There’s no getting away from it: divorce is stressful. However, for some, a long, drawn-out dispute, and especially one that plays out in a courtroom, can have a devastating effect on their mental health.
If you are at the beginning of the divorce process it is important to be realistic: this will be tough. However, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure you protect your mental health and the mental wellbeing of those around you.
Firstly, you need to get the best possible team on your side and make sure it is a team that understands and will project your own values. You are about to change your life, so make sure all the people that you are going to work with understand what your ultimate objectives are at the outset.
Can the relationship be healed? You may feel that you are too far down the road to consider couples counselling, but you loved each other once and, even if the relationship cannot be saved, you may be able to agree a way forward by engaging a relationship counsellor. Few separations can be completely amicable, but understanding the motivations of your former partner, and having a mutually agreed plan that takes them into account, can make things much less emotionally draining.
That said, if there is abuse of any form, get legal advice quickly – do not hang around. If there is violence, whether physical or emotional or coercive control, seek assistance to obtain a non-molestation order. Get the support of an appropriate charity, such as Women’s Aid, to help you through the process and a legal professional if possible. Only once you are in a position of safety, with court protection, should issues about money and child arrangements be discussed.
Proper preparation can help you take back control in an otherwise stressful situation, so get all your papers in order before you start. Try to get a year’s worth of bank statements on file, your latest P60, your last three payslips, details of any investments, documentation of any assets over £500, and your pension details, and take these with you when you visit your lawyer. Having all your financial papers in order will save you time and money, and in turn, alleviate stress.
Try to form a clear idea of what goals you want to achieve before you begin: if a magic wand were waved, and you could have whatever outcome you wanted, what would that be? What are your main objectives? Is keeping the family home an important factor, for example, or is it crucial that your children stay at their current school/s? Being clear about your key aims and priorities, and sharing them with your lawyer, will give you a much better chance of achieving them.
There are a number of ways you can organise your separation, children and finances, so familiarise yourself with each, draw up a list of pros and cons, and decide which one will best represent you and your family’s best interests. You may have heard about meditation, for example, but did you know that you can organise matters via a collaborative law process? In these cases, each party has a solicitor but agrees not to go to court save for the court to endorse an agreed order. This can dramatically reduce your stress levels, as well as the animosity between you and your ex-partner.
Finally, decide how much money you can reasonably allocate, and invest it in the best lawyers you can afford. Remember that you pay for the time they spend on your case, so only get them to do what you cannot do yourself, and give them the information they need in an organised, accessible way. Take some time to learn about what solicitors do, and what barristers do, about early neutral evaluators, divorce coaches, arbitrators and mediators.
Remember, with careful planning and a carefully selected, expert legal team, you can not only survive this process but achieve an outcome that benefits all parties.
Joanna Toch is the CEO and founder of familylawcafe.co.uk, an online service that provides strategy, mentoring, secure document storage and virtual access to your lawyers and experts in all family law matters.