In modern marriages, the notion of ‘til death do us part’ seems to be more of a guideline than a rule, with nearly 30% of Australian marriages ending in divorce. However, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies the rate of divorce is declining, and the average length of a marriage is increasing. Despite these more optimistic numbers, divorce is still a common occurrence.
If you are considering divorce, it can be incredibly daunting to know what to do, where to start and who to turn to for advice. A clinical psychologist explains the five things you need to do if your relationship is beyond repair.
1. Be sure about your decision
Divorce isn’t to be taken lightly. Before progressing to the next stages, make sure the decision is well thought out.
Although things might feel hopeless, are you sure you have tried everything to reconcile? This step can be especially important for your recovery from a divorce, protecting you from potential regret down the road. Broach every issue with your partner to allow them the maximum opportunity to change. On the other hand, be receptive to the role you may have played in your marital issues.
With the exception of a few scenarios, most relationship breakdowns aren’t the result of one person’s behaviour. If you are struggling to have constructive conversations, it’s valuable to see a well-qualified couples counsellor to double-check the possibilities for recovery.
2. Get support during a divorce
A neutral support network is vital to navigating the stressful and emotional process. Although friends and family usually act with the best of intentions, they will often bring their own views and attitudes when offering divorce advice or support. Working with a counsellor from the start of the process will give you a private space to speak without judgement.
Online communities are another valuable resource during a divorce. Whether they are ten steps ahead in the process or still considering a divorce, chatting with people with shared experiences is a fantastic way to feel validated, supported and get divorce advice.
3. Manage friends and family as best you can
Sometimes, the most difficult aspect of handling a divorce is managing the emotions and expectations of your friends and family. If possible, decide how and what you will tell your loved ones as a united front.
It can be helpful to agree on a statement that avoids placing blame e.g., “we just can’t work it out” or “we’ve decided it’s for the best”. Don’t feel obliged to answer unwelcome questions; although you are separated, this is still between you and your partner. Some people might not know how to behave in the situation, so be upfront with what you need from them, and ask them to stay out of the conflict.
From a practical standpoint, you and your partner might agree on a common management plan, including announcements, upcoming social events, friendships, timelines for the split, social media profiles, and so on.
4. Seek advice and information
If you’ve been married less than two years, you and your spouse will first need to attend a counselling session and obtain a certificate stating that the relationship has broken down. If this cannot be arranged, in cases of domestic violence or your partner refuses to attend, an affidavit needs to be filed. Afterward, standard divorce procedures apply, including the 12-month separation period.
If you have separated as a result of family and domestic violence, the first two years after separation are particularly high risk. You must ensure that you are well supported and safe and engage with specialist services equipped to help you.
5. Always prioritise your children
How a child copes with divorce will depend on several factors, but some stress and upset is unfortunately inevitable. However, you can make the transition easier by making your kids’ well-being the top priority during the divorce.
Offer your child patience, reassurance and an empathetic ear, and avoid speaking negatively about their other parent. Where possible, try to maintain their old routine or quickly establish a new one, as children thrive off stability and structure.
The kids will manage a divorce better if you find a way to collaborate with the other parent. Agree on what you will tell the children and how you will talk with them. Think carefully about what the children need to know, what they need to hear from you, and which aspects of care will be provided together and separately.
For disputes over children and property, you can contact a Family Relationship Centre. Relationships Australia NSW runs six Family Relationship Centres out of our counselling centres throughout NSW. These hubs of information, referrals and mediation were established to support couples experiencing relationship difficulties, conflict after separation, violence, or who are in need of assistance after a family breakdown. The co-parenting app Divvito can also be a useful tool to streamline communications with your former partner.