28 Apr 2022

What's the etiquette of divorce?

From 6 April new UK legislation has introduced no-fault divorce. This is aimed at reducing recriminations and conflict, completely removing the necessity for divorcing couples to apportion blame for the breakdown of their marriage.

These ground-breaking reforms are undoubtedly welcome news for couples who are contemplating divorce. Nevertheless, however enlightened divorce law may now be, it still cannot completely alleviate the pain and trauma of divorce. While grievances need not be aired in legal proceedings, they may still be very real, and many couples will experience difficulties when communicating the news and dealing with their immediate family and wider circle of friends. These recommendations will help you break the news of divorce and will give you some advice about navigating social situations in the immediate aftermath.

It’s essential to tell friends and family when you’re getting divorced, but be careful. Many couples are serial divorce-planners; they talk incessantly about how it’s all over, they reveal detailed plans for separation, they elicit sympathy. And then, within weeks, they’re back together again. Understandably, onlookers find this behaviour intensely irritating, and their sympathy diminishes exponentially.

So don’t announce an imminent divorce until you’re absolutely sure this is your final decision. Once you know this is irreversible, tell your friends and family about your plans. It is also helpful (and easier for you) if you can clarify how you intend to behave around your ex-partner. If you are filled with rage, bitterness and resentment, it is a safe assumption that ‘civilised’ socialising is a distant prospect. If you have children, you may be determined to behave as well as possible, trying hard to keep your anger in check, and maintaining a veneer of normality. You may be divorcing quite amicably, with no intention of losing contact.

Once these issues have been clarified, people will have a better idea about how they should behave:

If you’re Divorcing:

•Be discreet when communicating with other people. Reserve your most bitter regrets, recriminations and revelations for your counsellor, lawyer or best friend.

•Don’t belabour casual acquaintances with the sins of your ex-partner. You will be seen as a bore.

•In public, at least, try and remain positive about your ex-partner.

•Let people know if you think they’re rushing you into mutual socialising. If you don’t want to be confronted by your ex across a table at a dinner party, then explicitly tell your friends that you find it difficult.

•When you’re ready to start looking again, tell your friends.  If they’re frantic to match-make, and you just can’t face it, tell them explicitly. You shouldn’t feel railroaded into dating when you’re not ready.

If you’re a Friend of a Someone who’s Divorcing:

•Be absolutely discreet about confidences. If you’re talking to both ex-partners, and revealing private confidences to each, you may find yourself entangled in some very fraught emotional territory. You will be seen as colluding, provocative and trouble-stirring – it’s far better to respect confidences.

•If you’re friendly with the divorcing couple, try to be sympathetic and supportive without being totally partisan. Post-divorce revelations are highly charged and emotional, and you may not be getting the whole story.

•Be certain about where your loyalties lie. If you’re a close friend of one half of a bitterly divorcing couple, you may be seen as disloyal if you try and maintain relations with the estranged partner. Be honest and open about everything you do and you won’t get trapped in game-playing.

•Don’t greet news of a divorce with remarks like “I never liked him/her anyway”. You will be devaluing the marriage, and bringing your divorcing friend’s judgement into question at a time when they’re feeling raw and vulnerable. You will also be revealing that you were two-faced – pretending to like someone you detested.

• In situations where there is potential conflict – perhaps you are hosting a party, and feel that you can only safely invite one of the ex-partners – be completely up-front about your actions, explaining your motives to both parties.

•Make yourself endlessly available to your divorcing friend. Give him/her as much of your time as possible, and always be ready to take that midnight call or accept an impromptu visit.

•When your friend is ready to move on, do your best to ease him/her back in society. Invite him/her to meet new friends at a dinner party; or even try your hand at a little matchmaking. Above all, take it slowly…

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