Before you walk away with nothing in your divorce


Are you about to walk away with nothing, just to get this hellish chapter of your life done with? 


Wait. Read this first. Your future self will thank you for it. 


When you don’t have the resources to pay for professional help, divorce is doubly scary. You already feel out of control, manipulated and abused. It already feels like it’s just not fair. And you’re right, it isn’t fair. It stinks. But, just like the mud in that famous children’s bear hunt story, you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it… And you can. So, Before you walk away with nothing in your divorce keep reading with an open mind…


The only way is through


“How do I tell the court I’m not going to the First Appointment?” Belinda (not her real name) posted in the Absolute Academy


“I can’t do this, I’d rather walk away with nothing”. 


Perhaps you’ve felt exactly how Belinda feels. Perhaps you’ve had enough of the stress, worry, sleepless nights and feeling like your life is totally dominated by divorce proceedings? You just want it to stop. 


I totally get it.


The fear of the unknown is always stressful. It’s normal to want to run away. 


But the reality of court proceedings is this: if you don’t attend they’ll send you another date. They might put a penal notice on that letter and you may face committal to prison. Now, before you panic, that’s unlikely to happen but do you really want the stress and worry?


It’s not going to go away easily. You need to get through it. 


If you genuinely cannot attend but feel that in future you could, ask for an adjournment. Give the court and the other side notice to avoid costs. Then use the time to prepare yourself – emotionally and practically. If you didn’t read my blog about what happens at each appointment with the court, you can read it here


Change your story


I talk a lot about divorce stories – check out last week’s blog to read why


What’s the story you’re telling yourself about not going to court? Last year I worked with Sue (not her real name). Sue contacted me because she’d spent £5K getting to a very straightforward decree nisi and had run out of money. She couldn’t now afford to get the legal help she’d really needed (This is why I always say get savvy before you engage a solicitor!). 


Sue really did need help with the financial settlement. When we started working together she’d say things like “He’s so much cleverer than me” or “I’m just a care assistant, I’m not clever enough for this”. 


I can tell you for sure that Sue was one smart woman – she just didn’t recognise it in herself and she kept replaying the story that he was clever and she wasn’t. 


Through our work together Sue stopped playing that record and changed her story. I gave her bite-size actions to do and within a month she’d completed her form E, understood her mortgage borrowing potential, looked for a better paid job and got the house valued. Sue applied for financial remedy herself and with my support drafted her chronology, questionnaire and statement of issues.


Do you know what the best thing was? Sue actually started to believe in herself. She saw the truth: she was smarter than she had believed. She understood how s25 related to her situation and she knew the strengths and weaknesses of her own case and that of her husband. 


Sue represented herself in court. They settled at FDR (definition here) where the judge commented on how well prepared she was and how well she’d conducted herself. 


Sue did it and so can you


Walking away with nothing won’t change anything


When you’re in a high conflict or abusive situation you just want it to stop. Walking away with nothing feels like the perfect solution – an end to it all, even if you’re poorer as a result. Except it’s not the end. 


Money is one way you’re abused but it’s not the only one, is it? Of course, it’s a biggie because money is important to him. But if he’s going to control, he’ll find something else even if he ‘has all the money’. It’s not about the money and you know this. It’s about the control. 


Say you let him ‘have’ the money. Now you’re still controlled and have even less money than before. How is that going to help you?


Build your courage and resilience muscles


Just like the muscles in our bodies, courage and resilience are muscles that we need to build. We do it step by step.  Just like the ‘Couch to 5K’ running app it’s about going a little further than we have before. Sometimes we have to take action before we feel ready, but in taking that action, the muscle grows. We didn’t believe that we could and then, we’ve done it! It’s less scary each time. 

Borrowing self-belief

Before you walk away with nothing in your divorce build your self-belief. If you need to borrow a bit of belief then do that. You can borrow belief easily. Think of a situation where you do feel confident. Where you know that you are calm, in control and you know what you’re doing. It might take time if you’re really stressed but we have all experienced that sense of everything going well, even if it wasn’t recently. It might have been a presentation at work, a party you organised or a time you helped a friend in need and made a real difference. 


Bring that time to mind and look deeply – notice what you were doing, how you were standing or sitting and what you were saying. Notice how you were feeling. Once you’ve remembered this richly, replay it over and over in your mind. Build up that feeling. Notice how you begin to feel exactly how you felt then. You may find it useful to create an ‘anchor’ to this feeling. An anchor is a way for you to recall that feeling by doing a specific movement with your body. It’s a powerful association for your brain. 

A tool to support you

We can create anchors in several ways. One of the easiest is to use your finger and thumb. As you create those positive feelings from your happy memory, squeeze your thumb and index finger together. As the memory becomes more alive in your mind squeeze harder, and as the memory ends, let go. Practice doing this several times: relive your memory, press your thumb and finger together as you do so, release as the episode ends. 


Then forget about it for a while – make a cup of tea. When you next squeeze your thumb and finger together notice what you notice (your body will flood with all the positive emotions of that memory). If it doesn’t happen straight away go back a step and relive the positive memory more, squeezing your thumb and finger as you go. 


You have just created a tool to support you when you need instant confidence, courage and calm – whatever you need is right there for you. 


The more we face our fears, the less influence over us they have. They won’t go away. But we can tame them.

Get to the other side


Going to court isn’t what you’d call a fun day out! Mostly, it’s just long and boring. Often the first reaction is, ‘is that it?!’ 


On the other side, you’ll feel relieved that it’s done. Relieved that you know what’s going to happen next from the court’s point of view. Does it mean he’ll definitely comply with the court directions? No! He may continue to do just as he likes. 


High conflict personalities always see court directions as optional based on how they feel about them. If he likes them, he’ll comply. If there’s a direction you need to follow he’ll expect, no, demand, that you do. If it’s a direction he disagrees with, he’ll ignore it. Whether or not he has a solicitor. A solicitor who recognises their client is a high conflict personality may understand how they can get their client to comply – many do not.


Recognise that on the other side of that hearing, nothing may change. You might feel it was all a big waste of time. You’ll feel this particularly if you wanted the judge to tell your husband off or call him out for lies he’s told on his Form E. This is unlikely to happen. 


What you get on the other side of that first hearing is clarity about where your case is going and what you need to do next, even if you don’t like it. Use this clarity to move forward. Be mindful of the directions he needs to comply with but focus mainly on yourself and what you need to do – you are not in control of what he does and doesn’t do. 


Even if you ‘lose’, you will ‘win’


The hard truth is it’s incredibly difficult to challenge non-disclosure, bad behaviour and abuse. Our current system is not designed to deal with it, particularly since the withdrawal of legal aid. This doesn’t mean that you should roll over and give in. 


Part of dealing with what’s happened is calling it out as best you can – even if it doesn’t change things for you. You might think “well why bother?” but in most cases, you’ll be glad you did. You’ll have started to reclaim your power and your self-esteem. Does it mean you throw thousands of pounds at a lost cause? No. But to move on, to get on with the rest of your life wholeheartedly, you need to know that you truly stood up for yourself. 


Even if you lose, you win because he didn’t break you after all. This is your time and your story. 


If you want help as you face the court hearings so you go in as strong as possible, I’m here. I can work with you to decide where to put your energy, time and money. I can help you get your head around the legal paperwork. And I can help you unlock the woman you really are – someone who is not defeated by divorce. Someone who knows there are bright times ahead. 


Just message me to set up a chat.  

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit

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