The relationship has ended, you’re both angry and hurt. How can you split up in the best possible way? Abbie Wightwick asks the experts
When the worst happens in a relationship some people decide there’s no alternative to splitting up.
But, if the worst comes to the worse, breaking up can still be managed in a civilised fashion.
Experts say couples should seek help and advice before making any final, life changing decisions.
Lawyers, Relate, counsellors and others offer guidance on dividing assets and child care.
Ending a relationship doesn’t mean you have to have an acrimonious divorce involving lengthy, costly court cases,
New moves by courts and lawyers to encourage couples to seek mediation rather than battle it out, have made things better for couples and their children.
Family break up is hard on children whatever you do.
Family therapist Dr Rachel Davies says parents should answer children’s questions and give as much information as possible.
Children shouldn’t be used as weapons and couples shouldn’t criticise each other to them, she advises.
Dr Davies, a family therapist with Relate Cymru, says parents may also want to shield their children but if they’re splitting up must accept there will be some upset.
“If one parent is moving out you can’t protect the child from that reality and there are certain hard facts the child will have to know,” she warns.
“But that has to go hand in hand with reassurance about what’s not going to change. “You can tell them Mum and Dad still love them and they’ll still go to all their usual activities, things like that.”
Parents must also tell their children they’re not responsible for the split, Dr Davies says.
“Reassure them it’s not their fault,” she advises. Children of different ages will need different information.
“The general rule is to give information at the level the child needs and wants to ask questions,” she says.
“A teenager will want to know more than a seven-year-old. A seven-year-old will be more egotistic and want to know what’s happening to them. Teenagers, especially if there’s been an affair, will have more questions.”
Whatever the age of the children parents should watch for uncharacteristic behaviour which may show they’re finding it hard to cope.
FAMILIES NEED FATHERS – BOTH PARENTS MATTER
Paul Apreda from the newly named Families Need Fathers Both Parents Matter Cymru, advises parents to work out how the split is going to work before telling the children.
He says children need solid facts, guidance and reassurance or they can feel frightened and insecure.
“The number one has got to be always think of the impact on the kids,” he says.
“Parents also need to understand that children have a right to direct contact with both parents. What we often see is divorce go horribly wrong because one person seeks to exclude another and often brings the kids into it by saying ‘Mary and Johnny don’t want to see you’.
“Unfortunately the system is geared up so there’s a financial benefit excluding one parent. The majority of assets go to the person looking after the children. The legal system says we have winners and losers.”
Friends, like the law, may also take sides which doesn’t help, he warns. “What we often see with dads is other dads saying, ‘Put your foot down and tell her’. That’s never going to be the right way to do things.
“You have to be calm and level headed, although that’s hard at a stressful time. Friends, sadly, often become aggressive on your behalf.
“I wouldn’t distance yourself from friends but put the best interests of the children first.
“Too often people say, ‘Their best interests are being with me all the time’.”
Couples breaking up should always seek help from counsellors, he advises.
“Seek professional counselling advice but not Legal Aid. I’m not certain about the adversarial approach with divorce so instead of reaching for a divorce lawyer reach for a mediator first.
“Mediators are not for one side or the other. They can advise you on filling forms for divorce. You don’t need a lawyer to do that but you do need a third party working for both of you who can take you through it.”
Splitting couples must always seek legal help to know their rights, says Thea Hughes, partner at Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice in Cardiff.
This doesn’t mean they have to battle in court, says Hughes, who is chair of Collaborative Lawyers in Wales, an organisation which helps divorcing couples avoid court through a new non-confrontational legal process.
“People have in their mind the traditional court route which can be extremely acrimonious and costly and just push people further apart,” she warns.
“It’s always a good idea to look at other options.
“There is a push for couples to consider other options. The Collaborative Process, where you don’t go to court to sort things out but where couples work out themselves what is best for them, is one route.
In the Collaborative Process you’re linking with your former partner and solicitors but you won’t go to court, you sit around the table to sort out difficulties.
“It means the individuals have more control and things don’t spiral out of control.”
Hughes suggests couples contact Resolution, a national organisation of lawyers who deal with family issues without taking them to court.
“I would love to see less divorce through the courts and more through the collaborative route,” Hughes says.
“In the collaborative route we put the paperwork into court but you’re not using the court in an adversarial way.
“The courts now expect people who are issuing proceedings to have thought about mediation and if not why not?”
Couples should seek advice early on, she advises. Once one partner has moved out it may be hard to pick up the pieces, Hughes, who has dealt with hundreds of divorces and separations, warns.
“People still need advice from a lawyer about their rights. It’s always important to get legal advice because there’s an awful lot to the law that people won’t know.
“For instance, people are convinced there are Common Law rights. There are not. You are looking at the law of trust when looking at these cases.”
Whatever happens, divorce isn’t cheap.
The average cost of divorce is £13,000, but can go far higher, she warns.
Suzanne Edwards, partner in the family law department at HardingEvans in Newport, advises couples to seek legal advice but try to sort out financial and childcare arrangements before going to a solicitor.
“Civilised divorce is possible,” she says. “The main thing is to try to talk.”
Resolution 08457 585 671
RELATE RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLOR
Couples should seek help from a professional counsellor even if they’ve decided to split up, says Relate relationship counsellor Eiluned Tomos .
Without a third party financial, emotional and practical issues may become a battle ground.
“Couples come to see me who realise they aren’t happy together and want to break up in the best possible way,” she says.
“If they come and say they despise each other we can see them separately.”
Tomos says the golden rule is to try to see things from the other person’s point of view.
Couples should also avoid blame.
“Don’t say, ‘You’ve made me angry’,” she advises.
“Instead say, ‘I am feeling angry at this situation’.
“If you tell someone they make you angry they become defensive.”
An hour with a Relate counsellor costs £40 which she says is a good investment and can help couples change their behaviour patterns.”
Relate Cymru 01792 480 088
FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru (formerly Families Need Fathers)
The organisation’s name change reflects the reality of the growing number of women being
excluded from the lives of their children seeking their support. They are a shared parenting
charity supporting the rights of children to maintain direct contact and meaningful relations with
both parents after divorce or separation in line with the UNCRC and the Rights of Children and
Young Persons (Wales) Measure. Their services in Cardiff are currently split into three main
1. FNF branch meetings –core service to parents of either gender to provide emotional and practical support including advice from solicitors for anyone experiencing difficulties with contact or residence issues.
2. Dads Club – a project to encourage men to play a greater role in the lives of their children.
3. Family Connections – their joint venture with Cardiff Women’s Aid – to provide support to non-resident parents and their children. They campaign to ensure that parents are not excluded from their children’s lives unless there are child protection reasons to the contrary.
c/o VAMT, 89-90 Pontmorlais, Merthyr Tydfil CF47 8UH
Reproduced with kind permission of Mac & Daily Mail
“Sorry love, unwanted fathers go in the yellow bags”