No fault divorce will come into effect in April this year. In last week’s blog I explained what no fault divorce is, how it differs from the current system and what it might mean for you. You can get all the essential information on no fault divorce here. But have you thought about how no fault divorce might affect your children? For most families, no fault divorce will be of benefit to your children – particularly to their emotional health. And in this blog we look at why, and how to make divorce easier for children with no fault divorce.
It centres the divorce, not the marriage
Under the current system, couples have to demonstrate that their divorce has irretrievably broken down. This need to blame, to either lay fault at one party’s door or wait for two years, encourages both you and your soon-to-be-ex to look backwards. To dissect your marriage and justify your indignation, hurt or anger in each other. All of which stirs up difficult feelings. And, importantly, keeps you stuck. Deciding how to demonstrate to the court that your marriage has broken down can be an emotive and practical quagmire, escalating ill-feeling between you both. All of which can ripple over in front of the children, and, indeed, affect how you interact with them.
The ins and outs of who did what in your marriage are topics best off the table when discussing your divorce with your children. Nevertheless, more curious children might want to know about the process, or understand why the marriage is over. They might want to know who instigated proceedings and why. No fault divorce focusses the conversation on you and your soon-to-be-ex working together to close this stage of your life, rather than unpick what did or didn’t happen during your marriage.
They don’t have to choose
Having a no blame ethos to your divorce means your children don’t have to get embroiled in siding with one parent or the other. They don’t need to be part of any power games. Of course you are going to feel furious about how your soon-to-be-ex behaved. Even the most amicable of divorces have moments of blind rage, fury and letting the floodgates go with the tears. But your children don’t need to see that. That’s what the bottle of wine with your bestie is for. It’s what I am for!
Being able to keep things on a cooler, no blame footing as you divorce lightens the emotional pressure on your children a hundredfold. Of course they will have feelings about your divorce. They will likely feel scared, worried and angry, and they will likely take these feelings out on you. They may well blame you (and/or their other parent) and they may well quiz you on whose fault it was, in the hunt for someone to blame.
Because blame serves a valuable purpose. It’s a place for our pain to go. It’s like electricity being discharged. So blame can feel like it passes the pain somewhere else. Rather than your child hurting inside they can pass that hurt outwards, saying “It’s all mum’s fault!”. But blame isn’t a reliable way of ridding ourselves of pain. Not for adults or children. Because even if it does get rid of the pain of grief or confusion, it replaces it with anger and bitterness. And that can corrode relationships.
It’s far better for your children to process their grief and come to terms with how they feel. To understand that they are looking for someone to blame – and that’s normal, but not necessary. To be reassured that it’s definitely not their fault, and it’s not them being left. That they are still loved by both parents 100%.
That they are certainly not to blame and that this isn’t about blame at all. It’s about one phase of life moving into another. And they will be loved and supported through it.
It models moving on without resentment
As we’ve seen, no blame divorce isn’t about looking backwards. It’s about enabling all involved to move on. Children will experience the end of relationships many, many times in their own lives. They will fall out with school friends, and patch things up again – sometimes all within a lunchtime! They will experience the pain of friends drifting away from them and choosing other people. They will experience doing that to other people – maybe without even realising they are causing hurt.
It is natural that people are in our lives for a while and then we move on. With marriage, the intention is that you stay together forever. And that intention is usually honestly and honourably made. Yet the reality is that sometimes it simply isn’t the healthiest option. And, just like in your school days, it’s time to move on.
If you can navigate your divorce with dignity, with your self esteem and your values intact, you are providing an enormously valuable lesson to your children. You are showing them that things change – that even the big things can change. And that while this is always uncomfortable and sometimes painful, it can be done in a way that leads to a better life. That allows you to grow.
You don’t have to blame people when things end. Instead, you can focus on what you want and need in life now and next, and work towards that. And so can your children.
It encourages collaboration – in parenting as well as divorce
One of the big changes coming in with no fault divorce is that you can apply for the divorce together. It becomes a task you can jointly take responsibility for, rather than the more combative petitioner and respondent framework currently in place.
Already the court encourages collaboration in discussions about children. The court would rather not get involved. Any court process about child arrangements requires you to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) first, to see whether your case is suitable for family mediation.
Mediation is the preferred option because it’s usually quicker, cheaper and calmer. And it usually produces more workable solutions, as you and your soon-to-be-ex can agree these, rather than have them imposed by a judge with little information about your children or your lives.
This principle applies to all aspects of your divorce and post-divorce parenting. If you are able to come up with solutions together, ideally using the framework of a parenting plan (read all about parenting plans here), then your children will have more consistency and a more peaceful home environment.
What if they are to blame?!
I bet you’ve got to this point and still have one question on the tip of your tongue: “But, Emma! What if it really is their fault? What if they are to blame?!”
I hear you, I do. Going for a calm, collaborative approach when you have been treated appallingly by your spouse can be a hard pill to swallow. And if you’re in a high conflict divorce then collaboration is out of the question as it leaves you open to abuse. Clear boundaries are the way forward (you can read more about high conflict communication here). Though the no fault system is likely to remove a source of conflict from proceedings – as you won’t have to agree whose fault anything was.
If you’re not in a high conflict relationship, it doesn’t mean you simply have to forgive and forget. You still need clear boundaries. You don’t have to sing your ex’s praises from the rooftops, to your children or anyone else. You certainly don’t want them to step all over you and your fairmindedness.
But think about what you most want right now. Is it for them to feel bad, and for them to acknowledge it was their fault? Or is it for you to live your life, your way, and get your divorce done? Sure, an apology would be nice. But if they’ve behaved poorly, it’s unlikely they’re going to have an epiphany now. You may be waiting a long time. You will be spending a lot of emotional energy bristling with anger.
And that is time and energy you are giving to your ex-spouse. Time and energy that belongs to you and your children. It’s yours and you are deserving of it. Don’t let them have it.
Get your strategy sorted
Whether you want help getting your values and priorities straight or figuring out how to get an effective parenting plan in place, I can help. I offer strategy calls to get you on track. To see how I can help you simply book in your free call here.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the 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. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com