Despite the grim headlines, most couples are managing to avoid breakups brought on by the pandemic, according to the research. However, around 42 per cent of marriages in the UK end in divorce. What would change if we saw divorce as a positive transition rather than a failure?
Emma Reynolds and her husband were confident that their four-year marriage was over, but equally confident that it shouldn’t be the end of their relationship.
“The main thing we focused on was that we wanted our relationship to be positive and happy, just with a new look,” she says. “We did not want to lose our history. We still deeply loved each other, we just didn’t want to marry each other. Helping establish that early on helped focus our minds when it came to having the most difficult conversations. “
The couple, who separated in 2018, decided not to involve the lawyers and set out to divide their finances and belongings, and work out a schedule for their dog, with whom they share. Reynolds acknowledges that not having children made the whole process that much easier.
Then came the emotional work of establishing a happy relationship after their marriage. Reynolds notes that she had a lot of therapy, and she and her ex-husband had many conversations about what they both wanted. It was worth it.
“I would say that now we have a better relationship than we have had before, because of the work we have put into it to make it positive,” he says. “We spend a lot of time together. We live quite close together; we do a lot of dog walks together and take [our dog] on vacation every year together. We celebrated our wedding anniversary because we liked getting married. It’s a very alternative separation. “
The Reynolds divorce story may seem like an improbably perfect result of what is generally considered one of the two most stressful experiences a person can have (along with the death of their spouse). A couple that separates after 30 or 40 years along with all the shared history and belongings, not to mention the shared children and property, is clearly in a very different situation.
But her relatively happy story might not be the exception for much longer: The ‘no-fault’ divorce will go into effect this fall, and more services are emerging to help couples navigate the process of ending their marriage amicably. and do it together.
While the coronavirus crisis has been a big test for many relationships, a Marriage Foundation survey suggests that a major pandemic-induced divorce boom may actually be a myth. Image: Harli Marten
“Everybody joked about Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘conscious disengagement’ a few years ago, but it’s not uncommon for this kind of thing to be run by celebrities,” says Pip Wilson, co-founder and CEO of amicable.io, who advises couples in the divorce process without lawyers. The 2014 Oscar-winning actress’s divorce from her husband, musician Chris Martin, is often mentioned when people talk about ending a marriage in a positive way; Reynolds describes her and her husband’s separation as “a Gwyn and Chris budget.”
Wilson says high-profile people who speak out publicly about friendly separations help set an example. She believes that as a nation, we are getting better at getting divorced.
“The main similarity between all of our clients is that they want to come out on the other side and feel like they can move on and that they haven’t wasted a great deal of time and money on a big fight,” he says.
The ‘big fight’ of many divorces is compounded by regulations in the UK: under conflict of interest rules, lawyers cannot jointly advise both parties on a divorce. That means that by involving the attorneys, the spouses begin the process in opposite camps, pitted against each other.
We did not want to lose our history. We still care deeply for each other
“Doing my best for [each spouse] it’s not in the best interests of the family, ”says Samantha Woodham, a family attorney who founded The Divorce Surgery, which offers joint legal advice to divorcing couples. (Although attorneys cannot offer joint advice, attorneys cannot.)
Woodham also reports that people are increasingly looking for a more positive divorce experience, saying that approaching the process together helps make that possible.
“Being able to frame the narrative from day one as: ‘this is not going to be a battle, we don’t see the end of our relationship as a failure, this is a life change that we are going to navigate together’ – just tell people that around you takes away all the drama. “
Although Reynolds and her ex-husband were able to separate their assets on their own, many couples need support on this front. “Most people start out where they just want a fair outcome, but have vastly different perceptions of fairness. Because it’s not that instinctive, it’s actually quite difficult, ”says Woodham.
Divorces, however amicable, are invariably complicated with children. Image: Juliane Liebermann
Couples using joint services like Woodham and Wilson for their divorce still run into some pretty contentious issues. “There are often some really big binary decisions in a divorce, for example, who stays in the family home or whether or not the family home should be sold – there’s a lot of emotional attachment to that,” Wilson notes.
There is the unpleasant reality that running two households instead of one will likely put both parties in a worse financial situation.
“That is difficult, especially if you are not the person who is instigating the divorce,” says Wilson. “We spent a lot of time taking a very practical approach and saying, ‘I appreciate that this is difficult, but unfortunately it is reality and a big court battle is not going to change that reality either, so let’s focus on the best options available.’ “
I’d say we have a better relationship now than we’ve ever had before.
And that’s one clear benefit of a frictionless, amicable divorce – it’s cheap. A single service between two people, or no service at all, has a fraction of the cost of a lengthy legal battle between attorneys. Woodham sees many clients who “can’t stand each other, are motivated by cost or time.”
But even those couples, he says, tend to start with a mentality like ‘I want to be able to tell my kids that I did the right thing’ or ‘I just want to get out of this without making things worse.’
“It’s difficult at first, it’s much easier to walk into your own camp and get angry at the other person. But in reality, if you look at it as if you are both trying to break free in a fair way, then you are focusing on the solution rather than the problem. It is healthier to look to the future instead of obsessing over the past. “
Laying the foundation for a good divorce
1. Set your goals in a friendly way
Instead of thinking about what you want to get out of the marriage, identify the outcome you would like. Amicable divorce counselors begin by asking each spouse to set goals, which could be to ensure that the children’s education is not interrupted, to want to return to work after a period of time off, or to remain living in the same area.
Approaching the process in this way, explains Pip Wilson, generates a much more positive outcome. “At the end of the process, you can accept and move forward much more quickly because you have achieved a tangible goal,” he says. “Starting since
a ‘what am I entitled to?’ position and not getting it can be demotivating and make it very difficult to move on. “
2. Take away the ego
Emma Reynolds recommends trying not to take the breakup of the romantic relationship personally. “If you can get the ego out of it and recognize that it has nothing to do with you necessarily, it’s just that over a period of time you have individually changed and you are no longer what the other wants, it is easier to process the change. It is just an integral part of life’s experience. That really helped us not to feel that we have failed, because we are very happy and failure would be to stay together and feel sad.
3. Foster a holistic approach
A traditional divorce with attorneys is costly and stressful, potentially leaving each party without the mental space or money for therapeutic support or financial counseling, says Samantha Woodham. “And really, you need both, too,” he says.
Having therapy together to improve communication between you is particularly helpful, she suggests, especially if you have children.
IIllustration: Ana Jaks