2016. What a year. It brought us more medals at the Olympics and Paralympics than ever before. It brought terror attacks from Egypt to Northern Europe. It saw Tim Peak, the first European space agency astronaut, complete his space mission. It brought us Brexit and Trump. It saw the death of music’s George Michael, David Bowie and Prince. It also saw the breakdown of well-known couples, such as Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, Gary and Danielle Lineker, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and John Bernard and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. However, was it the year where such well-known people were separating amicably and with dignity?
Perhaps the most talked about separation was that of Jolie and Pitt, maybe because they have children, or maybe because of the way they have conducted themselves after their separation. Information was leaked from both sides with the reasons they were separating. We were told that Angelina wanted “full custody” of their children and we were told that Brad only saw the divorce papers hours before they were formally filed in court.
For a couple who are known for their forward thinking approach to life, how was it that they allowed their separation to become a media frenzy? Is it because they received bad advice? Or is it because of the way each of them were feeling, and they then allowed those feelings to cloud the decisions they made at what was inevitably a very difficult time for them both.
Should they have looked at separating amicably and with dignity, and if so, how?
The problems faced by separating couples, with or without children, are the same, whether you are the Jolie Pitts, or part of a less well-known couple. Quite often, whether you separate or not is not your choice. How you conduct yourself after a separation can be your choice. Whether the decision to separate is yours or not, most people will experience feelings of loss, hurt or anger. Recognising that those feelings are normal and perhaps to be expected is a good place to start.
Sometimes, when you feel hurt, let down or angry, there may be a temptation to want to cause feelings of hurt to your ex-partner. The heated conversations over the children and when they spend time with each parent, or the threat of court proceedings can become common place. Those conversations are often damaging and emotionally wearing.
When couples separate, they have options. They have the option to do nothing, to take stock and get used to their new separated status. Perhaps the Jolie Pitts would have done well to initially take this approach. Discussions may need to take place about arrangements for the children, the house and finances, and those discussions can of course be face to face, with the help of a mediator, or facilitated by experienced collaborative solicitors.
The question that I am most often asked in those circumstances is do I need legal advice, and if I do need it, when do I need it? My answer is always the same. Good legal guidance, often from a trained collaborative lawyer who will also give you information and support at an early stage will help you make informed decisions. It will help you through what may prove a difficult process and may prevent you making the same mistakes as the Jolie Pitts.
If you are separating amicably and with dignity in 2017 choose the collaborative process as it is an investment for your future.
Jo Scott of Kidd & Spoor Solicitors, is a specially trained collaborative lawyer and mediator. Contact Jo.