I’m a Family Mediator and work with separating and divorcing clients. Before that I practised as a Family Solicitor. I have worked closely with many divorcing couples and based on that experience, I welcome Divorce Reform and the removal of ‘blame’. However, I am aware that some people fear that it will undermine the institution of marriage and make divorce too easy.
Few take the decision to divorce lightly; especially parents. Children thrive when parents together provide a loving and happy home. However, it’s well documented that children suffer more emotional harm from prolonged parental conflict, than from parental separation itself. A high conflict marriage is just as damaging as separated parents in conflict. If parents decide to divorce, (and of course it’s sometimes one person’s decision that the other has no choice but to learn to accept), then a divorce that removes blame, is far more child friendly. When separated parents can communicate well, children feel safe. When parents are in conflict or disconnected, children suffer. When fault is removed from divorce it will create a better foundation for separating spouses to transition to co-parenting.
A Case Study involving blame
Parents currently separated whilst under the same roof, attended mediation. They’d privately reached agreement about child arrangements and attended mediation to discuss how to share their assets. I asked if anyone had commenced divorce proceedings. The husband had applied for a divorce based on his wife’s unreasonable behaviour. He explained it was his decision to end the marriage and she didn’t want to apply for the divorce. As they had only recently separated, the only fact he could rely on was her unreasonable behaviour. The husband explained he didn’t feel comfortable about this, as they had each contributed to the breakdown of the relationship. However, he had no choice unless he waited 2 years. She said she wanted to divorce but didn’t want to divorce him or accept the blame. I gave legal information about her options but said she should see a solicitor who could advise her. She felt the most straight forward and cost efficient way to proceed, would be to agree to the divorce, but make it clear in the Acknowledgement of Service that she didn’t accept the particulars of unreasonable behaviour and reserved the right to defend them if they were raised in respect of finances or child arrangements. She felt that was a pragmatic approach, but far from perfect. I confirmed that many respondents struggle with this issue as marriage is complicated and to entirely blame one spouse is hard for that spouse to deal with. However, when we returned for the next session to discuss finances. I could tell something wasn’t right. Clients often feel tense when discussing finances as it’s so important to their future that their housing and income needs are met. However, this felt like something more. I asked the wife if she was ok and she wasn’t. She said she kept reading the divorce application and it made her angrier each time. she said her husband had unilaterally ended the relationship and stopped trying and yet she was being blamed. She felt he had cited petty things that weren’t even true. She said she had a long list of genuine unreasonable behaviour about him and she began to list it. The husband explained that they had argued continuously since she received the application. The wife demanded to know if he had shown anyone the divorce application.
I asked how their children were coping and they said they were struggling. Neither spouse could afford to leave the family home until finances were resolved. Blaming the wife in the divorce application had added to the strained atmosphere in the home. They both agreed it was intolerable to live like this. Of course, they would have suffered if no fault divorce had been available. However, blaming one spouse had added fuel to the fire and had clearly impacted the children. This isn’t an isolated example. I could provide many more and I know my colleagues could too.
Let’s trust separating parents and help make a traumatic decision less strained. It’s not about undermining marriage; It’s about supporting their evolving co-parenting relationship and not damaging it.
Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar
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