Just as we returned to work and our normal lives last week the media was full of grim references to “divorce week”. It is true that solicitors often have a spike in family law work after the Christmas break, as it is an unusual time when relationship difficulties which had been brewing come to a head.
It is important to bear in mind, however, that all might not be lost. A relationship may have reached a tipping point, or a low point from which it can recover. Only you can decide which it is, by communicating with your partner. Last year, statistics on relationship difficulties from Accord grabbed headlines due to the rate of infidelity its counsellors were dealing with, but more important was the statistic that almost 85% of people who sought counselling from Accord in 2014 said the most relevant problem in their marital difficulties was poor communication.
These are 5 basic tips for dealing with relationship difficulties based on our experienced. Of course, relationships and family law are complicated areas that require careful consideration and expert advice.
- Get out now if you are at risk. Prioritise the safety of yourself and your children. If domestic violence is an issue, seek immediate help from Gardaí and your local domestic violence support organisation. Get support from people you trust but avoid involving anyone who might take sides or be a friend of both you and your partner. Talk to a solicitor about the domestic violence orders you can seek. If you are worried about domestic abuse read the helpful, practical information on the ADAPT website.
- Explore reconciliation. If domestic violence is not an issue, take time out to consider whether the relationship can be reconciled. Ending a long-term relationship, whether with a spouse or a cohabitant, is a serious decision with many consequences. Don’t underestimate the irreparable damage that a rush to court can cause. If you have children, you are going to have to deal with your partner for years to come. Explore the possibility of counselling or mediation to see if your relationship problems can be resolved. In fact, if you proceed to court for separation or divorce, your solicitor is obliged to advise you on alternative forms of matrimonial dispute resolution.
- Agree, when possible. If your relationship can’t be reconciled, try to reach agreement on as much as possible. Access arrangements for children should be agreed in the spirit of co-parenting and protecting the best interests of children. Remember that it is the right of children to have access to and a relationship with both parents. Children should not be involved in a dispute between parents and ideally should know as little as possible about the dispute. Certainly they should never be pawns in the dispute. Family breakdown is extraordinarily difficult for children and whatever problems exist between couples, children should be spared additional trauma to the full extent possible.
- Find out your rights. These will vary depending on whether or not you were married to your partner, whether you have children together and the circumstances of your relationship if not married. For example, a father will be a guardian of children born during his marriage to their mother but if not married will need to take steps to become a guardian. The level of financial support one partner might have to provide the other will depend on relationship and financial status. This can be a complex area so it is important to provide full and detailed information to a solicitor who can then advise you. Before meeting a solicitor it is a useful exercise to sit down and write out a detailed statement with as much information and important dates as possible.
- Be prepared. Family law court cases are often lengthy, expensive and stressful. You might qualify for legal aid, which will help with the financial expense. However, depending on the type of case you have, you should be prepared for reasonably lengthy court procedures and, if you cannot reach agreement with your partner, court appearances which can be stressful and upsetting. You should be aware of this from the outset: it is never worth arguing points for the sake of it or as a “matter of principle”. Don’t allow yourself to get bogged down in old arguments which are no longer relevant. Decide what is important and necessary for you and take advice on how it can be achieved.