As a barrister specialising in family law, I’d like to think I’ve seen most things when it comes to messy divorce negotiations and misspoken words, said in the heat of the moment. Of course, divorce is a difficult time – emotionally and financially, and sometimes when emotions are running high, people can say things they don’t mean, or worse – words which harm their divorce negotiations, making the whole process even more difficult, lengthy and costly.
There are lots of things not to say. But if I had to make a top five hit list, this would be it:
1. "I'm going to ruin you." When you say it, you might really mean it. But comments like this just erode trust and ensure you are going to get long and highly contested proceedings. It’s also a threat you’re extremely unlikely to be able to carry through. Even if you agree an Order for the division of your finances it will have to be approved by the Court, and only Orders which make fair financial provision for both spouses will be endorsed by a Judge. So, what you’re saying isn’t within your control– the decision is in the Judge’s hands and this sort of sentiment just results in negotiations remaining tense and angry.
2. "You're never going to see your kids again." It’s never, ever a good idea to use your children as a pawn in the divorce process, and the Law simply won’t let you. Arrangements for finances are treated completely separately to arrangements for children, for precisely that reason. Whether one spouse is being financially fair will not affect their child’s right to have a relationship and spend time with them, provided the child is not thereby put at risk of harm. Aside from the legal perspective, from a human angle a comment like this can really antagonise an already tense situation. Likewise, it creates a more stressful situation for the children. Better to calmly talk through this topic – or work through your lawyer or a mediator if you don’t think you can stop the situation from getting heated.
3. "I've got everything hidden so you'll leave this marriage with nothing." Any threat of hidden assets (even if untrue and said in the heat of the moment) is going to put legal teams on high alert, and will just lead to long and expensive proceedings as lawyers, forensic accountants and the Court try to work out what assets there really are. It’s such an own goal: don’t do it!
4. "Once the judge finds out about your affair you'll get nothing." Infidelity will not of itself have any impact on the way assets are divided between you, so this is in fact a hollow threat which will only go to increase hostility and possibly legal fees (but have no effect on the overall outcome).
5. "Sure, you can have the house, but I'll only pay you £300 per month." Don’t make any rash promises regarding your finances – really think about what you each need and get legal advice before coming to a decision about what you’re willing to compromise. Of course, if you can agree these important points before you reach court that is a good outcome, as it ensures the whole process is quicker and cheaper, but don’t make any hasty decisions without legal advice which will impact your future. A divorce is probably the largest surrender of assets you’ll ever make: be sure to get a legally fair outcome.
These are just a few examples of the things I’ve heard over the years, and hopefully they may help anyone reading this who might be considering, or going through, their own divorce.
It becomes clearer as the years go on that in many situations, the traditional legal system which governs divorce is broken – it’s outdated, expensive, and busy court waiting lists mean the whole process takes a lot longer than it needs to. In my experience, a more collaborative approach, such as arbitration, or the approach The Divorce Surgery takes – impartially advising the couple together, at the start of the process, so they know what’s ahead and can take a shortcut to a fair agreement, is a lot more beneficial for modern couples. Fundamentally the sooner you reach a mutually acceptable fair outcome, the sooner you can move on with your lives and move away from the hangover of a failed relationship, which in turn will enable you to start the next chapter of your life whilst also maintaining a civil co-parenting relationship with your ex.
tagged in Divorce