Tell the kids the right way ‘Break the news together,’ advises Paula Hall, psychotherapist and author of How To Have A Healthy Divorce: A Relate Guide. ‘It gives children a positive message that even though you won’t be living together any more, you’re still a family and their interests will come frst.’ Dr Sherylin Thompson, a psychotherapist specialising in divorce, adds, ‘For younger children, the simpler the message the better – along the lines of, “ it’s something Mummy and Daddy have decided as friends”. Don’t give complex messages they won’t understand.’
Listen to your kids Children are sensitive and often hide their worries. Marital therapist, Andrew G Marshall, author of Resolve Your Differences, advises encouraging children to tell you whatever is bothering them. ‘Do your best to answer any questions, but you don’t have to go into great detail, and whatever you do, don’t make them feel they’re responsible for cheering you up.’
Talking points ‘The only thing you should ever discuss on email or text with your ex is factual stuff, like what time to meet or advising you’ll be late,’ says Andrew. ‘But if face-to-face conversations become too emotional, a business-like email is the best alternative.’ Paula adds, ‘Keep it courteous and to the point. If there’s a miscommunication by email or text, try to resolve it immediately.’ You could also try Skype or Facetime as it’s a way to talk directly, but not in person.
Hit on your friends It’s important each of you has a trusted friend or counsellor to talk things through with. ‘There will be times when you’re angry, sad and upset, and times when you need to rant and moan, but don’t do it at your ex,’ says Paula Hall. ‘Get your emotional needs met elsewhere.’ Andrew Marshall adds, ‘You need to let go of any blame if you want an amicable divorce, even if you feel wronged. My mantra is, “Do you want to be happy – or do you want to be right?” ’
Spend time together as a family Elizabeth* often has Sunday lunch or goes to the cinema with her ex-husband and their son. ‘People do think it’s weird and ask why I would want to socialise with my ex-husband, but we’re still a family,’ says Elizabeth. ‘It’s not to give Harry false hope that we’ll get back together, it’s so we can do things together.’ Dr Sherylin warns the merest hint of discord can be distressing for children, so only go if you know you’ll be able to keep your feelings under wraps. ‘If there’s a lot of tension they might feel you’re only doing it for them, and that will make them feel guilty,’ she says.
Be fexible To achieve a happy divorce, experts say it’s essential you ring-fence each other’s roles as Mum and Dad – meaning don’t let the split distract you from those primary roles. ‘You can make things easier if you see it as working together for the sake of the children to get beyond the differences you had as individuals,’ says Dr Sherylin. But don’t worry if you do things differently at times, particularly when it comes to discipline. ‘I think different rules in each home is fne,’ says Paula. ‘Children understand there are different rules at school, or that at one friend’s house they have to take off their shoes, but at another’s they can bounce on the bed with them on. Don’t get so hung up on doing absolutely everything together.’
The lawyers can wait Once you both agree to end the marriage, you’ll want to get the ball rolling on splitting assets and cementing custody arrangements, but rushing into it could result in extra tension. Wait a few weeks, then fnd a frm that also wants you to have a happy divorce. ‘Sign up to solicitors with experience in Resolutions (a type of legal practice that uses a non-confrontational approach to divorce) to make sure they have family interests at heart,’ advises Paula.
It takes two… Remember, an amicable break-up requires commitment from both of you. ‘One person alone can’t make a happy divorce,’ says Paula Hall, ‘but if you’re both able to recognise why the relationship went wrong, and you have support from others for the grieving process, it’s possible to make it work.’ Elizabeth adds, ‘I defnitely think we’re working harder at the divorce than we did at marriage. We weren’t even sure how or if it would work – but we’re very proud that it has.’
Don’t rush it If anything is likely to disrupt a happy divorce, it’s introducing another partner too soon. Children are likely to blame them, regardless of whether their involvement came before or after the split, while your new partner might not understand your set-up or have their own ideas of how it should work. Elizabeth says, ‘I’m gradually introducing my boyfriend to Harry, but it’s not always easy while I’m co-parenting with my ex. My new partner doesn’t understand certain elements of my relationship with my ex-husband, but he accepts that he needs to be there so Harry doesn’t think his whole life has changed.’ There’s no rush so just take your time.
Make sure your main focus is your children, giving them attention, support and, most importantly, consistency. Marketing manager Elizabeth*, 36, ended her 13-year marriage last August and decided to co-parent her six-year-old son, Harry*. ‘Four days a week he lives at my house in Leeds, the rest with his dad, Alan*, ten miles away. We had an honest conversation about what we wanted from the split and what would beneft Harry. That’s how the whole co-parenting thing came about. It keeps the structure he’s used to and we still get to do all the things we used to do as a family. After all, he’s still in a relationship with us both.’