Divorce Day: How to avoid the cliché

Elizabeth Saxby, Family Lawyer and Partner at Carbon Law Partners

Divorce day 2019 lands on 7th January and is traditionally the busiest day for family lawyers.

The festive fun which translates as ‘seasonal tension’ is sometimes too much for couples who are already experiencing difficulties. My advice is not to be a statistic. Divorce day is so crude a phrase for what can be the end of a tough and emotionally tortuous journey. If New Year means new you then take your time and start thinking about what your long terms goals are early.

In 2017 a total of 102,007 couples (same-sex, opposite-sex) got divorced. No matter what time of year you start these things you are in for a challenge no matter how amicable the relationship ended.

Here are my points of consideration to help avoid disappointment from your January divorce appointment:

Quickie divorce

There is no such thing. You often hear of ‘quickie divorces’ in celebrity separations where there is a hearing that lasts no longer than two minutes and the parties didn’t even attend. This is the pronouncement of decree nisi, not the final hoorah. The divorce itself is almost finished at this stage and if everything is agreed it is a procedural hearing that no-one is expected to attend. The divorce itself takes 3 to 6 months and is usually delayed further with negotiations relating to the finances or the children. It takes at least 9 months to plan most weddings, it’ll probably take the same to get divorced.

Divorce. Children. Finances

These three categories are governed by separate legislation and in difficult circumstances you could have separate proceedings for each. However, to the person going through it, it is one big litigious mess. If your usual experiences are a million miles away from law and finances, then you must ask your lawyer to explain things to you so you do understand. Just because you cannot wrap your head around the procedure does not mean a failing on your part, I have been doing this for thirteen years, if you don’t understand what’s going on after speaking with me then that’s my fault not yours. The main point here is that your lawyer will guide you on which arguments need to be mediated on, which arguments to let go of and when you should consider going to Court.

‘Somebody think of the children’

I am often told that husbands or wives say things like ‘if you don’t give me £x you’re not seeing the children’ or ‘if you agree 50:50 on the house I’ll agree 50:50 of the children’. Nonsense.  The children’s needs are paramount and these sorts of threats are showing who is not thinking of the children. Don’t be pressured into agreements through emotional threats, and this comes back to my point of not being someone who rushes to the lawyers on 7thJanuary. Take your time to work together to think of a plan that would work for the children.

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Papers. Evidence.

To have financial advice in terms of the fairest division of assets you must have financial disclosure. Both sides need to produce their bank statements, accounts, everything to show what assets and liabilities are to be considered. You then apply your respective arguments as to how these should be divided. Without evidence we are going on one party’s word against the other, and these sorts of arguments lead to protracted litigation because there’s no way of testing this evidence until a Judge hears that party at the final hearing. Expensive, and unpredictable. Get your affairs (papers not adulterous) in order early so that when you do make your January appointment you can hit the ground running to some degree. You’ll also need your marriage certificate, so dig that out while you’re doing some pre-Christmas cleaning.

Good things come to those who wait

Like a good Christmas cake it is sometimes better to wait for things than to rush them. To have a full financial picture of a husband and wife’s assets and liabilities takes time. Unless you have an agreed schedule of assets on 7thJanuary it will take a few months to get to the point that you can say you know what the other person has and then make a start by putting forward proposals on how those assets should be divided. It is usually better to wait and be as certain as possible that you know what’s there than to rush it and regret it.

Remember, a divorce is for life and not just for Christmas.