HM Insights

Taking separation out of the stone age

The media often features depressing stories about the number of marriages and relationships that end in failure. But there are always different ways of looking at statistics. Another common theme is that we are all living longer. Does the prospect of relationships lasting longer than ever before make it less surprising that more of them are ending prematurely? 

It is actually my wedding anniversary today (I won't reveal which one) and I was interested to learn the various names that are attributed to particular milestones.

Here is a wee list:

10 – tin
20 – china
30 – pearl
40 – ruby
50 – gold
60 – diamond
70 – platinum
80 – oak
90 – stone 

I've no idea why the commodity in question seems to reduce in value as the marriage extends beyond 70 years. 

The point about all this is that it's possible to be married to someone for more than 70 years. People develop and change over time. We delight in hearing that someone has been married for that length of time but is it not actually surprising that a relationship can endure for so long? 

Inevitably, many relationships do break down and the important aspect is how we cope with that situation and manage the end of the relationship, particularly when there are children involved. 

Some people drift apart, some meet other people and some people simply find that they do not like their partner any more. Some are victims of abuse. 

In a relationship where there are no children it may be the case that parties who separate will have no further communication with the other person. For people with children that is less likely, as they have to communicate with each other for the benefit of their children. 

And in any event, except for perhaps a restricted number of situations (I mentioned abuse before), why should there not be an ongoing relationship between parties who separate? 

Their interests may no longer coincide and the split may have been traumatic but these are people who have built strong attachments. Why should all communications break off? 

It may be that this cutting of ties is what society has led us to believe should happen, and we are apprehensive about straying from the cultural norm. The events leading up to the end of a relationship are often traumatic. Emotions are raw and quite often at that time people take advice from their friends (who have perhaps been through the process themselves) and often consult solicitors. 

A lot of responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the Family Law Practitioner. They may have to use their skills, both legal and soft, to guide their client in what might be the most difficult and stressful period of their lives. The advice they provide at this stage is crucial. 

I think society still expects that when people separate there will be an argument, with the use of words such as 'war' and 'battle' raising the expectation that, whatever happens, it's going to be a fight. 

There may be a restricted number of cases where this is understandable and even appropriate. One of the parties could be acting in a completely unacceptable way that affects everyone involved, including the children, and they are not prepared to come to the table and discuss matters. 

In many other cases, however, when the solicitors advising the parties explain the full range of options available it is possible that there doesn't have to be a 'war'. 

It can be difficult for people to reach this conclusion at the time of separation or in the months immediately following. They are understandably emotional and can act without thinking of the consequences. They need time. 

A good solicitor has to manage the situation, advising that it is best not to take decisions prematurely. Perhaps some breathing space might help before committing to a particular course of action. Eventually, though, most people appreciate that avoiding a 'war' is the best path to follow. 

Processes such as Collaborative Law and Mediation are used to create a situation where the parties can acknowledge that while their original relationship is over, there can be a different form of relationship for the future. 

In both Collaborative Law and Mediation, the parties have a chance to talk to each other. They have the opportunity of acknowledging the past but the lawyer and mediator should encourage them to think about the future. That is not going to happen with solicitors sending increasingly acrimonious letters to each other, which are instantly copied to the client. 

If we get the timing right, then although the original relationship has ended – whether at the tin, gold or stone stage – there is a possibility that a new relationship can emerge which, in allowing the parties continued communication, will have a value of its very own. 

Alan Susskind is a Partner in Harper Macleod's Family Law team with more than 20 years experience in all types of actions. Harper Macleod's team of family solicitors understands that divorce and separation can have a huge impact on your life, and can guide you through the best course of action with sensitivity and objectivity. Getting the best advice is crucial to resolving your situation, and there are many options available to you, from litigation and arbitration to negotiation, mediation and collaboration.