Relationship and Power Dynamics on Divorce: Tips for Handling a Separation

Katy Duff
Katy Duff
Burgess Mee Family Law

Power dynamics within a relationship often continue to play out during and after a separation. This can make coming to a final agreement about children or finances challenging even with the advent of no-fault divorce. The following tips are useful to keep in mind when you are going through a separation and things can feel overwhelming.

It is not ‘aggressive’ to instruct a lawyer

It can take real strength and courage to make the decision to separate, likewise to instruct a solicitor to help you through the process. Seeking a professional’s help to guide you is entirely sensible and reasonable. It should empower you to think about next steps, the future and what is right for you.

Focus only on what you can control

It is not a valuable use of your time and energy when trying to separate and heal to predict or anticipate your ex-partner’s/spouse’s behaviour, as this will  cause unnecessary worry and stress for you. Rather, your focus should be on navigating your own way.

Don’t negotiate against yourself

Don’t  stop yourself from putting forward proposals or requests that are in your interest because you think they will not be accepted by your ex-partner/spouse. With the support of a professional team, you will be aware of all the different options open to you. This should allow you to feel comfortable in what you are suggesting, knowing that in doing so you are still working towards a practical solution for everyone.

Identifying difficult behaviour

It can be hard to manage difficult behaviours from your ex-partner/spouse after you separate, but. you do not need to do so alone. You should speak to your solicitor about any particular concerns and how you expect your ex-partner may react to a suggestion or a proposal. Professionals can guide the case forward with a better understanding of when challenging conduct may arise and how this might feed into wider patterns of behaviour.

Delegating management of the short term

Once patterns of behaviour are identified they can be navigated. Your solicitor should give thought to how final orders (in children or finances matters) will operate when professionals are no longer involved. For example, clear and ambiguous wording will be needed to make clear the terms of an agreement so that you are not embroiled in lengthy and difficult correspondence when implementing an order or discussing the practicalities for handovers at the weekend. This will only foster continuity and stability so that you and your children feel certain about the arrangements. You should speak to your solicitor about any points you think will be tricky in future and they should do the same.

Make the process work for you

Difficult personalities may deliberately time emails and correspondence to you or your solicitor at awkward moments to disrupt arrangements or your general wellbeing, i.e. a letter changing contact arrangements on the cusp of the weekend or a proposal for financial settlement sent late on a Friday afternoon. To prevent this, you can discuss and agree adopting a working practice with your solicitor. For example, you could ask that correspondence received on a Friday afternoon is sent to you on a Monday unless it is absolutely critical for your attention that day. This will allow you to prioritise and reclaim your time and space. Trust your solicitor to let you know whether you need to see something today or first thing next week after you have had two days to pause and reflect.

What about controlling or coercive behaviour?

Controlling or coercive behaviour is an act or pattern of acts of threatening, humiliating or intimidatory behaviour designed to make a person subordinate, isolated and frightened. It is insidious, unacceptable conduct that no one should have to tolerate, involving  behaviour that goes beyond typical disputes in a separation.

If abuse is identified as an element in a case you can work with your solicitor to ensure the risks to you, your children and your case overall are managed appropriately, in order to protect and prioritise the wellbeing of you and your family. The legal system should not be used to perpetrate further abuse and the courts are increasingly sensitive to litigation being weaponised in this way.

You should be able to participate in discussions, negotiations and or proceedings without risk or fear for your mental, physical or economic wellbeing or that of your children. Attention to detail and a wider understanding of historic behaviour is key to helping your solicitor in understanding the situation. This will allow them to tailor their approach and ensure you receive the support you need throughout your separation.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Be positive but realistic

Even the most straightforward separation can often throw up unexpected and unforeseen issues. Your solicitor is there to guide you through divorce, but no two cases are ever the same. You are at the start of the rest of your life and that will take time. There will be delays, deadlines and counterpart solicitors who simply don’t respond. Sometimes it will be slow. Your solicitor will be doing all they can to keep you out of court (or they should be) and if they’re not, they should be explaining why, so that you know what the next step looks like. Court should always be a last resort but don’t overlook it as an option and a way to put in place a timetable that you and your partner can work towards with consequences if you don’t.

Seek support

You should feel supported at every stage as you move forward with the next stage of your life. There are many specialist organisations and professionals with particular understanding of the difficulties inherent in relationship breakdowns. There is no shame in seeking additional professional support including from a therapist, divorce coach or independent financial advisor (and your solicitor will be able to refer you to their connections in these spheres). They will also be alert when it sometimes may not be obvious that help is needed, so be open to exploring those options. Having a network of friends, family and professionals on hand can be key to guide you through the challenges of the process of separation and divorce and get you safely to the other side.

Read more articles by Burgess Mee Family Law.

About Katy Duff

Katy Duff is a solicitor at Burgess Mee, an award-winning specialist family law firm in London. Katy advises on a broad range of issues including divorce, matrimonial finance, financial claims for unmarried parents and matters involving children. She has specialist experience of cases with issues of domestic abuse. She is co-chair of Resolution’s National Domestic Abuse Committee.

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