This week saw the airing of the finale of the BBC legal drama The Split. The popular TV show has been running for three seasons and has had viewers gripped by lives of the Defoe family, two generations of female lawyers living and practising divorce law in London.

A key storyline throughout this final season sees top divorce lawyer Hannah Stern and her estranged husband Nathan, himself a family law barrister, try to navigate a path of divorcing one another amicably. It becomes clear as the story ensues that this is not an easy path to follow, even for those who make their living from divorcing others.

Without giving too much away, a thoughtful Hannah reflects in the finale; “I tell my clients that it’s easy to marry, what’s hard is to know how to divorce. After the shouting, after the war, I tell my clients if they can lay down their weapons, their accusations, their resentments, their regrets, wait for the ringing in their ears to be silenced and for the dust to settle on what’s left of their lives – if they can stop and breathe and listen to what life has to offer next, sometimes they have been battling for so long they’ve forgotten that above the parapet, there’s birdsong.”

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Many will wonder if the idea of an amicable divorce is an all too optimistic notion – does all divorce have to be a war of attrition or is it wishful thinking to imagine that a couple can separate in a civil, respectful and child-focussed way?

As a divorce lawyer, I can wholeheartedly say that the end of a marriage is life-changing for all involved. It can bring with it hurt and devastation, acrimony and recrimination. We have all heard stories of how these emotions and hurt can spill over into the legal proceedings. Where there is acrimony, it is universally acknowledged that the legal costs involved in divorce and separation will invariably be higher than where the parties adopt a collaborative and amicable approach.

Is an amicable divorce a pipe dream?

In my view, an amicable divorce is not possible in every case. It may be that one party is behaving abusively towards the other or trying to hide or dissipate assets. In those cases, it is not always possible to deal with matters by agreement and contested proceedings before a Court will be necessary to protect a spouse’s interest.

However, for a great deal of other cases an amicable divorce is possible even where emotions are high and parties cannot seem to see eye to eye on anything. It is worth a party remembering that they will not always feel as hurt and betrayed as they do now and that continuing acrimony through lawyers is rarely productive and can be costly. If possible, try to envisage how you would like to look back on this part of your life; you may find solace later in knowing that you have behaved in a dignified way and tried not to get dragged into the mudslinging because of heightened emotions.

Karen Connolly
Karen Connolly

How can I best achieve an amicable divorce?

It is the duty of any divorce lawyer to help navigate the best path for their client through the divorce process – to look at matters strategically outside the prism of emotion.

Here are some ways in which you can try to achieve an amicable resolution to the breakdown of your marriage:

  1. Pick the right solicitor. Try to engage a solicitor who is going to help you achieve amicable resolution and can best advise you as to whether this is possible in your circumstances.
  2. Collaborate where possible. Try to collaborate for the best outcome for your children. It is likely that the children will want a good relationship with both their parents without having to feel that they are disloyal to the other parent for doing so. That being said, time with a child should not be carved up simply as a way of satisfying both parents’ needs to see them. The focus should be on what the child’s needs are and that includes their stability and security.
  3. Engage with the process of financial disclosure as early as possible. Try to see if financial disclosure can be agreed on a voluntary basis so that negotiations can take place to reach financial settlement outside the Court forum. This will only work if both parties are prepared to commit to this, but it will ultimately save on legal costs for everyone.
  4. Think about your options before petitioning for divorce. Ask whether a fault-based divorce is really necessary or whether it may be possible to wait until a less contentious non-fault-based ground becomes available.

While efforts can be made by one party to achieve an amicable settlement, remember that it takes two to tango. If one spouse does not want to behave amicably or is using the Court process to continue abusive behaviour, then the other alone cannot cause the divorce to be amicable.

Ultimately, I agree with Hannah Stern – while disentangling yourself from a marriage is a stressful and emotional process, it will not last forever and anyone going through a divorce should be reassured that brighter days will come. If you are going through a divorce, looking after yourself is the very best thing that you can do as this will help you weather the storms of breakdown and enable you to be robust enough to help your lawyer steer the right course for your future.

Karen Connolly is a Family Law Partner in Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors

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