A Problem Shared: Navigating a separation
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A Problem Shared: Navigating a separation

a month agoPosted in Other

When we fall in love, of course we don’t anticipate breaking up. We wholeheartedly throw ourselves into the relationship, enthusiastically combining our lives. But what happens if that partnership breaks down? It’s sadly not as simple as just walking away. With entwined finances, assets, debts, and of course, children; extricating yourself from an unhappy relationship is not just an emotional challenge, it’s often a logistical and financial nightmare, sometimes culminating in a legal battle. 

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Since the egg Facebook group began, there have been countless posts from women struggling to navigate separations. Some are married and daunted by beginning divorce proceedings, others are in long-term cohabiting relationships, which can be just as difficult to leave, especially when there are children involved. Here’s just a few examples…

The end of the road

“I think I need to leave my husband. We're not happy, haven't been in a long time. I love him to pieces but can't see another way. My problem is that I have 2 under 2. I have no job, no childcare, no friends or family nearby. I don't want to rush everything and put my kids through hell if I can avoid it.  I’m just looking to see if there can be a way out.”

Unfaithful yet unyielding

“I’ve been with my husband 20 years, and he has constantly cheated including when I was pregnant. I’ve just found out he is back (never not been) in contact with that woman and have had enough. I am not working at the moment and have no financial or family support, he refuses to move out and I don’t know what to do. I can’t see a way forward that does not destroy our children’s lives.”

Not letting go

“I have recently left a very abusive partner, however he is doing everything he can to bring me back down. He does not want to enter into child maintenance/custody arrangements as says he would rather "surprise us" which is completely unnerving.  I want to see a lawyer to push for an agreement which would limit any contact I need to have with him.”

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Seven steps to a successful separation

Most of the women who have felt brave enough to share their stories with the egg community are past the point where they want to save the relationship. Instead, they are seeking practical advice on escaping their situation, while protecting their family and finances. How can they get out of their long-term partnership without sacrificing their safety and security, or hurting their children? egg spoke to solicitor Hayley Mitchell of Johnson Legal Family Law to find out the steps to take.

1. Get expert advice

When we are facing a huge life decision, it is always tempting to bury our heads in the sand for fear of the consequences, but the longer you stay in an unhappy relationship, the more unhappy you – and your children – could become. “Getting professional advice from an experienced family lawyer at an early stage is the best thing you can do,” says Hayley. “Knowledge is power, and the internet can be a false friend because the law in Scotland is different to the rest of the UK, which can cause confusion.” Speaking to family and friends can be helpful initially, especially if they’ve gone through a separation themselves, however individual cases can be very different. “What can be very helpful however, from your friends and family, is a recommendation of a solicitor,” says Hayley. “You need to instruct someone who you trust and who you feel understands your case. Most firms will offer a free initial call where you can speak to a solicitor and get an idea if they would be the right person to help you.” If you don’t feel ready to contact a law firm quite yet, there are other places who can advise you on your options, including One Parent Families Scotland and Relationships Scotland

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2. Reconsider counselling

If you haven’t already gone down this route, counselling could still be a good idea, and not necessarily to save the relationship. “We certainly recommend counselling,” says Hayley. “Leaving a relationship is a big deal and we want people to be confident about the decision they make. Sometimes relationship counselling helps people realise they are ready to leave, which, in itself, can be helpful.” If your partner’s unwilling to speak to a counsellor, or you don’t want them there, seeing someone solo can also be helpful to help you work through your feelings or discuss things you feel uncomfortable talking to friends or family about. Your mental health should be a priority in the process.

3. Look closely at your finances

Staying in an unsatisfactory (or even unsafe) relationship for fear of managing alone financially is thankfully becoming less common as more women have their own income and career. However, Hayley points out that this doesn’t always put a woman on equal financial footing to a male partner. “In most families, it is still the norm that the mother’s career will suffer if the couple have children. Many women worry that if they separate, they will struggle with childcare or the consequences of putting their family before their career, but the law recognises this as an economic disadvantage and makes provision for this to be addressed in separations of both married couples and co-habiting couples.” Proper consideration of your financial position is, of course, still paramount. “Your lives will look very different once you separate and you need to be prepared for that,” says Hayley. “We will discuss the financial separation with clients and outline the options available. We also look at what sort of financial support they might be able to get from their ex, or what sort of support they themselves might need to pay, which is different for married couples and co-habiting couples.” If you’re worried about your financial situation and would like to get a general idea of what your life could look like as a single person, or parent, before speaking to a solicitor, you can log onto entitledto and input your details to the benefits calculator.

4. Consider co-parenting

Fear of disrupting their childrens’ lives can lead many couples to stay together ‘for their sake’, but living positive lives separately sets a better example than prolonging a bad relationship. “Staying can teach your children that is just what relationships are like, or that it is normal to live in an unhappy situation,” says Hayley. “It is possible to have a good separation where you continue to co-parent with your ex-partner, even if you live separate lives.” Negotiating arrangements for your children is almost always best done directly between the parents. “If you don’t think you would be able to work with your ex-partner, the courts can also intervene and make decisions in the child’s best interests,” adds Hayley.

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5. Be aware of the costs

The price of a legal separation can vary hugely depending on your circumstances. The simplest divorce costs about £135 in court fees. However, you can only use this if you have no children under the age of 16, you have sorted all your financial matters and you have been separated for a year (with your spouse’s consent to divorce) or, otherwise, two years. If you have children under the age of 16 but have agreed their care and sorted your financial matters, most firms offer a fixed fee of around £1,500 plus court fees. If you haven’t agreed matters with your children, or your finances and negotiation has failed, a divorce could cost tens of thousands of pounds. “The exact amount depends on the work involved,” explains Hayley. “It is always worth trying to negotiate matters first and having court as a last resort, but you should be aware the law is naturally adversarial, so you need your own solicitors to protect your own positions.” If you are unemployed or on a low income, you might be eligible for legal aid. Visit slab.org.uk to find out more.

6. Talk to a mediator

Many solicitors will suggest mediation in amicable cases where both parties are keen to find a solution. “In mediation, one mediator can usually assist both parties over several sessions where you are encouraged to work together towards a deal,” explains Hayley. “It can be a very cost-effective way of negotiating; however, it does need you both to want to come to the table and compromise, and you need to have a relationship where you can speak constructively. It doesn’t work if one party is intimidated or frightened by the other, or if you cannot speak to each other.” Your solicitor can recommend a mediator, or you could seek to work with a mediator before appointing a solicitor, in which case, you can find one via Relationships Scotland. Legal aid may also cover mediation costs.

7. Trust there is light at the end of the tunnel

Fear of the unknown, or of making things worse puts many women off pursuing a separation, but you have to think of it as a step towards the future you want. “There can be dark days at the beginning,” admits Hayley, “but one of the most satisfying things about this job is that usually, as time progresses, things get better as decisions are made about financial matters and the separated people get used to their new normal.” If you need a visual motivator, just think of the famous paparazzi shots of Nicole Kidman the day her divorce with Tom Cruise was finalised. We’ll leave a link to the pictures here as our parting gift to you.

With thanks to solicitor Hayley Mitchell of Johnson Legal Family Law for providing her top tips.

If you’re still deciding whether to end your relationship, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau can be a simple place to start. There’s no need to pick up the phone, just click on this link to see an outline of your options.

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