The BBC drama "The Split" which follows the lives of the Defoe family, some of whom are English family lawyers, has been binge-watched by many. It has raised, what can for some separating couples feel like the Holy Grail: a 'good divorce'. But what does this really mean, and how can you have one?

What is a 'good divorce'?

I would say that a good divorce is one where financial and any child-related matters are resolved fairly and amicably between the spouses so that they are able to get on well with each other in the future. This is particularly important when they have children. 

Another key element of a good divorce is protecting the children from any conflict between their parents and ensuring that their needs are central to the decision-making. After a good divorce I would expect that parents and children will be able to communicate well and even attend family events together such as sports days, prizegiving ceremonies, graduations or weddings. A 'good divorce' can often be less costly for the separating couple, as being able to resolve matters amicably usually avoids going to court.

How can you have a 'good divorce'?

1. Get your heart in order as well as your head

Legal advice isn't the only advice you should consider – counsellors can provide emotional support or divorce coaches can provide vital guidance that can help stop you from making rash decisions or saying things in the heat of the moment that you could regret later in the process.

2. Imagine your new future

While couples might not know what awaits each of them, what can be useful is for each person to think about their post-divorce future - what they want it to look like and to think practically and realistically about how to get there.

3. Start with an open mind

Don't be too rigid about deal-breakers or requirements. Being unwilling to negotiate or unreasonable on anything is much more likely to lead to a court battle, or to additional conflict and stress.

4. Take legal advice early

Getting early advice from an experienced family lawyer is a good start as it can help you understand your options and what to expect. Lawyers can signpost you to other advisers at an early stage which can actually reduce misunderstandings, friction and costs.

Some couples may be able to cooperate to untangle their lives, their finances and agree on the childcare arrangements without any input from professional advisers but in my experience those situations are rare. Good professional advice is often required to ensure that both parties can make informed decisions. Professional advice can also include financial advisers and parenting experts.

5. Consider court as a last option: Look to mediation or the Collaborative Practice

Collaborative Practice and Family Law Mediation give separating couples the chance to express what is important to them, to listen to each other and put them in charge of the decision-making. In doing so, I often find that communication between the spouses is improved during the process and beyond. By listening and considering the views of the other, they often become more receptive to options they would not otherwise have entertained.

These processes are very different but both have strong potential for achieving a "good divorce". Although there is nothing to prevent a mediator referring either or both clients to a financial adviser or to a coach or counsellor, it is relatively common for other professionals to be involved in Collaborative cases if they are needed. By working with Collaboratively trained family consultants and financial specialists where needed, there can be a strong team providing advice and support to help ease clients through the emotions, practicalities and legalities of their situation.

For any couple, going through a separation and divorce can be physically and emotionally draining and a 'messy' divorce will only prolong that stress. Working with a family lawyer can help guide couples to divorcing as well as they can, allowing them to move forward in a way that reflects their respect for one another.


Lydia McLachlan

Senior Associate