Happy Divorce Day!
The first Monday after the Christmas and New Year break – that’s today, by the way – is often dubbed ‘divorce day’ in the press.
That’s because marital problems can often escalate during the Christmas period and then couples seeking a split contact divorce lawyers on the first working day back.
I’m a divorcee. I was divorced in my late twenties, following a quite short first marriage, and have some insights when it comes to doing it well – or at least doing it better than it could be.
In this video, some things to think about on divorce day. Which this year might not be as busy for lawyers as usual, because Covid lockdown restrictions have already pushed many couples into separation after having to live in close quarters for months on end.
Divorce isn’t the happiest topic, I know. But it is a fact of relationships, with recent statistics showing that 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce.
Even before the pandemic arrived, and couples were forced to live in much closer proximity, the divorce rate was on the rise.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that divorces among heterosexual couples rose by 18.4% from 90,871 in 2018 to 107,599 in 2019.
To a large extent, this increase was explained by a backlog in court petitions, carried through into 2019. But more recent data, this time from Co-op Legal Services, suggests divorces in 2020 are rising sharply too. They reported today a 250% increase for divorce enquiries in 2020 compared to a year earlier.
There was also a big spike in divorce enquiries when the pandemic started in March. Divorce enquiries trebled between June and October.
Much like Christmas places pressure on relationships with existing problems, the lockdown conditions of the pandemic seem to have done similar things.
Retired Husband Syndrome
When I talk about this, I often refer to something seen in Japan, called Retired Husband Syndrome. This is a psychosomatic stress-related illness which has been estimated to affect 60% of Japan’s older female population. Retired Husband Syndrome is a condition where a woman begins to exhibit signs of physical illness and depression as their husband approaches or reaches retirement.
Japanese men often work long hours and spend a lot of time away from home. This change of dynamic, brought about by retirement, then places a great deal of stress on relationships.
So, it’s little surprise that being forced to spend more time with your significant other can lead to a relationship breakdown. Hence the rising number of divorce enquiries during the pandemic, and hence expectations that ‘divorce day’ this year will be rather muted.
Poundland divorce range
Before I share some tips for a ‘better divorce’, I spotted this morning that discount retailer Poundland is launching a divorce range for shoppers who want to celebrate a fresh start in life. Poundland’s divorce party products include balloons, banners, sashes and party straws, all with slogans including Free At Last, Freedom and Newly Unwed.
There’s also a range of divorce cards with slogans including, “We never liked them anyway”, “Free at last” and “I do, I did, I’m done”.
Bargain divorce celebrations aside, what are some of the steps to consider to make the path to divorce smoother than it might otherwise be?
First up, please seek advice. DIY divorce is possible, but this is a potentially expensive and stressful legal event in your life. Relying on tips you see in YouTube videos or find when Googling for advice might end up costing you a great deal of money, time and hassle.
Speak to a specialist family lawyer. A good place to start your search is the Resolution divorce lawyer directory. They have 6,500 members who are specialists when it comes to family law and divorce.
Kids come first
Secondly, put your children first. That means taking the heat out of the situation, not arguing in front of them, and not bad-mouthing your significant other. Your kids come first and are far more important than who did what to end the relationship or who gets what in the financial settlement.
Tip number three, keep it quiet on social media. I’ve lost count of the number of divorce rants I’ve seen on Facebook over the years. I understand the temptation to share intimate details and allegations about that horrid ex-partner, but it does nobody any favours to unleash a torrent of abuse online.
In the worst-case scenario, a judge will look unfavourably at your social media breakdown.
Number four, remember divorce doesn’t require a court battle. There’s this misconception that getting divorced means arguing your case in front of a judge and fighting your ex-partner to win the biggest possible settlement.
Your divorce is not like the celebrity divorces you read about in the Daily Mail.
While a court will need to rubber stamp and approve your divorce, childcare arrangements and financial settlement, you can negotiate this, like grown ups, with or without lawyers on each side, and then take your agreement to the court for approval.
Take your time
Tip number five, don’t rush things.
The divorce process can take some time, especially during these strange pandemic circumstances, where face-to-face meetings and court hearings are harder to come by.
You’ve got your entire life in front of you, so please don’t throw yourself head-first into a rebound relationship within weeks of splitting up. It probably won’t last.
Instead, take time to reflect on what matters most to you, and what you’re truly looking for in life.
If you’re reinventing yourself post-divorce, then give that new identity time to stick. Make sure the life you’re leading in the months following your separation is the life you will be leading for years or decades to come.
The time straight after you split up is also, often, a bad time to make lasting decisions about your money. When you’re in a high emotional state, you might make choices that don’t serve you in the long-term, including where to live or work. Pause, breathe, reflect.
Tip number six, get the money stuff right. One of my biggest frustrations working as a Financial Planner was when people came to us for advice right at the end of the divorce process. In some cases, new clients would arrive at the office with a court order in hand, having already agreed on how to split pensions and other financial assets. It was far too late for us to give them any meaningful advice that could have saved them tens of thousands of pounds, or even more.
When you speak to a divorce lawyer at the start of the process, speak to a Financial Planner too. You want and need your lawyer and financial planner to be working together, as a team, to strike the right balance between your divorce agreement and financial settlement.
We’ve seen some new research today from Legal & General which found that women are significantly more likely to waive their rights to a partner’s pension as part of a divorce than men. 28% of women give up pension rights on divorce, compared with 19% of men. L&G are warning that this could have a significant long-term impact on wealth.
Sara McLeish, chief executive officer of Legal & General financial advice, said: “Divorce day is an opportunity to reinforce the importance of considering all options when dividing financial assets to make sure things are done as fairly as possible.
“When going through a divorce, people are understandably keen to come to a settlement and move on, but our research indicates that, too frequently, people overlook the mutual value of their pensions; this could have a particularly harsh financial impact on women.
“This is even more important when we consider that women, typically, live longer than men, so their savings need to stretch over a longer period of time.”
And last but not least, tip number seven is to please keep yourself safe throughout this process.
I know that emotions can bubble over during the separation process. And right now, it’s that much harder to find personal space away from your partner, whether that’s to investigate your options, having private conversations with advisers, or just get some breathing space.
Keep in mind that even with the toughest levels of Covid restrictions, in Tier 4 areas, there is a reasonable excuse to leave home to escape the risk of harm, such as domestic abuse. Please don’t allow government regulations to prevent the spread of coronavirus to come ahead of your personal safety, sanity and security.
That’s seven tips from me on how to make the divorce process go just a little easier on divorce day this year.
If you’ve been through a divorce, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject too.