Divorce rates are down but are we really happy?

A recent article by Steve Doughty, Social Affairs Correspondent at the Daily Mail, shows that divorce rates have dropped by a third in 14 years. Recent figures from the Ministry of Justice show a 4% decrease in divorce petitions on 2016 in 2017. Jill Kirby former head of the Centre for Policy Studies is quoted as saying that this is evidence that divorce laws don’t need to change. We don’t need to focus on ‘no-fault’ reforms to make it easier for couples to divorce, rather we should focus on, and celebrate, the marriages that are working. Divorce rates are down but are we really happy?

What do divorce rates have to do with levels of happiness?

I’m a divorce coach. One thing I know is that divorce rates have little to do with rates of happiness. There are some sections of society that think that divorce is ‘too easy’, and that more should be done to keep marriages together. I often wonder how many of these people have actually been divorced themselves?

The clients I work with wouldn’t describe divorce as ‘too easy’. The majority of them have been unhappily married for years, sometimes decades. They’ve done Relate, sometimes psychotherapy, changed jobs, got new hobbies and still their marriage isn’t working. Not yet a divorce ‘statistic’ these women are unhappy. So why do they stay?

Divorce just ends your marriage

All divorce does is end your marriage. It’s a straightforward process based on the fact your marriage has broken down irretrievably. You prove that using one of 5 Facts. Straightforward? Yes and no. Unless you’ve been separated for 2 years, in the English divorce system, you have to play the blame game. The respondent is either an adulterer or they’re unreasonable – you can see where the problems start. Legally complex? No. An emotional minefield? Absolutely. It’s not the divorce process thats complicated, its the people in the process that cause the difficulties.

Divorce is too expensive

Unless you are eligible for a remission, a divorce application will cost you money. In 2018, that fee is £550. This isn’t for legal help, this is for court administration. Then there’s the cost of family mediation, solicitors and other divorce professionals – IFAs Tax Advisers and the like. It can be a very costly business. In most cases however, it needn’t be. So how do you save money on divorce?

Anyone contemplating staying in an unhappy marriage purely because they think they can’t afford to divorce should do their research. Fee exemptions are possible for some. Legal Aid is available for divorce in very limited circumstances (seek legal advice), public funding is more readily available for family mediation to help you reach agreements and save money. For others, it’s about being willing to prioritise paying for a divorce over something more pleasurable. No one minds paying their conveyancer to help them buy their dream home, paying for divorce support is an investment too – it allows you to move on with your life.

The point is, listening to your friend’s tales of woe, or reading headings in the newspapers won’t help you make a rational, informed decision. Only your own research and understanding will help you do that. Know when yo spend money, when to save it and when its worth prioritising getting expert help.

When it comes to divorce, there are two basic rules of thumb to remember – the bigger your asset base (ie the more you have), the more your divorce will cost you. The more of the divorce you do yourself, the more money you will save. Lots of people get their solicitor to do things in their divorce they could do themselves, or they use them as emotional sounding boards. Be smart. Before you contact your solicitor ask yourself “what is it I want to ask my solicitor that I can’t find out /do for myself”.

Divorce and children

Even though we’re in the 21st Century, and even though copious amounts of research has shown that children fair better if their unhappy parents divorce than if they stay together, societal values still run with an undercurrent that you should stay together for the sake of the children.  Many couples still do this to the emotional detriment of themselves and their children.

Children are not damaged by divorce itself. They become damaged by the way that their parents deal with it. Divorce is hard. Not everyone gets it right all of the time. If you’ve been unhappy for sometime, recognise that your children probably already know. Even if you’ve been shrewd and thinking that you’ve kept it hidden. Children thrive in a relaxed and happy environment. In tense unhappy atmosphere’s they become anxious and withdrawn. Talk to your children in an age appropriate way. Don’t make assumptions that you know how they think and feel. Ask!

Divorce and money

We British aren’t very good at having conversations about money. So often, we don’t have them. It still shocks me that I have clients both in my divorce coaching business, and in family mediation, who don’t know how much their spouse earns. Nor do they know what saving, investments or pension savings there are. This makes the idea of divorce particularly terrifying for these (women) who have no real idea what they may be entitled to on divorce so they ignore their unhappiness and stay put. In other circumstances, I’ve had clients whose husbands have refused to divorce purely on the basis that it doesn’t fit in with the family ‘financial plan’. Oh yes, money can bring out our crazy when it comes to divorce.

I run a Facebook Group, Ladies Who Leave. A group with over 800 women in it, the biggest reason they either haven’t left yet, or stayed longer than they would have, is money. Fear that divorce is unaffordable for them or fear that they won’t be able to survive financially post divorce.

Doing divorce differently

Divorce doesn’t have you everything you have financially or emotionally. Neither do you have to stay in a marriage that isn’t alive any longer. It is OK to say that you want to divorce. Divorcing in a family centred way will help all of you adjust. Thinking about your values, what’s important to you will help you get clarity and a road map of where you want to be post divorce.

Understanding the divorce process, how it works and your obligations and responsibilities ahead of time will stand you in good stead to feel more confident and like you are driving your divorce rather than it driving you.

Consider what your soon to be ex-spouse feels, what they may also need from the divorce settlement and recognise where you can be flexible and compromise. Be clear with your boundaries and non-negotiables as will help everyone understand your position.

I’m Emma Heptonstall, The divorce Alchemist and author of Amazon Best Seller How to be a Lady Who Leaves. I support ladies like you to make smart emotion and financial decisions on divorce so that they can move forward to their post-divorce life with ease. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com

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