Sarah and her husband had been together for 30 years and had been married for over 20 years when Sarah began divorce proceedings. They had one child who was taken ill during the course of the divorce.

Reaching the decision to divorce:

This took me a very long time for a number of reasons. We had been together for a long time (30 years in all and married for just over 20 of those); although I had a career, my family was more important to me than anything else in my life; the negative impact of my parents’ divorce continued to affect our extended family 25 years later and I didn’t want that for our child. However, in spite of numerous attempts to resolve our difficulties through counselling, the relationship with my husband had broken down completely. I kept trying to find a way for us to live together peacefully. However, when our child became ill too I began to understand that living with a broken marriage was as difficult for our child as it was for me. It had taken me 5 years to make the decision. In retrospect, it would have been so much healthier for all of us if I had made it much sooner.

What I wish I’d known:

I wish I’d known that the divorce process is like battling an unknown stranger – at least, that is what the process was like for me. It would have saved me a lot of emotional energy if I had viewed the entire process as a difficult negotiation with a person I no longer knew or understood. Eventually, I put my emotions on one side and worked hard to provide my solicitor with the facts he needed to bring the whole thing to conclusion. 

What I would do differently:

Because I was the wage earner, the home maker and the mother of an ill child, I didn’t take time out to find out about my legal rights until we had already been separated for 9 months. I would instead seek legal advice immediately – this would have avoided the very difficult situation I found myself in (see below).    

The best advice I was given:

The best advice I was given was that I could choose to have a ‘functional divorce’ i.e. one that supports the needs of our child so that they don’t experience the type of total family breakdown that resulted from my own parents’ separation. We had the support of a wonderful family therapist and now, as a result, our child has a good relationship with both parents and enjoys a relationship with all members of the extended family on both sides. We are all agreed that our lives are so much better now.

The low point:

The low point was 8 months before final settlement was reached. I had stopped working 2 years before to become our child’s carer but had returned to work very part-time a year later on a 12 month contract. When that job ended, my ex-husband blocked my access to our joint funds (from the sale of our home). As a result, I was unable to find a way to meet our financial commitments including our housing commitments.

This was an extremely difficult time for me and my child who still recalls us trying to make a meal from out-of-date tinned foods. It was also difficult for my family as they had not previously been aware of the extent of the difficulty in our marriage and divorce. They rallied around us and supported us with food, lodgings and loans. Embarrassing but very welcome. 

However, I soon realised that it was important not to panic and to continue to work through the divorce process with my solicitor. This I did with renewed focus. It paid off, and 6 months later we reached a financial settlement and the Final Decree arrived 2 months after that. 

Now, a year later, I am living in our new home pursuing a life that feels like a dream come true. Our child lives with me at the moment but is quickly becoming independent and has just returned from a holiday with my ex-husband. They made good progress resolving their own relationship problems. My child and I are so much happier now. Neither of us would go back to our previous life.