not about achieving a ‘perfect’ divorce. What it is really about is managing that conflict to reduce its impact upon the process to a minimum. A ‘good’ divorce is not just one where the parties are completely amicable, it is also one in which they are not, but the animosity is not allowed to take over.
And yes, it is possible to achieve this. It is not easy, and it obviously helps if both parties are represented by lawyers who adopt a constructive approach, but it can be done. I’ve witnessed cases where at the outset it seems quite impossible that the parties would be able to resolve matters without a battle, and yet they manage to do so, and even remain on reasonable terms with one another when it is all over.
And that, of course, can be of crucial importance where dependent children are involved. Parents remain parents, even after they are divorced. As this year’s campaign makes clear, high levels of conflict can have devastating effects upon children. If parents can resolve matters with minimal adverse effect upon their children then they have succeeded in achieving a ‘good divorce’.
The other aspect of the campaign is the reform of divorce law. This, of course, is to do away with blame and introduce a system of no-fault divorce, thereby making it significantly easier to achieve a good divorce. Now, informed readers may think that there is no longer a need to campaign for this, as the government has recently committed itself to introducing no-fault divorce. Well, it is true that we appear to have taken a huge stride in the right direction, but there is still a very long way to go until no-fault divorce is a reality. Until then, we must keep up the pressure for reform.
Good divorce is not a contradiction in terms. Divorce may be extremely painful, and I am certainly not suggesting that we can miraculously cure that pain, but it is possible to make the process itself less painful, and that must be a good thing. Having said that, if I have one criticism about Good Divorce Week, it would be that it is misnamed. It should really be called ‘Better Divorce Week’. Aided by improved laws, we can reduce conflict and make something that is never going to be perceived by many as ‘good’ into something that is at least better.