Is there a Perfect Way to Divorce?
7 Steps to Achieve the Perfect Divorce? ‘Surely not…’ you say. Since 2010 I have run Mediate UK – a Family Mediation and amicable Divorce Service. We have helped over 3000 clients divorce or separate as amicably, cost-effectively and fairly as possible. I have seen the best and worst in people – parents holding back extreme hurt and emotions to put the needs and priorities of their children first. Other people using the most unfortunate manipulation and callousness.
But what I have learned over the years is that there is a best way to manage your divorce and move on with your life.
I’ve recorded 7 Steps to Achieve the Perfect Divorce, and recommend you try to give them a go. They may just save you a lot of time, stress and money.
Step 1 – You both accept that the marriage has to come to an end.
In some cases this may be by mutual agreement, but in most cases you may reach this conclusion at different times.
To help answer the question of whether the marriage is recoverable, picture yourselves together in 10 years or even 20 years’ time. The children may have left home by then? What will you be doing? Will you be enjoying the rest of your lives together? Can you see yourselves in retirement? Going on excursions or holidays together?
If you have strong doubts about this, then it is incumbent on you to discuss them with your spouse. And the best way to do this is to through a relationship counselor.
By talking things through with a relationship counselor, you may both be able to reach an understanding on what the future is for your relationship. And if one of you still wants to be in the marriage when the other does not, it will give you both an opportunity to explain your reasons. They may not agree with you, but you are at least giving your partner a chance to understand why you feel the marriage is coming to an end.
Acceptance that it takes two to make a marriage work and both of you need to be committed to it is a key step to making the divorce process less painful.
Step 2 – Agree on the parenting arrangements
The best people to agree on how you are going to raise your children, whilst living separately, are you – the parents.
Studies by child psychologists show that it is not the act of separating that causes emotional distress to a child, but the arguing, point scoring and involving the children in your disagreements that cause longer-term damage.
If you cannot agree on the arrangements then agree to work on a parenting plan with a family mediator. Mediation will help you work together to reach an agreement on all aspects of your future parenting arrangements. Ideally, you want to have a flexible arrangement that prioritises the children. One that allows for changes in family life and schedules, and one that evolves over the years as the children grow up.
The worst-case scenario, is you go to court to ask a judge to tell you where and when you can see your children with a child arrangements order. That is difficult to enforce and you usually need to return to court each time you want a change made to it.
Some parents treat the task of raising your children like a business. Keeping conversations purely on the ‘business’ of parenting their children and leaving blame and recrimination to one side. If you prioritise the children in every decision and action you take, then you will be able to look back at this time as one that was difficult, but also with pride at how you managed it.
Step 3 – Working out where you will both be living
As part of your divorce, you will normally end up living in separate properties – so you will need to fund two households, where previously you were funding just one.
To do this you need to look at your future budgets – what can you both reasonably afford and does it meet both your needs moving forwards? This part is all about what your needs are and looking forward – not looking at your ‘wants’ or back over the relationship.
Let’s suppose you have two teenage children – a boy and a girl – and you are sharing the parenting on a 50/50 basis. You would both need a 3-bedroom property. That’s because a boy and a girl need separate rooms (as well as yourself). It may be that you need to sell the current property or keep the current property and one of you rents somewhere until it can be sold.
There are usually 10 options for a property as part of your separation. But the most common, are to sell and divide the equity fairly now; keep the property and offset it against other assets or pensions; or keep the property, but retain an equity stake in it until it is sold (under a Charge Back or a Mesher Order).
To arm you with all the options you need to work out what mortgage you can obtain; what you can reasonably afford; and look to maximize any income you may be entitled to when you start living separately. You can start with a website such as turn2us.org.uk and put in your circumstances as they will be when you start living apart. If you need help on this, a financial advisor can provide you with further assistance, as can Citizens Advice or you can use divorce mediation to help you reach agreement on the finances.
Step 4 – Working out how to divide your assets
Once you have worked out where you can both reasonably live, you need to divide any other assets fairly between you. This may include pensions, savings and shares or maybe a business. The length of the marriage can come into play here, but you should start at a 50/50 division, called the yardstick of equality, and then work up or down depending on what your needs are moving forwards.
Remember the courts do not look to reward or punish behavior in a marriage. It is based very much on what your reasonable needs are moving forwards. Divorce mediation really helps here – to collate your financial disclosures and help you agree on how to divide them up fairly for your unique circumstances.
Step 5 – Agree on any ongoing payments between you
This falls under two areas, child maintenance and spousal maintenance.
Child maintenance is usually the easier of the two to agree. It is a statutory amount and can be worked out using the Child Maintenance Options calculator here
Spousal maintenance should also be considered. It comes into effect if you cannot meet your reasonable budget moving forwards and the other party has a budget surplus. When looking at spousal maintenance you should agree for how long it is paid, how much and the factors for it to cease. You cannot get a clean-break consent order with a spousal maintenance payment, so you could also look at monetising it into a lump sum if that is feasible.
It is a complicated area and if you are unable to agree on any aspect of the financial arrangements, then divorce mediation can help you both reach a fair settlement, aligned with sound legal advice.
Step 6 – Make it legally binding
Whilst the parenting arrangements ideally should remain fluid and flexible to accommodate the changes as the children grow older, the financial arrangements between you, should be made legally binding by way of a consent order. These are usually drafted by a solicitor and do not come as standard with any divorce. The consent order can provide a clean break between you so that neither of you can make a future claim in five, ten, or even twenty years’ time. It also makes your financial arrangements legally binding. It acts as an insurance policy for you both if you like.
You can ask a solicitor to draft a consent order for you or Mediate UK offer it as part of our fixed-fee mediation and legal packages. Otherwise, they can vary in price depending on how complex they are. There was a famous case of a spouse making a claim 19 years after divorce here.
You need to wait until the court has agreed you can get divorced – a stage called a Conditional Order (previously Decree Nisi). Once you have received confirmation of this, you can send in your consent order. And you should do this before your Final Order (previously Decree Absolute) is applied for. You can find out more about the new No Fault Divorce, and how you can apply online here.
Step 7 – Put your plan into action and start to move on
Once you have sorted out the living arrangements, got a flexible parenting plan in place and know you have enough to live on each month, it is time to really start focusing on yourself. Take the opportunity to do something you have always wanted to do, such as a trip or learn a new skill or course. Join a new class or take up a new hobby. Work on yourself and allow yourself to make some mistakes.
Many people who have been through a divorce find it takes a total of two years to feel that they have put that behind them and are happier and more confident to move on. This will vary from person to person, but if done well, your divorce could well be the best thing that has happened to you and your ex. It will allow you both to move on to a happier, more fulfilling life. And that will have a hugely positive effect on you, your children, and your wider family.
For more information on Divorce Mediation or to see why Mediate UK are rated the top divorce and family mediation service in England & Wales, drop us an email to email@example.com or we can have a chat on 0330 999 0959.
We can help you achieve the perfect divorce at this difficult time.