How can I separate amicably?

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Contrary to popular belief, most family lawyers I’ve encountered prefer to resolve their matters early, and amicably, as opposed to after a long litigation and destructive trial.

The benefits of an early, amicable resolution are obvious:

  • Move on with your life more swiftly;
  • Spend less of your hard earned money on legal fees;
  • Avoid the emotional cost of a court battle;
  • Protect your children from the emotional trauma of parental conflict; and
  • Preserve a working relationship with your ex-partner that will provide stability for your children, and give them positive role models for their own relationships.

Some people might be tempted to say, “Yes, yes but what can I do, my ex is the problem”.

And this might also be true; however there are approaches to relationship breakdown that can be taken to give yourself the best shot at achieving an amicable separation without rolling over and allowing the ex to tickle your tummy.  

Here is my humble opinion:

  1. Look into your counselling options. First and foremost explore whether your relationship can be fixed, and look at what you can do to improve things. Prevention is always better than cure.
  2. Accept that you can’t change or control your ex-partner, but you do have the ability to control your own situation. This relates to your entire outlook and includes perhaps not drinking so much, getting some exercise and not “mirroring” aggressive behaviour. You can each spend a lot of time focusing on what is wrong with each other; when what you really need to be doing is focusing on yourself.
  3. If the relationship is too broken to fix, be respectful in implementing your exit strategy. Remember you once loved this person and maybe had children with them. If you’re grieving at the loss of your partner or hurt by their conduct, acting out maliciously might provide a short term reward, but in my experience the long term effects are all negative.  Again counselling can be the key to managing the stress of separation.-In writing this I’m reminded of the old Chinese proverb: “He who seeks revenge must first dig two graves.”
  4. Once you have decided or realised that the separation is final, get some advice from an accredited specialist family lawyer. There are two reasons why this is important; firstly, you can’t commence any proper negotiations until you know where you stand, and what the range of outcome or entitlement might be. Secondly, in consulting a family lawyer you will commence the process of managing your post separation communications and relationship;
  5. Obviously when you’re hurting and angry you’re not going to be best friends with your ex. What you should be aiming for is establishing a businesslike approach to your communications. This means focusing on the issues at hand, and not the issues that may have led to the relationship breakdown. Speak to your ex the same way you might speak to someone you don’t know.
  6. Try to engage in a cooperative rather than competitive negotiation. This means rather than arguing for every concession you feel entitled to, try and work out what your motivations and needs are, and try and understand what your ex-partners motivations and needs are.-This is illustrated by the “Orange Story”. The story goes; two sisters fight over an orange. They resolve the fight by agreeing to take half the orange each. One sister uses the rind to make a cake, and throws out the pulp, the other uses the pulp to make juice, and throws out the rind. The story is simplistic but demonstrates that it can be important to understand what underpins the other party’s position;
  7. Be prepared to compromise and narrow the issues. Start your negotiations with the things you can easily agree to, and work towards the more difficult items. If you can tick off some areas of agreement early a positive momentum builds towards resolving all issues.
  8. Factor in the costs of not agreeing. Litigation has a financial and emotional cost.

I tell all my client’s that there is only two ways disputes between parties can be resolved in a civilized society, that is, agreements between the disputing parties or orders from Judges. Following the above will give you the best shot at formulating an early agreement, and avoid setting foot inside a court room.

Peter Hooper is an accredited specialist family lawyer in Brisbane.

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