Caroline was a high-flying executive before giving up work to care for their child.  Separation happened whilst the child was still young.

It’s Over – Now What?

So the decision has been made, either by you or your ex, or perhaps some combination of the both of you, and your relationship has officially ended. Now what?

You start to untangle yourself and realise that things are about to get really messy. You may own a property together. You may have children together. You may have joint bank accounts. A shared Netflix password or an Amazon Prime account. Some things can be divided easily – little people and pets cannot.  So how do you figure out where to focus your energy?

Get your A-Team Together

All of this untangling will be emotionally exhausting. You may surprise yourself at the things you fixate on that you previously couldn’t care less about and vice versa. The good news is that all of these feelings are normal. The bad news is that these feelings may not be best placed to serve you on this journey. You are going to need your very own support entourage.

You need to identify quickly who you can both trust and rely on in each pillar of your life. Do not be afraid or shy to ask for help – ironically, now is not the time for independence. Ask yourself the following:

Friends and Family: Which of my friends and family can I call when I just want to vent about how unfair things are?

Pro Tip – try and identify those people that are able to stay with you and validate your emotions rather than those are less comfortable with inconvenient emotions. In a process that is designed to polarise, you need people around you who will say things like “That sounds so tough, I am sorry you’re going through this” rather than “Cheer up, there are plenty more fish in the sea”.

At Work (if you are working): Who can I talk to at work to ensure that I am getting the support I need as I go through this separation e.g. your manager, HR, a trusted colleague, a mentor.

Pro Tip – Try and be proactive and specific about the type of support you may need e.g. you may need to arrive at work later, or leave earlier to attend appointments. Employers tend to appreciate forward planning rather than being left in the lurch to cope with your unexpected absences.

Talking Therapies: Do I have thoughts and fears about this process that I cannot share with anyone else? Do I want to better understand myself to develop coping strategies that actually work for me? If so, you may benefit from talking to a trained counsellor or therapist who will keep the focus on your needs.

Pro Tip – There are many different approaches to talking therapies – do your research to find out which one is suited to you. Both NHS and private talking therapies tend to have some form of a waitlist. If this is a service that you think you want, get registered sooner

Mediation: If you can resolve this through a mediator, it will likely be far less stressful, less expensive, and less protracted than going through the courts. You may have your doubts about the mediator’s ability to grasp the issues that are important to you, or the ability to be truly fair. There are many different types and styles of mediation from therapeutic mediation through to collaborative law and I have found these options are often not explained or explored enough. The good news is that there is likely a mediation format that will work for you, the bad news is that you will need to do the research to find out what that is.

Pro-Tip – Try and first identify what your biggest concerns are for your future-self and let this guide you to the mediation format that is best suited to you. Try and think of your future-self at least 10 years ahead so your focus is on solutions for the long-term.

Legal representatives – Solicitor: As soon as your realise that this is going down the legal path, identify a solicitor worthy of your life savings. Be sure that this is someone you trust to guide you honestly through the legal labyrinth – giving you timely and realistic advice. If applicable, identify early on if you want the same solicitor to cover both Finances and Child Arrangements or just one.

Pro-Tip – Don’t spend a lot of energy (= hard earned money) on correspondence – if this is going in the direction of the courts, it’s unlikely that the correspondence will be read or relied upon in your case. Correspondence will refer to other documents or forms that are more likely to be read and have any weight in your case.

Legal representatives – Barrister: If you are at the point of selecting a barrister, you need to know that there is a tricky piece of institutional inertia that is not client focused – but it remains “the way it is” because it works for those providing the service you desperately need. This is an inner-circle reputation based world, of which you are likely to have zero experience or knowledge of. This is why identifying the right solicitor is so important as it is typically your solicitor who will recommend a shortlist of barristers. There isn’t really the option of meeting with each of the shortlisted barristers to see which one you feel most comfortable with. Also, you will be against the clock, as typically there is barely enough time to get a conference in with your chosen barrister to discuss your case before the hearing date.

Pro-Tip – This isn’t a perfect system and there isn’t really a transparent way to get in front of the barristers to “test” their services or style without paying high consultation fees. You’ll likely have to weigh up recommendations from your solicitors and friends of friends of friends and perhaps the odd online review. For this reason, the unscientific but self-validating approach of going with your “gut instinct” will serve you best. And if you meet with a barrister that you don’t feel will represent you well in court, change immediately.

Horses for Courses

This is a horrible life event and you will need a lot of support in different areas e.g. “legal” is a different area of support to “emotional”. It is important to recognise that the different people in your life are actually limited in the type of support they can offer you. Despite everything that you have going on already, you have to learn to firstly identify your own needs and then secondly identify who is best placed to support you through that particular need.

A skilled counsellor can help you process your feelings so that you are more productive in getting the outcome that you want but the same counsellor will have no idea about any legal considerations of your separation, and understanding that will be what you speak to your lawyer for.

Chances are that the people you are likely to be paying for support are also limited in the days and times that you can speak to them e.g. your counsellor is unlikely to speak to you outside of your scheduled weekly one hour session, and similarly you will likely to need to schedule time to speak to your lawyer or if you are feeling spontaneous perhaps play a bit of phone tag until you are likely to connect.

You have to realise that these people may want to support you in all areas but you may go to them with issues which are outside of their expertise.

Rhetoric vs Reality

The rhetoric in correspondence and position statements are designed to unsettle you and it is perfectly natural to want to defend yourself by correcting any untruths. The next step is very hard but crucial – conserve your energy, and your funds. Remind yourself that rhetoric is not reality and just because the other side assert something, doesn’t make it true. A skilled solicitor will tell you which lines of inquiry are worth pursuing for your particular case – and focus on that only.