‘D-Day:’ January divorces and how to avoid it getting ugly!

It is regularly suggested that law firms receive more new divorce instructions on the first day back at work in January than any other time of the year, hence the first working day back being dubbed ‘D-Day’ or ‘Divorce Day’ by those in the legal profession.

The reported surge in instructions on Divorce Day is often attributed to couples having reached their final straw over the stressful Christmas period, and cases of affairs being revealed through festive calls and text messages.

While January can indeed be a busy time, in our experience ‘Divorce Day’ itself is something of a myth. Although clients may regard the New Year as a time to make a fresh start, we often find that the decision to separate can take weeks or even months. Generally, any clients that do contact us during that first week in January have been facing difficulties in their relationship for some time.

If you are experiencing problems in your relationship but think that that the marriage may be retrievable, you might consider seeking some counselling in order to help you to work through any obstacles you might be facing. We can recommend skilled couples counsellors for those who want to improve their relationship or explore whether they wish to separate. Even if you have decided that the relationship is over, counselling can work hand in hand with the legal process to help you to see things in a different way and to move forward positively. We can refer you to a wide range of professionals with whom we work closely who can help you through the separation process and make the legalities of divorce seem less daunting.

Relationship breakdown, whether or not culminating in separation or divorce, is considered to be one of the most stressful life events. It can be challenging on an emotional, practical and financial level and can require some adjustment for all involved. Whatever the time of year, if you are considering separation or divorce proceedings, there are ways to minimise conflict and ensure that the process is dealt with as quickly and as fairly as possible.

If you are seriously considering separation you should seek professional advice from a specialist family solicitor. Your solicitor will be able to advise you on all of the options available to you, including all of the methods of reaching resolution as set out below. Court proceedings may only be necessary if resolution cannot be reached another way.

If you do decide that the relationship is over, child arrangements can be sorted out informally between yourselves. In fact the court will only get involved if you disagree about what’s best for the children yourselves.

In respect of your finances, however, you will need a court order to make formal legally binding agreements. There are a number of ways you can reach financial agreement and it doesn’t necessarily have to be through the traditional court process.

One method of negotiating a resolution designed to reduce conflict and costs is mediation. Mediation involves appointing an independent professional third party to conduct a series of sessions (usually 2-4) in order to help you and your partner sort out issues such as child arrangements and finances. It tends to be quicker and less costly than the court process. The mediator won’t give legal advice but will be able to help the parties to communicate effectively to reach solutions.

The mediation process is not appropriate in every situation. It will only work if both parties are fully committed to the process. It will not work if one of the parties wants to bully the other into submission or if you suspect your partner has a hidden agenda. In circumstances where there is a lot of conflict then you might prefer to deal with the matter solely through solicitors. Where there is domestic violence or child protection concerns, then legal action through the courts may be needed.
Collaborative Law

If you do not feel that mediation is appropriate for you then there are other options. Your solicitor can use a method called ‘Collaborative Law’ to conduct negotiations between you, your partner and their solicitor through a process of ‘round-table’ meetings. We have specialist collaborative lawyers who are trained to enable both parties to sit in a room with your lawyers and negotiate a solution that works for both of you. Whilst you get to meet with your lawyer on your own, you also get to negotiate all together rather than simply dealing with the matter through correspondence.

If you wish to use a collaborative legal process, you and your lawyers will sign an agreement at the outset that commits you to trying to resolve the issues without issuing court proceedings. This focusses the parties on finding the best solutions by agreement. However, if you fail to reach agreement and the collaborative process breaks down then you are prevented from using the same lawyers if you subsequently decide to use the traditional legal process.
Negotiations through solicitors and the court process

If you do decide to use the traditional method of negotiating through solicitors’ correspondence and/or applying to the courts, it does not have to be costly and antagonistic. Although it is of course important to be tough where necessary, there has been a significant shift in the family law profession towards conciliation and collaboration if at all possible.

Divorce is often a painful process, and your choice of legal representation will make all the difference to your experience. We will guide you through the process, ensuring that your interests are looked after, whilst avoiding unnecessary cost, stress and anxiety.

Parents are encouraged to put their children first in this process. Simons Muirhead & Burton is now working with the charity Voices in the Middle and their campaign to support children going through the separation process and to hear their voices. Read more here.