By Simon D Dippenaar

Divorce…dignity…peaceful…three words that rarely appear in the same sentence

Divorce is anything but peaceful and even the most graceful of us can behave in very undignified ways when we feel hurt and angry, two emotions that characterise divorcing or separating couples.

But it IS possible to divorce peacefully, and you’ll find that all parties benefit from an amicable process.

In my experience as a divorce lawyer I have observed and supported many couples through the trauma of divorce. Without exception contested divorces, or those that are acrimonious and hostile, leave the deepest scars, not only on the couple involved but also on any children of the union and even on other family members.

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While you may be filled with anger, resentment and pain, allowing those feelings to dictate your behaviour will only exacerbate and prolong the agony.

While you may be filled with anger, resentment and pain, allowing those feelings to dictate your behaviour will only exacerbate and prolong the agony

Why divorce with dignity?

Quite apart from sparing yourself as much emotional turmoil as possible (the whole event is emotionally turbulent, but a protracted settlement makes it infinitely worse), there are very tangible reasons for effecting an amicable split.

1. Most importantly, if you have children, you will safeguard their well-being

Hostilities between parents are very difficult for children to process, because they love you both. Even if one partner has wronged the other (e.g. been unfaithful), children won’t understand these adult issues and will only be confused by the antagonism between you. And they are very likely to misinterpret the situation and think they are somehow to blame.

A spin-off benefit is that your children will learn from your example how to manage anger and treat others kindly, even in the face of conflict.

2. In a non-contested divorce you and your spouse have control over the terms of your settlement

While you may prefer to let the court decree the stipulations of the divorce, feeling that your spouse will be more likely to adhere to the conditions, in the long run you will both be better off with a mediated, agreed resolution.

3. If you value your privacy, you certainly don’t want your personal affairs and intimate details dragged through the mud of the courts.

4. It’s cheaper! And it’s faster, so you are able to get on with the rest of your life sooner.

How?

Divorcing peacefully when you really want to cut your spouse’s heart out with a spoon is easier said than done. It requires maturity and self-control; but often the easiest way is to keep the bigger picture in mind. If you have children, constantly remind yourself of benefit no. 1 above.

With every conflict that arises, ask yourself what resolution is in the best interests of the children. If you don’t have children, remind yourself that every hurt you inflict on your partner will rebound on you. If you want to emerge from the divorce relatively unscathed, it’s important that your partner does so as well.

That said…

Peaceful does not mean pushover. Dignity does not mean doing whatever it takes at your own expense to avoid confrontation or conflict. There is nothing dignified in demeaning yourself and nothing peaceful about feeling you have compromised on your own needs and rights.

You and your spouse may disagree on the best approach to childcare or the division of assets; and you may not necessarily reach a stage of friendly agreement.

Hopefully you will one day be friends, but that may never happen. Divorcing with dignity means calmly asserting your position on the issues, being prepared to listen to the other, and reaching a mutually acceptable solution as adults. It means being prepared to put the past behind you, hurts included, both of you moving forward with your self-respect intact.

Take care of yourselves

Don’t underestimate the impact of divorce on your emotional state, and on that of your partner. Many recently divorced people experience sadness and depression both during and after the divorce proceedings. This is a natural response to an emotionally traumatic experience.

Your lawyer will assist you through the legal process and may well be a key source of support to you, but if you are feeling overwhelmed by the feelings associated with your divorce, seek out a professional counsellor, psychologist or therapist to help you come to terms with the grief and anger you are experiencing. Divorce is a form of loss, and grief is a normal reaction to loss.

It may be hard, but try if you can to extend the same compassion to your spouse. They are also grieving. Even if they initiated the divorce, they will still mourn the loss. It may be that they were living with depression and anxiety long before the marriage reached crisis point, and unbeknownst to you that may have been the cause. Not everyone is able to share their pain even with the person closest to them.

If you can view each other as two individuals who are hurting, regardless of who caused the pain, you will be able to act with much more empathy and benevolence than if you adopt the role of the wounded, wronged party

If you can view each other as two individuals who are hurting, regardless of who caused the pain, you will be able to act with much more empathy and benevolence than if you adopt the role of the wounded, wronged party. Ultimately, your generosity of spirit will inspire your spouse to treat you similarly.

We’re here to help

We can support you through divorce proceedings and help you move on to the next stage of your life as quickly as possible. If you would like to talk to someone in confidence, give Simon a call on 087 550 2740 or 076 116 0623 or email [email protected].

SD Law & Associates are experts in divorce and family law. For more information on divorce in South Africa, see Types of Divorce in South Africa and for more information on mediation, see Divorce Mediation on our website.