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Definitely not ‘Divorce as Usual’ in 2010

Definitely not ‘Divorce as Usual’ in 2010
Written by
Kirsten Gronning

Here we are in the second month of the second decade of the twenty first century. How many of us have even considered what we learnt about our personal relationships in the first month of this decade, let alone in the last decade? How much have we moved forward relationships-wise, personally and professionally, and how do we measure it, even if we know we have?

Nothing is Forever

In the coming year and especially, in the next decade, I believe profound changes will happen in the divorce and relationship world. Surprising as it may be to some readers, I believe many of them will happen at the coalface - the family lawyers, the traditional place for people to go with matters relating to breakup. There are many family lawyers who are deeply committed to changing the face of family law as we have known it. If you don’t believe me then Neil Denny, himself a family lawyer, is a leader in lawyer innovation and writes in his blog Progress sacrificed at the altar of prudence:

‘...the message that lawyers are seen as inhibitors of innovation. That, to me is wretched and contrary to so much of what drives me personally. The impression is not entirely unfounded either. There are individuals and wings of the profession who revel in their conservatism. Check out the letter pages of the Law Society Gazette and there you will find them. And it leaves me wondering, to what extent are lawyers still seen as self appointed high-priests overseeing the sacrifice of progress at the altar of prudence.’

We can only speak for ourselves, but during 2009 Jackie Walker and I launched, as Jackie writes: ‘a service, a portal, a business, a framework, a central point of information - call it what you will! We've put our combined years, backs and experiences into BreakupAngels.com and with help and interest from experts and ‘friends’ it has been recognised and remarked upon. Over the past year we've put stuff out there; we've tried new, used old, dreamed and now recognise what works best. We offer low cost downloads giving people the knowledge to move forwards; reasonably priced 1:1 work supporting them so they do avoid the pitfalls we know but they can’t foresee and we are pulling together different types of courses and live events so that people can bring their own experiences and blocks - and solve them.’

And over the last year or so, the law (that means lawyers) is admitting that their system is broke. We only have to read articles like BBC news article Bitter divorcees ‘using children’ to get a measure of why the law is not working and the resultant high costs of litigation and social exclusion. We know lawyers aren’t necessarily to blame - though there are many who have feathered their own nest by doing what they were trained to do by an adversarial divorce system which barely changed in 30 years and which pitted families against each other in adversarial process.

New Lords, new Laws

But the good news is that change now has to happen and proposals are being put to the government to make it easier and cheaper for families to find support in relationship breakdown and better ways of dealing with conflict. For example, the K.I.D.S (Kids in Separation and Divorce) Westminster debate in November last year where it was proposed by Sandra Davies ’ to reduce litigation over the children of separating couples by establishing national ‘conflict clinics’ and the consultation document states ‘Litigation should be the last, not the first, resort for the resolution of parental disagreements.’ For more detail, read Natasha Phillips article called ‘Petition, petition, petition’ on Wikizine here and join the fast growing band of people who are calling for massive change to family law.

It’s clear to me though that change won’t happen fast, partly because:

  • People facing relationship and family breakdown are held back by fear and feeling that fear is the major factor governing people’s behaviour right now. As a result they are prevented from seeking help – help which could empower them in facing this major life crisis of relationship breakdown. Often this is due to overwhelm: the emotional nature of what they are going through makes it impossible for them to deal with other aspects of the breakdown and to make rational decisions.
  • Bad behaviour – with anger often being taken out on the weakest, the kids too, which grinds down families relentlessly and causes shame, making it even more difficult for both perpetrators and victims to ask for help.
  • Of increased numbers of affairs, the ‘easy’ way to feel good fast, meaning that people are avoiding issues rather than facing them.
  • Of more drinking, drug taking and escapist behaviour which reduces rational thought and action and puts increasing pressure on their families, especially in co-dependent situations.
  • Financial pressure and debt issues disempowering people to find solutions because they simply cannot find the money they need to get them out of crisis.

Well begun is half Done

But there are signs of change and the areas where I see change happening, both good and bad, is in:

  • The quality of free on-line support available eg. in Wikivorce.com and we shall continue to grow our partnership with Wikivorce by writing articles, contributing to the forums and other initiatives such has providing free online surgeries. The management behind Wikivorce recognise the need for emotional support within their community, as well as inexpensive legal and financial support and are actively encouraging people to look for the best advice in the most cost effective manner.
  • More people asking themselves: what do I want from my relationship - and my split – especially during this recession? Do we want to fight and waste family assets in adversarial process or can we resolve this ourselves? Have we considered collaborative family law or mediation? It’s definitely not divorce as it was with people thinking they go to their lawyers first and expecting them to ‘solve’ it. Those who are splitting up are asking themselves more realistic questions around what they want and, as importantly, what can they afford?
  • The projected increase of couples splitting up post recession, as those who have stayed under the same roof due to economic reasons split. This may give rise to a new speed of change that will cause greater chaos in the courts and the agencies which support them eg. CAFCASS, as separating and divorcing people won't have the financial resources they once had to throw their divorce problem at lawyers and have to ‘self-rep.’ Beware that for many, less co-operation will prevail because many separating spouses come from that place of fear, leading to more in-fighting.
  • Globalisation (business without geographic borders) which means that those breakup experts who have embraced web technology can speak 1-1 with clients anywhere in the world. For me recently, this meant that a client in Italy could speak to me free of charge over Skype, at a time which suited her (between her school runs and working from home) about the issues behind her separation which she was unable to grasp herself and which were causing sleepless nights. As a result, she saw how important it was to stay focused on her needs, rather than allowing back the ex partner (who had effectively deserted her for another woman) when he later changed his mind and wanted to return.
  • Online social media networking resulting in collaborations between breakup experts who dispense free advice and tips from a range of sites from Facebook to Twitter and create communities to help those who are stuck find support.
  • Live events, eg. face-to-face workshops and courses and seminars as well as tele-classes and downloadable products means there’s really no excuse not to learn more about breakup and what’s caused it – and more importantly, what you can do next – if you want to.
  • The growing recognition that whilst conflict resolution is darn complicated, we can do it better and there are easy to learn tools which can turn entrenched positions around to find win/win results.
  • The launch of the UK’s first divorce supermarket DivorceSupermarket.com with the headline : When divorce joins baked beans on the supermarket shelves inevitably attracted the question: ‘Isn’t Wikivorce encouraging people to give up on their failing marriages rather than seek to resolve things?’

Owner Ian Rispin responded: "That is like blaming the NHS for encouraging people to have more car accidents - because drivers know that if they do crash, then they have access to good quality medical treatment. Wikivorce is there to pick up the pieces after divorce has become inevitable. We have helped tens of thousands of people who would otherwise have had no obvious source of affordable support. DivorceSupermarket is an extension of that support and offers people choice and good value - I see that as a very good thing."

When a word to the wise is enough

Finally, I was moved to write this article about change and the need for it by some feedback from a former client I’ll call Stephan, who wrote to me in late 2009:

‘I have to say this year has been such a relief, err..perhaps I had better rephrase that, I mean... SUCH A RELIEF!!! compared to the stress of 2005 2006 2007 and then particularly 2008. Looking back, I am amazed how I managed to get through it all and put that down to the support of key people such as yourself, at critical times. Having said that, your December newsletter is so right. Whilst your last minute advice helped me to cope on that day last year, if I had understood earlier and had more time to assimilate that advice, it would have been a less stressful day and possibly I would have been able to fight for my cause with more vigour. Quite how you alert and convince people who are in similar situations to me, of the importance of early advice, really is the sixty four thousand dollar question!’

My reply to Stephan was: “Re. your last sixty four thousand dollar Q - that’s why there’s change, great change, happening to get people the advice and the tools they need early, at a price they can afford.”

Copyright notice

© Copyright Kirsten Gronning 2010. All rights reserved worldwide.

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