There’s plenty of advice to be found on the logistics and practicalities of divorce, but what if your spouse is difficult to communicate with, emotionally manipulative, or keeps adding complications every which way you turn?
Managing the antagonistic side of divorce is where you really need an experienced and supportive solicitor by your side. Not only can they advise you on the best way to manage your spouse’s behaviour, but your solicitor can be responsible for the majority of direct communication, ensuring that you stay focused on the legal aspects of negotiations as possible without getting detailed by mind games and manipulations. Let us be the bad guy – especially if your spouse has narcissistic tendencies and tries to convince you that they know more about the process than you do. Simply tell them that you are deferring to the professionals and let us deal with them…
Communicating calmly and productively is the key to any divorce, but is particularly important for situations where one party is being difficult and argumentative. Managing expectations and setting boundaries early on can help to show your spouse that unnecessary antagonism, threats and rudeness will not be tolerate and encourage them to temper their behaviour and act in a professional manner. Their own solicitor should also really be encouraging them to behave, as deliberately causing delays or complications could result in penalisation if your case ends up in court.
If your spouse is being manipulative, aggressive, threatening or bullying, it is entirely reasonable for you to request that all communication to do with the divorce comes through legal channels only. Ask that requests or questions are put in writing – eg: by text or email – so there is a paper trail if your spouse goes back on what they’ve said or tries to claim something that isn’t true. (And if you feel that you or your family are in any danger please do not hesitate to seek help and support.)
Non-confrontational approaches like mediation, arbitration and the long-awaited option for no fault divorce (due to come into effect this autumn) can really help to minimise animosity as these techniques focus on collaboration and a mutually positive outcome rather than who’s to blame. But even if you do end up taking your divorce to court, focusing on the outcome and not the cause of separation should always the key. Trying to ‘punish’ your spouse via negotiations is a fruitless and time-wasting pursuit, and personal attacks do not belong in the discussion. Keeping things as logistical and business-like as possible is not only the most effective way to get through the process, but also helps to avoid any personal jabs your spouse throws your way.
When it comes to setting out details of unreasonable behaviour (if you are the Petitioner), your solicitor can help you to word things in a non-confrontational way, focusing on irrefutable facts rather than potentially inflammatory accusations. It’s also worth noting (and passing on to your difficult spouse) that the reasons for divorce rarely affect the financial outcome. The only instance in which this might happen is if one party’s behaviour is particularly difficult and disruptive during the divorce process itself, in which case they may be required to pay legal fees to atone for wasting the court’s time.
If you are anticipating that this might be an area for contention, you may want to consider waiting until the autumn of 2021 to apply for a no fault divorce as the new process will remove the need to state blame-based grounds and allow couples to simply acknowledge the ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of a marriage instead. In addition, no fault divorce will also remove the ability for one party to contest a divorce petition, reducing one more hurdle for contention and encouraging couples to focus on moving forward in the most practical way possible.
Ultimately, the goal in any separation is to get through the process as amicably and productively as possible. That means trying to come to an agreement without the need for further litigation and deciding on a fair settlement that takes into account both parties’ needs and circumstances. And, if there are children involved, it also means putting their well-being at the centre of every decision you make.
If you suspect your spouse may be difficult to deal with during the divorce process, get in touch with our friendly family law team for more advice and guidance. We can help to minimise the stress of the whole process, support you in productive communication with your spouse, and take some of the weight off your shoulders.