While getting a divorce isn’t something any of us want, 42% of marriages now end this way. But the emotional fallout from the end of a marriage is as devastating as it ever was. ‘There may no longer be a stigma about divorce but the shock and grief are just as great; it’s a huge loss,‘ says Charlotte Friedman, psychotherapist and founder of the Divorce Support Group. ‘The feelings you experience can be quite overwhelming. At a time when you never want to see your ex again, you have to talk to him and negotiate, which can feel an almost impossible task. But it can be done. Divorce isn’t just an end, it’s also a new beginning.’
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‘Research shows that divorce in general does not damage children,’ says divorce and relationship expert Suzy Miller. ‘People who had traumatic childhoods say it resulted from their parents’ bitter divorce going on for years, or because they stayed together despite hating each other. Children want their parents to be happy, and if divorce enables this – even if Mum and Dad are no longer living in the same house – it’s for the best.’
Golden rule - d on't criticise your ex in front of the children
‘Or involve the kids in your rows,’ says Suzy. ‘He will always be their father and their relationship with him must be kept separate. By behaving respectfully towards him, you can teach your kids a great lesson about how relationships should be conducted.’
The biggest mistake divorcing couples make is to display their emotions in the wrong place or to the wrong people – or all the time. ‘Anger, regret and tears need to be put to one side – however hard that might be – when dealing with finances and custody,’ says family lawyer Susan Eskinazi. Express your pain in the right place to the right person – control is vital so you can focus on practicalities.
Golden rule - your solicitor isn't your friend
Pouring your heart out to them may feel good, but it would be wiser (and cheaper) to confide in a trained counsellor or good friend.
‘Divorce is one of the most traumatic things you’ll ever go through,’ says Suzy Miller. ‘But if you stay as calm and focused as you possibly can, you may look back and think, “I never knew I could do that, I’m proud of myself, and a better person for it”.’
Golden rule - look after yourself
When you feel low, go to the gym, for a walk, meet up with friends and generally have a life... because the happier you feel about your own life, the more able you’ll be to move on.
‘The feelings you experience during a divorce are similar to a bereavement, so you need to find the right place to do your mourning and to express the anger, tears and regret,’ says Paula Hall, author of 'How to have a Healthy Divorce' (£10.99, Vermillion, www.allaboutyoubookshop.co.uk). ‘Counselling can steer you away from the destructive “blame game”, and help you take responsibility for your own feelings.’
Golden rule - be patient with yourself
‘Accept it will be painful for a while but allow yourself to hope for the future. Remember – people do survive divorce,’ says Paula.
‘In conflict, people become completely self absorbed, unable to hear that what the other person is asking may be quite reasonable,’ says family mediator Lesley Saunders. Professional mediators will help you and your ex ‘hear’ each other and make decisions about everything from finances to who has the children at Christmas. Mediation is increasingly popular because it can help you avoid the expense – and trauma – of going to court and, if you earn under £32,000 pa and have less than £8,000 in savings, it’s often free. ‘The hardest part of mediation is turning up and sitting in a room with someone you don’t want to be with,’ says Lesley. ‘Most couples find it gets easier after that.’ Visit www.nfm.org.uk
Golden rule - beware Facebook
‘Venting feelings on social media sites or sharing gossip about your ex can cause untold damage in the divorce process,’ warns Lesley.
Legal Aid is no longer available for most divorce cases, but online divorce sites are increasingly popular and could save you a fortune in legal fees. ‘You don’t have to go straight to a lawyer,’ says Susan Eskinazi. ‘You could, for example, do some of the basic form-filling online, then consult a lawyer or mediator for guidance with custody or finances. Solicitors are also becoming more competitive, offering fixed fees or one-off consultancy fees, so shop around – but do ensure your lawyer is suitably qualified.’ For a list of family lawyers committed to non-confrontational divorce, visit www.resolution.org.uk.
Goden rule - ask questions
Legal jargon, solicitors and courts can be intimidating, so make sure you ask for clarification if you don’t understand.