In the time since Bill and Melinda Gates announced the end of their marriage there has been much interest in the media around issues including their vast wealth, whether they can continue to operate their Foundation, the phenomenon of divorce rates rising among the so called “silver separators”.
One of the more thought provoking articles was published by The Times which explored some of the possible reasons behind the decision to separate in late middle age or old age. I have written about this previously.
This led me to ponder the questions asked of me in providing legal commentary. By far the most interesting question posed was asked by Kaye Adams of Radio Scotland, who asked “Is it possible to have a positive divorce?” (link to excerpt?)
The answer is overwhelmingly “yes”. There are factors that are likely to affect not only the outcome in terms of financial settlement and child care arrangements but also how positive or otherwise a separating couple relate to each other going forward.
The benefits of a sense of positivity at the end of the process are many. Perhaps the most important is that separating spouses who manage to maintain a civil relationship or perhaps even friendship post divorce are going to be better able to attend future events such as weddings, christenings or naming ceremonies and family gatherings without awkwardness.
Heading into a future that may not represent what a person thought their future would look like but nonetheless feels hopeful can only be good for wellbeing.
There will be situations in which a positive divorce may not be possible. It may be difficult to approach the process of separation and post-divorce life with enthusiasm where abuse has been a feature of a relationship, or where there are issues around child protection or a serious lack of financial resources. In that event perhaps all that can be achieved is a sense of being free from a negative situation in as painless and cost effective way as possible.
So what can be done to work towards a positive divorce?
Form an expectation of what you would like the future to look like
Thinking about what did not serve you well in the marriage, and what you would like to have more of in your post-divorce life can help to build a sense of optimism.
Find a solicitor with whom you feel comfortable discussing your hopes and fears
Being able to have an open and direct dialogue with the advisor guiding you towards divorce is important. The old fashioned model of a solicitor maintaining a lofty distance does not perhaps lend itself well to a process in which fundamental, life changing decisions need to be made.
Be open to accepting professional third party support
Seeking guidance from other professionals such as counsellors, a family therapist or a financial advisor can help shape a sense of what is possible and also help to address specific issues or fears.
Remember that the process of separation is akin to the grieving process.
The end of a relationship represents change and brings a sense of loss. People often move through the well known stages of grieving as they move towards divorce. It is alright to feel anger, loss, denial, and even depression because going through this process will help you to acknowledge and accept the end of the marriage.
Think about what process you would like to use to work out the terms of the separation
A specialist family law solicitor will be able to guide you through the spectrum of dispute resolution methods to find the process that is the best fit for you and your family. Divorce does not necessarily mean a lengthy and expensive court battle. Different processes are appropriate in different situations.
Above all, it is important to have enough space and time to reflect and come to terms with the decision to end the relationship. Research shows that individuals tend to consult a lawyer before they would consider couples therapy or counselling. It is clear that the Gates’ were very much on the same page when it came to why they considered their marriage to have run its course, and how they wanted to approach the process. Not all of us would wish to craft a joint statement, those really being the preserve of celebrities and those in the public eye, but coming up with a common list of goals may do no harm at all.
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