Relationship breakups are incredibly difficult, especially if you’ve been together for a long time, are married, or have children1.
Even if all of these things are true, it’s still possible to have an amicable divorce. Importantly, working towards an amicable divorce often gives the best outcomes for everyone; you, your spouse, and your children.
In this article, we’re going to look at the benefits of an amicable divorce and what steps you can take to have the most amicable divorce you can. None of us are perfect, and it’s almost inevitable that you will have some acrimonious parts of your divorce. That’s ok. You still use these tips to get you back on track and working toward a healthier parting.
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An amicable divorce is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s when you separate or divorce while still being at least cordial to each other. This generally means that you’re still able to talk to each other and you might be able to work together to find solutions to some of your problems.
Typically, an amicable divorce doesn’t have the same levels of anger and betrayal as you might expect. That doesn’t mean that you don’t feel angry or that there wasn’t some betrayal involved in the end of your relationship. It just means that your divorce is characterized by collaboration more than argument.
Often, people who have an amicable divorce have been able to remember some of the things that they liked about their spouse in the first place. When you remember their kindness, generosity, or sense of humor, it’s harder to see them as the “enemy” in your divorce.
Keeping your divorce amicable is usually the less painful option. It might feel satisfying to shout and scream at your ex, but it probably won’t help you to heal. An amicable divorce is usually significantly faster than one in which you argue over every little detail, which lets you move on sooner.
It’s also definitely the best option if you have children. However angry you might be with your ex, you are going to have to work with them to find the best way forward for your children. If they think that their parents hate each other, they will probably feel more unsettled and insecure2.
An amicable divorce shows them that, although things have changed, their parents are still united in loving them.
An amicable divorce tends to lead to a fair distribution of money and assets in the long run. You can both talk honestly about what you want and why you think it’s justified. It can also save you money. Talking to each other directly can save a lot on legal fees.
If you have to sell assets, an amicable divorce can allow you to wait until the best time to sell, allowing you to secure the best price.
Having an amicable divorce is usually the best kind of divorce, but it’s not always possible. If your marriage involved abusive or coercive control, it is usually best to seek professional advice from the start. Without effective support, your spouse can use the divorce process to continue their abuse3.
Having an amicable divorce is usually the ideal type of breakup, but you’re probably going to have to work hard to make it happen. Here are the most important steps you can take to keep your divorce as cooperative as possible.
Having a long-term relationship breakdown is emotionally difficult, even if you’re the one who instigated the breakup. You’re likely to have a wide range of different feelings. You might be feeling like your identity (maybe as “wife”) is being threatened. You probably feel insecure and worried about what the future will bring.
These feelings are real and they’re important, but they’re not going to help you have a better divorce. Working with a therapist to deal with those feelings can help prevent them from coming through and making your divorce more difficult than it needs to be.
If possible, give them space to process their feelings as well. Divorce proceedings are emotionally draining even in the best of circumstances so don’t try to rush each other through it. Be honest about times when you might need a break from all the paperwork and negotiations, and give them that same grace.
Trying to rush your spouse through a divorce will usually just lead them to dig their heels in and will often mean the whole process takes even longer.
You probably know the old saying. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” This isn’t bad advice if you’re aiming for a peaceful divorce. This isn’t just about being nice to their face. Obviously, you might need to vent from time to time but generally try to be polite both to and about them.
If you talk your ex down to mutual friends, they’ll almost certainly hear about it eventually. That’s only going to damage your trust in each other.
Being polite is especially important if you have children. Talking your spouse down to your children is not ok.
It might sound obvious, but tell them that you’re filing for divorce before you do it. Even if you’ve been separated for a few years, having divorce paperwork appear through the post unexpectedly is enough to put anyone off their breakfast.
You want to feel like you’re a team with your ex, working together to get through the divorce process as unscathed as possible so try working together from the start.
It might be hard at the start, especially if your divorce is coming quickly after the end of your marriage, but try to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt sometimes. It’s really difficult to convince them to trust you if they don’t feel as though you trust them in return4.
Start from the basis that you’re going to trust what they say, but don’t turn off your better judgment. If you’re listing assets and they forget to include something once, you might assume that it was a mistake. If it happens repeatedly, they might not deserve your trust.
You might still want to get some legal advice to protect yourself, but be wary of people who tell you that you’re entitled to more than you expect. Don’t try to focus just on how much you can get. Consider the effect on your ongoing relationship before you decide whether it’s worth it.
The divorce process really isn’t there to punish your spouse for bad behavior such as infidelity. It’s a system to try to distribute the marital assets as fairly as possible, taking into account differences in future earning potential, needs, and who takes responsibility for dependents.
If you can remove feelings of blame or punishment from your thinking around your divorce, you’ll probably find it easier to keep everything amicable.
If it feels like your amicable divorce is taking a long time, it’s even more important that you compromise and act in good faith. Being patient in the short term will usually help you avoid even longer delays.
Remember that your amicable divorce is probably also going to be the fastest one. Getting impatient is only going to add legal delays, court dates, and appraisals or valuations to the list of delays.
Be sure about what your aims are, and these ideally shouldn’t include trying to hurt your ex. We’ve already said that divorce decisions aren’t about punishing wrongdoing or making someone “pay” for hurting you. It’s about trying to disentangle your lives as equitably as possible.
Even if there’s a part of you that does want to hurt them, your divorce isn’t the right place to do it. If you want to get past hurts off your chest, it’s probably better to do this by sending them a hurtful letter once the divorce is finalized than it is to incorporate it into a complex legal situation.
It may sound trite, but sometimes the best revenge is to move on and be happy without them.
Try to remember that they haven’t lost all of the wonderful qualities that you admired about them in the first place. You might not trust them the way you used to if they betrayed you, but the person you cared about is probably still there deep down.
Remembering that they’restill the person who looked after you when you got sick or danced with you at your sister’s wedding can help you see them as someone you can work with as you go through your divorce.
Remember that they’re not the enemy. You’re working together to try to achieve a peaceful ending to your marriage. It’s ok to recognize when they do something nice for you and to say thank you.
In a similar vein, try to empathize with how difficult they might be finding some aspects of your breakup. Acknowledge that it’s probably difficult for them as well as you. If they’re struggling with something, let them know that you understand and you recognize the challenge.
Having a strong support network is going to be really important while you’re going through your divorce5. They can be the people you turn to as a sounding board to reassure you that you’re being reasonable, somewhere to vent when you’re angry and a shoulder to cry on when you’re sad.
Unfortunately, close friends often want to see your spouse as the villain in your divorce. Sometimes this is because they think it will make you feel better. Other times it’s because it helps them feel more secure in their own relationships.
Whatever their reasons, having your support network view your spouse as the bad guy can make it harder to keep your divorce amicable. If you spend all of your time surrounded by people who pick apart everything he says or does to find something they can be angry about, it’s hard to remember that he has good qualities too.
Be honest with your friends and loved ones. Tell them that the divorce is hard on both of you but that you’re both working hard to make sure that it’s as easy and amicable as possible.
If someone says something harsh about him, try saying “I appreciate you being angry and wanting to protect me, but that’s not how I see him and it’s not helping me right now. What I’d really like is support for both of us to be kind to each other.”
If they still don’t change how they speak about him, you might need to leave them out of your support network until the divorce is a bit further along.
Almost every piece of relationship advice ever written will tell you to set strong, healthy boundaries, and this article is no exception. Having healthy boundaries is going to be essential in helping you as your relationship with your spouse moves from “life partner” to “amicable ex”6.
Setting these boundaries can be easier said than done. You’re trying to impose boundaries on someone you know intimately and in situations where you have a shared history with completely different boundaries. That difficulty increases exponentially if you have children.
It’s unbelievably hard to set boundaries when your children’s welfare is at stake. How can you tell your spouse that you won’t reply to texts after 9 pm if he messages you to tell you that your child has a fever, for example?
Recognize that your boundaries are going to be complicated. There’s no perfect solution, so be kind to yourself as you try to learn a new set of rules for relating to each other.
Going through a divorce pushes you to focus on the past. You’re thinking about your lost marriage and all of the hopes you used to have for the future. This is understandable, but it’s also causing you pain and encouraging you to focus on your negative thoughts.
Try to stay more positive by thinking of the future. Your divorce isn’t actually about resolving the past. It’s about giving you the opportunity to create a new future for yourself. When you focus on that aspect, it might be easier to work together with your ex.
If you’re trying to negotiate an amicable divorce when you have children, your first priority has to be their emotional well-being. But what can you really do to look after your children’s feelings during your divorce?
Quite a lot, actually. Here are some of the most important tips.
Children thrive on consistency, so try to agree on the rules they’re going to have to follow at both of your houses. You don’t have to agree on all the details, but the big stuff should be the same wherever they go.
You’ll have to decide what counts as “big stuff” for your family. This will often depend on how old your children are and what rules they’re already used to. Some issues that you might want to agree on include:
Smaller rules, such as taking your shoes off indoors or chores, might not need to be agreed upon.
The only time it’s ok to keep a parent away from their children is if there is a genuine safeguarding concern and even then it might be appropriate to look for safe ways to retain contact.
This blanket statement doesn’t apply in cases of domestic abuse. Protecting your child from a predator must always be your first priority, of course. If there was domestic abuse there’s almost no chance that your divorce is going to be amicable anyway. Trying to placate an abuser only hurts you and your children7.
Be aware that parental alienation (where you encourage a child to reject or hate their other parent) is also a form of abuse, albeit an exceptionally rare one8. Whether it goes that far or not, your children should never be manipulated into seeing one parent as the ‘bad’ one or wanting nothing to do with them.
Unless they are genuinely abusive (at which point all bets are off), the best thing for your children is that they see both sides of their family.
Custody arrangements can be difficult to balance and they’ll often be inconvenient to one or both of the adults involved. You might not want to trek across town to hand your child over to your ex for his contact time. Unfortunately, that might be exactly what you have to do.
When you’re making your arrangements, try not to disrupt your child more than you need to. Every changeover will be a little stressful, especially at the beginning9.
Make sure that your custody arrangements don’t mean that they miss out on activities they enjoy. These things will keep them settled. As divorcing parents, you will both need to fit around your child’s needs.
If you’re keeping your divorce amicable, it can be helpful to be relaxed about where clothes, toys, and even electronics stay. Letting your children take their favorite things with them for visits will help them feel secure.
As an adult, you know that your divorce has nothing to do with your children. In fact, you may have stayed with your spouse for longer than you should have to try to protect your kids. The trouble is that children often blame themselves for their parents splitting up, which can leave them feeling guilty and unhappy.
Remind your children that you love them. Tell them that they did nothing wrong and that the problems between you and your spouse were nothing to do with them.
These reassurances alone might not be enough. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and ask them if they have any questions. Giving them space to express their concerns and talk through their worries can help them realize that you really mean what you say.
One of the big benefits of an amicable end to your marriage is that you’re able to talk directly to your spouse, rather than having to discuss problems through your solicitors. You know that talking directly is the best way to resolve problems, so make sure that you resist the temptation to ask your children to pass on information.
Never use your children to pass messages to your spouse, or as a way to vent. If you need to vent, find a friend, family member, or even a helpline rather than your children.
No matter how hard you try to be fair and to keep your relationship amicable, children often feel guilty for still loving their other parent. This isn’t good for anyone involved, but it’s especially harmful to your children. They need to feel free to love their parents and to be loved unconditionally.
Be positive with your children about them spending time with your spouse. Try not to focus on how much you’ll miss them or that you’re sad. Instead, ask them about the fun things they’re going to do and encourage them to have fun.
When you’re trying to make decisions in your divorce, your first question should be “what is going to be best for our children?” Talking openly with your spouse about what your children need and trying to find solutions to best fit their needs will show your children just how much you both care about them. It can even help to keep your divorce amicable.
Remember, as the parent, you’re responsible for your feelings and your children’s.
There’s no set length of time that a divorce will take. It depends on how complex your finances are, the state or country you live in, and many other factors. The only thing you can be sure of is that an amicable divorce is quicker than any other kind.
If possible, an amicable separation from your spouse is better than having to talk through lawyers and arguing over every little detail. Unfortunately, this might not always be possible, especially if your spouse is abusive.
Everyone has their own red lines that tell them that a relationship is over. It could be cheating, financial dishonesty, or simply a lack of emotional connection. Sometimes, it’s your spouse refusing to work on your problems. You’re the only one who can decide whether it can be repaired.
When you’re separating from your spouse, avoid doing anything you wouldn’t want to admit to someone you respect. That might include being dishonest, shouting, cheating, or being deliberately hurtful. Most importantly, don’t do anything that might hurt your children.
Getting divorced is one of the most stressful experiences you can go through, but there are ways to make it easier. Focusing on how to have an amicable divorce can make the process faster, smoother, and less emotionally draining.
How does this fit with your experiences? Do you wish your divorce had been more amicable? What helped you keep talking to your ex, or was it better to get him out of your life as quickly as possible? Let us know in the comments below.
If you found the ideas in this article interesting, why not forward it to a friend? These ideas focus on a divorce, but they can be useful for any long-term relationship that’s coming to an end.