Where is the common-sense guide to civilised separation?

People a lot more concerned with etiquette than I am will breathe a sigh of relief now that Debrett’s has produced a guide to civilised separation, which apparently includes such gems of advice as: “Don’t be vindictive: it may be tempting to throw your husband’s vintage wine down the loo or shred his best suit, but judges will take a dim view of this behaviour. Hold your head high and retain the civilised high ground.”

However for the 99% it seems to me that what is distinctly lacking is a common-sense guide to civilised separation, so may I tentatively offer a few of my top tips for a less stressful separation.

I will refer to husbands but I intend these tips to be equally applicable to either spouse, civil partner or just partner.

·      Before you embark on separation or divorce make sure it’s what you really want to do.

This may sound obvious, but separation of any sort is a stressful process (particularly where children are involved) so if you think your relationship may be salvageable give it a go. I am always amazed by the number of people who get back together after bitter, hard-fought divorces.

·      Before getting involved in court proceedings deal with your emotions.

Any kind of court proceedings should be approached with as little emotion as possible. If you are feeling strong emotion you simply will not be able to think logically and may well make bad decisions. If you do not have the choice to delay court proceedings then ensure you have good, preferably objective, emotional support. The more support you have the easier it will be.

·      Someone can be a really lousy husband and a perfectly good father.

When you are in the process of getting rid of a disastrous ex it is easy to overlook their good qualities. There is nothing which dictates that a lousy husband cannot be a good father or indeed a perfectly good friend in future – try to separate your personal view of someone’s behaviour from the objective reality of them.

·      Being a parent is for life not just for Christmas

Before you get into a huge row with your ex over arrangements for your children, whether over the Christmas period or at any other time, think about the long term future. Your ex will be your co-parent for the rest of your lives, is it really worth picking a fight over this? On a related note:

·      Do not bad-mouth your ex to your child / children

Children *hate* it. All you will succeed in doing is damaging your relationship with your child, maybe even permanently.

You really, really do not want to be the parents who cannot sit together at your children’s wedding, or be in the wedding photos together 20 years after your divorce. I even know of one unfortunate couple who had to effectively have two separate weddings because the bride’s mother hated her father so much!

·      Do not bad-mouth your ex to your friends

No one wants to hear it, seriously. We don’t care. We’re very sad that you’re unhappy, but we don’t need to hear what a sh*t he was. Please also refer back to the point about co-parents: if you have children you will have to deal with him and your mutual friends for the rest of your lives – it is really not going to help if you have told all your mutual friends what a sh*t you think he is.

·      There is no such thing as the *right* amount of contact

There is only what is right for your child / children. Families are as individual as the people they are comprised of. Some 3 year olds will be perfectly fine with alternate weekend overnight contact, others will not be. You need to be realistic about your child whether you are the one asking for contact or offering contact. Be prepared to explain and justify why your proposals are right for your child, not just what you want.

·      There is no such thing as the *right* amount of money

As above, there is only what is right for your marriage so please ignore the multi-million pound divorces in the newspaper, ignore your friend who swears blind you should have every last penny  / she shouldn’t get a single penny and go and see a good solicitor / barrister and get a realistic view of what you might be entitled to. Also bear in mind that the court has a discretion on divorce so do not get hung up on specific figures – be prepared to be flexible and realistic, on which note:

·      Financial Remedies are all about future financial planning so have a plan!

The better prepared you are, the more likely you are to get what you want. Financial Remedies following divorce are all about sorting out your future so have a plan – think realistically about what your future needs will be. Whatever you do, do not think short term unless you fancy spending your twilight years in abject poverty! It is easy to prefer money now to money later, but it is often a bad idea. If in doubt have a meeting with an independent financial adviser and talk your plan through with them.

I could keep going and going on this subject, but I will leave it at that for the moment – I would be interested to hear your top tips too so please let me know! @ZASaunders

Zoe Saunders is a family barrister at St John’s Chambers.