Jo Edwards is a partner and mediator who heads up the family team at London firm Forsters LLP and has practised family law for 20 years.
She is immediate past Chair of national family lawyers’ organisation Resolution.
Here she gives her top 10 tips for a friendly divorce:
Be sure that divorce is what you really want. All relationships go through a rocky patch and couples counselling can help. If you agree that the marriage is over and that you have tried your best to save it, you are more likely to have an amicable separation.
If you are the one driving a divorce, be patient with your husband or wife and don’t rush the process. If you are on the receiving end of a request for a divorce, don’t be afraid to ask for time to come to terms with it. The most acrimonious divorces tend to be those where one or both spouses isn’t emotionally ready. Therapy can be a useful way to discuss and understand why the relationship ended, which tends to make the legal process smoother.
Prioritise the needs and feelings of any children, ensuring that they have a relationship with both of their parents during and after divorce provided that it is safe. However much bad feeling exists, marriage breakdown is never the fault of a child. Exposing them to conflict, and/or making them take sides, will cause them lasting emotional harm.
Ensure a line of communication is always open with your ex, during the divorce and (where there are children) afterwards. If direct contact isn’t possible at first, perhaps use a third party or email. If you are a parent, you need to be able to work together for many years.
Be open about what you want from the divorce. The sooner you make clear where you’re coming from and what you want, the more likely it is that your ex will see your viewpoint. At the same time, be pragmatic and open to compromise - entrenched positions lead to delay and acrimony.
Be realistic and take advice about what you may be entitled to expect, in terms of money and children. Most cases that end up in court do so either because one person is trying to achieve an unrealistic outcome, or because one has not been fully transparent about their finances.
Work together to agree what the family finances are, before addressing how assets and income should be divided to provide for two households. Openness and honesty are key; attempting to withhold information will only cause conflict and is ultimately pointless, as full disclosure must be provided in the end.
Mediation or collaborative practice are the best processes for achieving a good divorce. You and your ex will be directly involved in discussions and will be able to hear what the other has to say, but in a supported environment. An arrangement agreed between you and your ex will likely be more successful in practice than one imposed by a judge.
Educate yourself about process. There is a lot of information available online about divorce. Although it is sensible to have legal advice, you can save on costs if your solicitor does not have to explain process to you and their involvement is limited to advising how the law may apply to your specific case. Make sure you agree a budget for costs and stick to it.
Look after yourself and keep your friends and family close at hand. A support network is very important as you go through divorce so you don’t feel isolated or overwhelmed.