• McKenzie Friend Australia

A ‘Good Divorce’… Oxymoron or Achievable?

How do you disentangle lives when you have kids, a house, friends, family, debts, savings, personal possessions, plus years of shared memories?

Just as every family is different, your marriage and your divorce are going to be unique. Some divorces will be more complicated than others depending on the couple, their willingness to work together, and the circumstances surrounding their family dynamic.

There is no 'one-size fits all' solution on marital breakdown, but there are steps, or suggestions to help soon-to-be-exes find resolutions more quickly, and with less drama to make your divorce the 'best' it can be.

Tip 1: The breakdown of a marriage impacts everyone – yes, even your ex!

Realise you are in this together. Even though you are parting ways, don’t blindly grab as much as you can, as quickly as you can, because you’re afraid to lose out on something, whether you want it or not.

A divorce is certainly not all about – you! New living arrangements will impact each and every family member differently, and all will struggle emotionally for a while. When you find your empathy for each other, you will ease many burdens lumped on top of the breakdown and hopefully all resentment will dissipate. This is key to having enough compassion to get through it together.

Tip 2: Leave the Drama Queen Antics Aside

Separating or divorcing couples, need to want to, remove the drama often associated around divorcing. You know there are some who love to be drama oriented, so if you or your ex-spouse fall into this category it will be a lot tougher.

Focus your need for drama into an external passion or write a book expressing your emotions so your divorce can be a lot less stressful and painful journey for all involved. Grieve your loss, but don’t let it consume and warp your mind. Take ownership of your situation and make use of the information and resources available once you have accepted the breakdown is permanent. It’s about closing the door and being in a better place for the new window to open for your next journey. Drama will do nothing but lengthen and promote misery.

Tip 3: Break Cyclical Arguments using honesty, explanation, compassion and compromise

I cannot stress enough, how important respectful communication is when going through a divorce. It’s impossible for ex-spouses to work together and move forward if you’re not ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. Choose your battles. Don’t fight for what you can get or what you have been told to expect – work out what you really want and how it will affect the relationship with your ex-partner for the next 20 years.

Blaming or attacking will only make any problems worse. Some couples will be able to speak with each other over the phone or through text without much conflict. But others may find this too painful or difficult. If that’s the case, use email, apps, or have a lawyer, a McKenzie Friend or a mediator help keep conversations relevant and productive. I often see parents becoming paranoid or controlling and abusive over simple co-parenting subjects like a GP visit or hair cutting, things that adults would not have fought about when they were together. Divorce unfortunately can turn a simple everyday activity into an unnecessary war. Accept once you are separated, each individual has to start making their own everyday decisions and just because you don’t like them, doesn’t mean you have a right to verbalise your opinion at them. When you get this, conflict dramatically decreases.

Exes do not have to remain close, but they will need to make several important decisions about their divorce and their future. The better you can communicate, the easier the divorce process will be and the two of you will come out the other side with a different form of friendship that works for your situation and future.

Tip 4: Aim for the Middle; As Court Isn’t The Answer You Think It’ll Be

If you don’t want to fight… take the approach of what is fair for all involved. If you have kids, make them your starting point. What will make the children happy and then what will make each other happy, separately. Try to make decisions based on these factors being at the forefront instead of at the rear.

Court tends to be a very slow process. In some cases, it can literally take years. It is generally more expensive, and problems often intensify between exes when they litigate. So, think about which aspects you want lawyers to be involved in. Try to do a lot of the early negotiating yourselves: living arrangements, care of the children, who got the coveted video game collection. This keeps legal costs and interference down. If you get 80% of an agreement in place together, it will be a lot less stressful and expensive to get the remaining 20% finalised with legal assistance.

Court also has a tendency to create a win-lose dynamic between couples. But in court, no-one gets exactly what they want but couples spend a fortune thinking they will. When it comes to custody and visitation, families feel more stress. This is not ideal if you’re trying to end your relationship without drama.

Conversely, negotiating or alternative dispute resolution gives couples more control and often facilitates better results for everyone. Try your best to resolve as many issues around property and parenting that you can, that way there are only a small number of issues in dispute for a courtroom is you can’t agree on everything. In my opinion, do not back out on agreements the two of you have already made if you decide to step into the court arena. This back-flipping removes all trust and escalates emotions and allegations, wasting time, your money and years off your precious life. Plus, you age a lot going through the court and can came out the other end with health problems.

Tip 5: Don’t divorce on social media, no matter how tempting

Divorce is emotional, and even if you’re on good terms with your ex, you may be tempted to vent your emotions on Facebook or Instagram from time to time. I strongly advice against this.

First of all, if your post is seen by your ex, chances are they’re going to get upset. Remember, even if you unfriend or block your spouse, you likely have mutual friends who will pick up on your post and may share your rant with your ex. As a result, their willingness to negotiate a fair and amicable agreement may vanish. I recommend de-activating your accounts for a while and then set up new ones.

Secondly, anything shared through social media could be admissible in a court matter. This can jeopardize your case if you’ve posted an untruth, shared news about a new relationship, or demonstrated that your financial status is not what you’ve officially reported.

The key lesson is to keep your thoughts all to yourself at least until the ink is dry on an agreement. Even then, wait a while and you’ll find moving on being happy is much better than any grievance airing in public.

Tip 6: Make Separation and Parenting Agreements Legally Binding Documents

DIY separations or divorces are appealing primarily because they are inexpensive. It is recommended that all agreements made are submitted to the Family Court as Consent Orders. Grab yourself a lawyer, Legal Aid or contact your local free legal clinic and have them look over your property and parenting cases. Their job is to ensure your legal rights are protected. If you need help with what forms to fill in or navigating the court system call McKenzie Friend, this way your divorce won’t overlook important details for your future.

If for example, a separation agreement is lacking essential information about vacation schedules with the kids, unexpected issues may arise later on, and exes who were at peace may begin to fight. To resolve these new issues, more time and money will likely be required from both partners, and they may end up having to hire lawyers anyway.

Tip 7: Gather a positive group support network

Support is vital in the early stages. Once you stop saying “I’m fine” as a defence mechanism, and accept offers of support from your network of family, friends, acquaintances, and those unlikely people who show up just when you need them, your breakup should turn into a more positive experience as talking, laughing and having fun results in happy endorphins proving for a much better divorce.

Tears and anger are part of almost every divorce, even the good ones. If you find that your emotions are becoming overwhelming, please seek help through counselling.

I believe a good divorce is possible, as long as both parties can be kind, fair, and reasonable; and compromise on each side occurs; and you have the support around you to move on to the next amazing journey. You don't need to be in a relationship to be happy!

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