Woolley & Co solicitor Tamara Glanvill gives a very personal view on why parents can do so much to help children through divorce – and beyond – as her mum and dad did.
One of the reasons becoming a divorce lawyer appealed to me is because I had the best teachers. I do not mean my schoolteachers, my university lecturers or even my various supervisors during the course of my training. I mean my parents.
My parents divorced when I was 12. I was, as most 12-year-olds would be, completely devastated. I couldn’t comprehend a world in which my parents were not together and in the 1980s it was perhaps less common than it is nowadays for divorces to take place. I didn’t have anybody to compare myself to so I just felt sorry for myself. How is this going to affect me? That selfish response must have been the nearly- teenager in me.
I did at least have the chance to voice my concerns and worries – and my parents listened. After all, the divorce was happening to all of us. Rather than protecting us from the reality and consequences, we all talked about it. We asked (what I now see were) difficult questions and my parents answered as best they could, whilst protecting us from knowing any detail which may have changed our views about either parent.
Upon realising that it was likely that all three children would live with my mum, much as I loved my mum (and still do!), I couldn’t quite understand why nobody would live with dad and that seemed grossly unfair. I worried that he would feel lonely. I suggested that I would go and live with my dad. That seemed a sensible solution to my 12-year-old self – it was however not practicable and did not happen, but at least I understood why and dad knew that we were worried about him.
I still see so many couples trying to protect their children by not telling them what is happening – it is confusing for the children when there is so much change and no explanation. There are fabulous resources available for separating families now, aimed at children and adults navigating this very difficult phase.
The reality was, in fact, that there were many things in my life that improved after my parents separated. There were no more arguments, when we saw our dad we had the best of times, we had extra holidays, we were spoiled, our family grew to include wonderful step-parents and both my parents were happier. There were no awkward discussions around wedding table seating plans and which grandparent would meet their grandchild first, and my parents continued to speak regularly, throughout our childhood and indeed beyond. They remained friends and they recognised their shared commitment to their children meant that they needed to have a good relationship.
My mother regularly reminded my father to send birthday cards, and papered over his occasional failings by reminding us how much he loved us. We were never in doubt. I don’t recall ever having heard her say a negative word about him, or vice versa. My mother did not appoint a lawyer for the divorce proceedings or negotiations, trusting that my father would do the right thing for her and therefore by us.
I have no doubt that things would have been very different if my parents had been different people. I have spent the last 18 years as a divorce lawyer observing at close quarters, the very complicated dynamics that my 12-year-old self did not see. But increasingly I see people, much as my parents, who want to separate without unravelling all that went before and to remain on reasonable terms for the benefit of their children. It may be that I attract those clients as a collaborative lawyer, but it also may be that my own experience informs my advice.
Divorce lawyers can get very bad press, at worst accused of picking over the carrion of other people’s disastrous relationships. That is not how I see our role. I see our role as guiding clients through the legal aspects of separation without allowing emotion to determine the decision-making.
When my father died last year, in the period of his illness, he would regularly call my mother to tell her what was happening before he then spoke to each of his children in turn so that she could support us in coming to terms with what was happening. She went out of her way to ease the path for us and for him. They were continuing to co-parent three children who were all in their 40s – and we still needed it.
I realise that this is perhaps sounds an idealised version of a perfect divorce, but it is what happened and if I can use that as my benchmark for what could work for other people when they are faced with the same difficult decisions in their own relationships, it might make my client’s and their and children’s experiences of divorce a little less daunting. Putting children first in divorce would make it better for all involved.
Family law solicitor, Bedford