How to divorce with dignity

Posted: Friday February 5 2021

By: Rachel Roberts

Divorce is well known for being one of life’s biggest challenges. Akin to a bereavement, for many of the clients I have represented over the years, this can be the hardest and most emotionally difficult experience they have been through. Clients are often not only vulnerable and scared but frequently angry and feel understandable anger and hostility towards their former spouse.

How to divorce with dignity

There will always be some cases where it proves impossible to resolve matters without confrontation and litigation. That may be owing to the behaviour of one or both parties. Sometimes there is a clear victim, and sometimes the only way to protect clients and/or children is via court proceedings. However, in my experience, the vast majority of cases can be dealt with in commercial and conciliatory fashion, if both parties are willing to try. I see my role as a family lawyer, particularly where there are children involved, to try and help my client end the marriage with dignity, and in a way that ideally enables them to stand next to their former spouse at future graduations and weddings, and parent together moving forward.

Here are my top strategies for how to divorce with dignity:

Find the right lawyer

I and many of my colleagues are members of Resolution, an organisation consisting mainly of family lawyers, all of whom are committed to taking a non-confrontational approach to family law issues. You can search for family lawyers in your area on their website:

This approach does not mean your lawyer will not fight for the best outcome for you, but you are far more likely to reach an agreement without lengthy and costly court proceedings.

I would also add that your relationship with your divorce lawyer is important. Finding a lawyer that you feel comfortable sharing what can often be quite personal information with, as well as someone you trust, is vital.

Consider a divorce coach

You are far more likely to be able to adopt a dignified approach where you have dealt with the emotional fall out of your separation. Whilst I empathise with and am happy to listen to clients talk about how they feel, in my experience, speaking to a divorce coach can often help clients provide me with better instructions. I refer clients to Danielle Barbereau, a brilliant divorce coach. She describes her role as:

“providing emotional support to clients so they can divorce well and recover as quickly as possible and helping clients clarify their thoughts and decide on a course of action. A substantial aspect of my work is to help clients decide whether to separate or salvage their relationships and then refer back to solicitors to get the process moving.”

For some clients, this not only enables them to think more clearly, but can also save them legal costs.

Try mediation

Mediation is a process whereby both parties agree to speak with a mediator to try and resolve their disputes, whether about child arrangements or finances, or both. The mediator will usually be a family lawyer but cannot advise either of them. Rather, they seek to guide them to an agreement. Both parties will often want to take their own legal advice before and between mediation sessions, and afterwards, to formalise any agreement.

Mediation can be brilliant where both parties are committed to finding a solution. Where there are children involved, it can resolve communication difficulties and enable parents to work together moving forward.

During Family Mediation week 2021, a mock mediation was filmed which can be viewed here, and which gives a flavour of how mediation works:

For the right case, try collaborative law

Different to mediation, this is a process where both parties agree to instruct collaboratively trained lawyers and sign up to a process. During that process, the parties will meet regularly with both solicitors present, and agree how each stage will be dealt with, with a view to reaching an agreement on all issues. Although I am not personally collaboratively trained, my colleague Katie Kilburn is. She recorded a short video here telling you a bit more about it:

Be prepared to compromise

It can be incredibly hard to see the other party’s perspective and to accept there may be any fairness in that position. However, fairness is of course subjective, and any negotiation will require compromise. Added to this, family law is a discretionary area and if you cannot reach agreement and go to court, you are not guaranteed a particular outcome. Think carefully about the areas you are willing to compromise on, take good advice and try not to become engrained in a position to punish your former spouse.

Know it won’t be easy

Clients often describe the first year post separation as a rollercoaster and I will often tell clients that they need to brace themselves for a tough time ahead. None of the above is easy, but in my experience, those people that successfully divorce with dignity, and use some or all of the above methods to do so, recover far more quickly.

# How to divorce with dignity