You’ve known for a while, but have finally reached the point where you can admit it – your relationship is over.
We’ll put the reasons for this to the side for now. They’re important, but not really relevant to what we’re going to discuss now: divorce.
What it can mean for each person, the paths that are in front of you now and the power of the fear that we all bring to the topic.
A Weighty Word
After all, it’s a loaded word, divorce.
It conjures up all sorts of images, worries and fears for all of us. After years of helping people navigate this huge change, I’m convinced that it means something different for everyone too.
For one person, it comes with a guilty excitement and anticipation of what a new future might hold.
For another, it’s a rampaging bulldozer charging through their life and jeopardising their safety.
And for yet another, it’s a deep, dark, unfathomable well of fear and embarrassment.
I’ve had people tell me simply saying the word ‘divorce’ took an almighty effort.
And that the moment they whispered it to themselves as they drove to work one morning was the moment they realised what they’d been trying to save was, finally – undeniably – finished.
Some words have a tremendous power over us and, I would suggest, divorce is definitely one of them.
Where Relationships Go To Die
Part of this power is our shared perspective on what divorce ‘looks like’.
And this perspective is shaped by a few big, powerful factors:
Our Friends and Family
One phrase that people working in this space dread is ‘one of my friends…’.
As in, ‘one of my friends told me that I should get 80%’.
‘One of my friends divorce was absolutely horrible; the judge was against him the whole time.’
‘One of my friends lost everything in their divorce’.
‘One of my friends lost custody of their kids’.
We dread this phrase because, frankly, their experience is not your experience. Their tales of barristers, bills, bullying and bastardry do not mean that everybody’s divorce goes that way.
The two of you can choose, to a large degree, how your divorce will play out*.
A (non-family law) lawyer told me once that every individual client she meets thinks the law is just like Suits.
They think that lawyers spend their days chasing down interesting cases for either pure, or nefarious, clients. They inevitably end up in court, where a stroke of last-minute genius wins them the case, plaudits and cold champagne in their corner office late at night.
This skewed perspective extends to the world of family law.
People want ‘their’ day in court, where they imagine they’ll be able to win over the judge with their tales of marital injustice. And that the judge will then find overwhelmingly in their favour, awarding them everything and rightly punishing their ex.
Unfortunately, this isn’t how it works in reality.
The reality is much worse, more like dropping a grenade in a tin of paint – an awful mess with a dangerous amount of shrapnel in the air.
The good news, though, is that if you and your ex are not already at each other’s throats, there’s very little chance of you ending up screaming at each other in the halls of the court.
It’s unlikely that you’ll end up in the dock, answering questions from a hostile barrister.
It’s statistically unlikely that you’ll end up waiting for a judge to pass down their judgment on what you two need to do to dissolve your relationship.
Which isn’t to say that this doesn’t happen – of course it does.
But there’s literally nothing that says that your experience needs to be like this. Burn-it-all-down court hearings are not the only way to get divorced.
There are other ways.
It Can Be Hell – But It Doesn’t Have To Be
The tempting option, especially when you’re hurt and grieving and damaged after enduring years of the slow death of your relationship, is to charge headlong onto the battlefield.
You might have images of using that battlefield to reinstate your rights, value and agency.
Of you, at the end, standing tall with grimy cheeks and bloody arms.
Smoke drifting around you while you stand with one foot atop your vanquished foe, thrusting your sword in the air while you stare down any survivors. Casting your eye around, vindicated by the total victory on the field of battle.
You may very well have these images.
But you’re wrong.
That isn’t how it plays out.
Everybody thinks they’re William Wallace – while forgetting that he loses his head in the end.
All of this is to say – you get to choose how your divorce goes.
You can choose to engage a bulldog of a law firm, who readily forwards every daft piece of correspondence or complaint that you want to lob at your ex.
Who will support you as you damage yourself, your children and your future as you pursue righteous vengeance against your ex.
You can do this and, honestly, sometimes this is the right path to take. When the other side is being a right bastard, then perhaps a bulldog is what’s needed.
But this needn’t be the default option.
It is possible to maturely work through the process of dissolving your relationship, agreeing how to continue to parent separately and distribute your accumulated wealth.
It is possible to walk through this dark tunnel and come out of the other end less damaged, less angry, less hurt, less scared and less vulnerable.
It is possible to look back on the divorce as a necessary step you had to take, while you and your ex witness your eldest get married.
It is possible to negotiate these difficult and challenging times while feeling supported, respected and believed.
You don’t need to take up the sword and shield now that your relationship is over.
You have options. And in this series of posts, I’m going to unpack what those options are – and why one of them (Collaborative Divorce) can be, for the right people, such a brilliant option.
*Sadly the reality of dispute resolution is that for it go well, you both need to agree that it should go well. As I heard on a podcast recently – it only takes one arsehole to ruin things.