Decided to divorce or separate… What next?

So, you have taken the difficult decision to divorce or separate from your partner. Even though a separation may have been expected, marriage and partnerships can be strong bonds, so it’s not surprising that the effect of breaking those bonds can be devastating. You may not have expected it, meant it to happen or have been able to prevent it.

As well as dealing with the emotional impact of divorce or separation, there are also a host of practical issues to think about and decisions to make such as ‘how do we end it, and what do we do about the kids, the money and the family home?’

Below are 6 things you need to think about first, to help you and your family through this difficult transition. You may also like to download our ‘Guide to Divorce & Separation’ which contains insights, advice and some practical steps needed to handle both the legal and emotional aspects of divorce or separation.

1. Don’t rush

It’s important to take your time, as deciding to divorce or separate isn’t a decision to be taken lightly.  Make sure you are 100% confident that there isn’t a way to salvage your relationship, such as through relationship counselling, which can help you to identify and rectify the issues or problems you are facing in your relationship and can help you move on together as a couple.

If you are sure that the relationship is over, it’s important to remember that a breakup or divorce can be one of the most stressful and emotional experiences you will go through, whether it is amicable or not. Losing an adult close relationship takes away part of ourselves, just as much as any other loss.  It can feel like a bereavement but has none of the comforts of bereavement. There are no funerals, customs, support, no sermon valuing the person gone and nurturing the one left behind.

Take the time to grieve for the relationship you have lost and consider your next steps in building a new, different future than the one you may have imagined for yourself.

2. Put your children first

Relationship breakdown can be a very emotional time for children. Whilst children will react differently, depending on their age, personality and the individual situation, it is common for children to go through a whole range of emotions, which can include denial, anger, self-blame, sadness and withdrawal. However, with space, time and support they will work through their feelings and adjust.

How can you help your children?

  • Tell your children what is happening. They don’t need adult information about the situation, and they don’t need to know every detail, but they do need to know what is going on and as far as possible reassure them that you and your soon to be ex are working it out.
  • Keep listening and talking to your children about their feelings, thoughts, worries and wishes. Children will adjust quicker if they are encouraged to talk about their fears and worries to someone who is prepared to listen and try to understand.
  • Tell your children that it is okay to cry and don’t make them feel guilty about feeling differently to you or showing affection or concern about their other parent.
  • Keep reassuring your children that the divorce or separation is not their fault – children often think that it is.
  • Encourage your children not to ‘take sides’.
  • Avoid asking your children who they want to live with – they may feel they are being asked which parent they love more.
  • Don’t burden your children with the responsibility of making decisions about the arrangements for them. It should be the parents’ responsibility to work the arrangements out, not the children’s.
  • Encourage your children to keep following their usual routine, but don’t force them.
  • Don’t argue in front of the children. Children need to be kept away from any conflict between their parents.
  • Try to resolve conflicts with your partner early – the longer you leave a problem, the worse it can be for your children
  • Don’t use your children to negotiate for you and don’t ask them to keep secrets or give you information about your partner

Divorce or separation is a difficult time for everyone involved, especially the children. It can be a confusing and traumatic experience for them, and it’s essential to do what you can to minimise its negative impact.  Read our advice on how to reduce the impact of your divorce or separation on your children.

These ‘My family’s changing’ leaflets from CAFCASS can help children understand what is happening by hearing from other children who have been through a similar thing, through games, spaces to write down their feelings and details of organisations that can give them more help.

My family’s changing leaflet for younger children

My family’s changing leaflet for older children

3. Understand the divorce process

Below is a very brief outline of the law in relation to Divorce, Children, Finance and Property, Domestic Violence and Civil Partnerships.

You can get divorced if you have been married for one year. The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act April 2022 introduces “no-fault” divorce which means the only ground for divorce is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and you will need to provide a statement to that effect.

Most applications for divorce will now be made online although there is still the ability to file a paper application.  Click here to access the divorce application forms.

The application for divorce can be made individually or jointly and a period of 20 weeks has to pass before an application can be made into a conditional order. During this time it is advised to start trying to reach an agreement on any financial and child arrangements. Family mediators are experienced in helping couples to reach an agreement on these issues – click here to book an appointment with a family mediator.

The court will then issue a conditional order. This confirms the court does not see any reason why the parties cannot divorce, end a civil partnership, or annul the marriage. Once the conditional order has been made the court can consider any financial agreements or child arrangements that have already been discussed.

6 weeks after the conditional order the final order can be applied for and this dissolves the marriage.

The likely timescale will be a minimum of 6 months from application to final order.

You should be able to get divorced without needing a solicitor or going to court if you and your ex-partner can agree you both want a divorce and can put in place arrangements for settling your finances (Financial Order) and agreements about the care of the children (Child Arrangements).

You can find out more about the No-Fault divorce process here.

4. Get organised

Before you end your marriage or decide to separate from your partner, there are a number of things to be considered and decided. For example, where you are going to live, where will your partner live and what to do about money and possessions you have gathered together – this includes savings, pensions, investments and debts.

But before you can start trying to untangle your finances, it’s important to establish a clear picture of your financial circumstances. Money Helper (formerly the Money Advice Service), has a calculator that can give you an idea of your financial situation before a potential divorce settlement.

And family mediation is a recommended first step if you are having difficulty reaching an agreement with your ex-partner, it can help you to make agreements over money, as well as property and children arrangements, helping you move on to the next stage of your life and you can book an appointment with a family mediator today here.

5. Consider your options

You will need to find out your rights and get advice, but don’t assume court is the only route for your divorce. Divorce is a legal process but that does not mean you need a lawyer. Take the time to do your homework and make sure you research all of the available options. Then, choose the one that’s most likely to keep your divorce as peaceful as possible.

For example, you could consider mediation. Mediation is NOT about keeping couples together. Instead, it helps empower them to make the right long-term solutions when they have decided to separate or divorce.

Mediation reduces the conflict in separation, divorce or dissolution of civil partnership. It is more cost-effective and quicker than using lawyers to negotiate or using the court process. It also enables people to make their own arrangements for children, property and finance.

At National Family Mediation our skilled mediators are trained in all aspects of family law, so you don’t need to worry about making agreements that won’t be recognised by the court.

In mediation:

  • You can make your own arrangements that suit you in your unique circumstance.
  • You will decide how to divide your property and finances.
  • You will decide what is best for your children and how you can work as separated parents.
  • You have the opportunity to consider and discuss any number of options that might suit your particular needs and finances in a confidential meeting.

Our mediators are all experienced in supporting people to find the best solutions for themselves and their children

Here you can find out more about mediation and how it can help you move forward as well as the answers to some of the questions you may have about how the process works.

6. Take time to reflect

In the aftermath of the upheaval of separation, there usually comes a time for reflection, when you take stock.

Divorce is also an emotional process.  You may move from grief to relief, from anger to peace, from guilt to freedom and from regret to progress.

It takes time to adjust.  You need to find new ways of communicating with each other now you are no longer partners and develop a new relationship as parents sharing the responsibility of your children

For separated parents, as time progresses, you will find you and your children settle into a new routine but in some instances, the situation may remain tense and hostile. If left unresolved this can cause conflict acrimony and unhappiness for all concerned.

It may feel impossible to sort out but mediation can definitely help sort out your communication problems and give you skills and techniques to use to reduce the flashpoints.  A significant number of parents lose all contact with their children by 5 years after separation. In such cases, there will have been much heartbreak on the part of the children and the parent who no longer sees them. Parents who go to mediation can avoid this catastrophic outcome. Research evidence shows over 77% of parents who go to mediation reach agreement and feedback shows that these agreements are durable and can stand the test of time, so there is every reason to believe it can work for you and your family.

Read how family mediation could help you in your divorce or separation. Or book an appointment with a family mediator today

How to support children through
divorce or separation

Reducing the impact of divorce or separation on children

Taking care of your
mental health

The financial impact of
divorce or separation