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What should you do if your spouse is behaving unreasonably during divorce negotiations?

Very often, divorce can entail an emotionally strenuous experience which, in turn, can make the proceedings particularly stressful for the parties involved. It is also not uncommon for proceedings to become acrimonious, with many sensitive factors at play such as deciding on child and financial arrangements for the future. Fortunately, however, there exist methods of helping you to avoid - or at least minimise – the occurrence of any unreasonable behaviour and emotional turmoil so that you and your spouse can engage in positive and constructive proceedings.

How should I communicate with my spouse?

The way in which the parties communicate with one another throughout the divorce process is hugely important, not only in terms of ensuring constructive discussion but also because this is key to reducing unreasonable behaviour.

Practise empathy and patience

Practising empathy and patience can improve any interactions you might have with your spouse as these qualities can equip you with a greater understanding of your spouses perspective and the reasons for why they might be reacting or responding in a negative way. This can, in turn, help you to respond in a way that is more sensitive and less likely to provoke an even greater disagreement or chain of reaction, while also encouraging your partner to reflect on their own words and actions in return.

Be open

Being open with your partner can help to advance the proceedings a lot more swiftly, thereby reducing any opportunity for you or your spouse to stir up lengthy and costly litigation.  While honest communication can be daunting at first, in the long run it ensures that your needs and feelings can be better addressed by your partner before its too late. Leaving things unannounced to ruminate or simply dodging the issue very often leads to unreleased tension that can pile up and lead to conflict. It can also help you and your partner to find some common ground, come to a compromise or even, potentially, strengthen your relationship with one another going forward. This is especially important if the two of you will need to co-parent successfully in future.

Be clear

Another good approach to take is to ensure that your thoughts are clear and supported by relevant information when negotiating. As is the case with honest communication, being clear when corresponding with the other side mitigates the possibility of any misunderstanding, thereby allowing you to avoid any unnecessary conflict that could stem from this. In this vein, it is strongly recommended that you obtain good legal support to assist you in forming your arguments to ensure that they are clear but also fair and so likely to be accepted by the other side.

Keep contact minimal

If relations are particularly acrimonious between you and your ex-partner, and any communication – however civil – only seems to aggravate matters, you should aim to limit any contact that you have with your partner as much as possible. Reducing face to face contact and using other forms of communication where possible can help reduce conflict. This allows you periods to cool off throughout the process and, as such, can avoid any provocation or irrational reactions. Very often, solicitors can take on most of the communication to minimise this contact between the parties directly if this makes the process more amicable.

Alternative dispute resolution

Court proceedings can be stressful and can therefore increase any conflict between the parties. However, divorces can be resolved without going to court, and many cases are finalised through Alternative Dispute Resolution or ADR, for example:

  • Mediation, in which parties attend meetings with an independent impartial and qualified third party. This individual is trained to assist the parties in overcoming any dispute and, hopefully, guide negotiations towards a solution.
  • Arbitration
  • Collaboration
  • Solicitor-led negotiations

What should I say to my children?

Children are, very often, in the frontline of their parents disagreements. This can make acrimonious divorce proceedings extremely difficult not only for you and your spouse, but for your children too, whose welfare should otherwise remain a priority throughout. An effective way to approach this situation (especially with an unreasonable spouse) is to be mindful. Having any altercations aired out in front, or within earshot, of the children can at times be unavoidable, but do make a conscious effort to minimise the chances of this happening. This might mean taking calls from your spouse in a quiet, separate room, or reducing any in-person contact only to mediation sessions and/or more private conditions external to the home. Where this is not possible, for example your spouse is turning up unannounced or you need to continue residing together, try communicating with them to ascertain some of the risks and boundaries that need to be put in place.

What can I personally do to improve my spouses behaviour?

It is impossible for parties to always agree on everything, even in happy marriages. Perception is everything in divorce and hoping for an entirely non-contentious procedure is often unrealistic. It is also important to appreciate that anger is a natural part of grief, and divorce is a process which everyone will deal with, and respond to, in their own unique way.

Divorce is, namely, about ensuring that both parties can have a stable and happy future independent of one another, and so mulling over the past – or even what is said in the present – can be upsetting and unproductive.  

It is also upsetting and unproductive to try to change your spouses response, even if it is unreasonable. Understand that the best and most constructive thing that you can do is to focus on yourself and your reaction. You can educate someone, but you cannot change them – this is something only your spouse has control of.

The impact of conduct

Last but certainly not least: it is important for you and your spouse to understand that conduct is very unlikely to have any impact on the children or financial arrangements made during the divorce process. Therefore, any inappropriate, offensive or unreasonable behaviour will make no difference to the outcome in these situations, unless it is truly exceptional.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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