Last week, I was at the inaugural Divorce Fair in Kensington. It was a great opportunity to meet people and hear talks from various experts in this field. I enjoyed talking to financial planners, coaches, lawyers and more.
During the day, the same messages came up again and again and I am sharing some of these here. I am aware that these principles all sound well and good on paper (on-screen) and it can take grit and determination to put them into practice – my job as a coach is to make this as easy for you as possible, taking all factors into account.
Think coach before lawyer.
I say this all the time so I was pleased that this message was being conveyed at the Divorce Fair. The family solicitors and barristers I talked to were all positive about being part of a client’s wider team – that is, one which includes a specialist divorce coach.
Separating can be tough, even if you’re the person who wants to end the marriage. It’s hard to make decisions when you’re feeling emotional so you will save yourself time, money and heartache by prioritising emotional support before diving deep into the complexities and frustrations of family law.
A coach helps you with the emotional rollercoaster. In a coaching session, you can make an action plan to set out the next steps for you to take and help you keep the big picture in mind. A coach can help provide an emotional buffer: feeling calm and in control puts you in a much better position to go through the legal aspects of divorce. A coach can help you to have a clear head as is essential when making decisions for you and your children.
To be clear, a lawyer is the only person qualified to give you legal advice, but you do not need to get ‘lawyered up’ straight away. Doing so can often lead to a cascade of conflict and catastrophe. Fortunately, this can be avoided by starting your divorce or separation on the right footing, by getting a support network in place to help you as you with planning and decision making.
Impartial support from professionals is just as important as being surrounded by friends and family. Whatever your needs, you don’t need to figure it all out by yourself.
‘Till death do us part’ – still true for divorced parents
To state the obvious, you may cease to be married to your children’s father, but you will need to maintain a relationship with him as long as you have children together.
Some mums have a very strong desire to remove their ex from their lives altogether, but ‘both parents matter’ – to steal the tagline from the charity ‘Families need Fathers’, who were represented at the Fair.
If things are difficult between you and your children’s father, there are practical ways to co-parent while keeping your ex at arm’s length (from you, not the children). Think apps or handover books as a starting point; a parenting plan, parenting courses or the Separated Parents’ Information Programme.
Counselling or therapy might be just what you need to help you heal from a marriage breakdown, and enable you to separate your thoughts and feelings about your ex from your thoughts and feelings about him as your children’s father. Humans are a complex ball of emotions which you don’t have to unravel by yourself.
Cooperation wins over conflict
Recent research into the impact of divorce on children is fairly positive: children can fare just as well being brought up by two parents in separate homes as tend to in a nuclear family living under one roof.
What matters is keeping conflict low. In the real world, I see many families for whom this is easier said than done. If this is you, parenting coaches, mediators or counsellors might be the place to turn. They all work differently: some work with parents individually and some together. Some work with children. Don’t forget, schools are increasingly offering mental health support for pupils. This sort of support can be empowering for the whole family.
Court is the absolute last resort
Everyone I spoke to at the Divorce Fair was unanimous on this front – yes, even the lawyers!
Court raises conflict, generates large legal bills, stirs up ill-feeling and causes long delays… It’s like a roundabout you can’t get off.
It is said that the best outcome sometimes leaves both spouses leave feeling slightly disgruntled, yet satisfied they’ve reached an agreement between themselves. Compare this to the uncertainty, anxiety and sometimes trauma that can result from going to court and having decisions imposed upon you. You’re not the first person to want your day in court, but this can cause more problems than it solves, and is certainly not the way to resolve the feelings of hurt or disappointment that may have been caused by your marriage and separation.
It can take some time to reach agreements (and frustrating this can be). From experience, I say with some it will almost be worth your while to do everything within your power to avoid going to court. Alternative dispute resolution is worthy of serious consideration and reduces your chances of suffering ‘divorce hangover’ that can linger after a litigated divorce.
Of course, if you do find yourself going to court (and many of my clients do) you absolutely need support and reassurance to help you get through the day – or days – without fear and panic. Even if this is terrible, things will get better. Nothing lasts forever, not even a Final Hearing.
For many ladies, divorce is the first time they’ve really stood up for themselves. Learning to set boundaries is especially important as you start your separate lives. A coaching session is a great way to think about this. Learning to be assertive takes time. Learning to face the future as a single parent takes confidence. However, all the people I had the pleasure of meeting were friendly and easy-to-talk to, and demonstrated sensitivity and understanding of the issues involved in divorce. Divorce coaches have different specialisms and you need to find the best fit for you.
If you are a survivor of domestic abuse of any form (which could be emotional, financial, sexual or physical) it can feel terrifying to reach out for help. Your safety is your priority during this time and boundaries will need to be carefully considered and thoughtfully put into place. Your GP might be the best place to start and there is a list of organisations here.
You’re not alone
If you think back to your wedding day, I bet you had a team of florists, decorators, hair & beauty artists, caterers and more. Of course, divorce is less about froth, flowers & frivolity and more about forward-planning, facing your fears and feeling free. I really want you to feel reassured to know that you don’t need to do this alone. It’s never too late to ask for help.
I am currently accepting applications for 1:1 coaching clients. If you’re a mother in need of divorce support, please do contact me by clicking on the button at the bottom of the page. As well as providing divorce support through coaching, I have a trusted network of professionals whom I can refer you to, according to your needs.