Life after divorce – A rough guide

Originally published on 25th November 2020 at 2:57 PM
Reading time: 9 mins
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I can remember the anti-climax of getting my final decree at the end of my divorce. I opened the decree absolute and stared at the bit of paper. I was completely underwhelmed by the event of ‘being divorced’, whilst being totally overwhelmed with my life at that precise moment.

My single-parent, divorced-women life no longer overwhelms me (most of the time and not counting COVID!) but its not been an easy journey.

There’s lots of advice out there about how to move past your divorce or what you ‘should do’ when it comes to navigating life after divorce.

For many of us, we’re not able to hear or receive that kind of information when it’s given – however, well-meaning the narrator. Like so many things in life, timing is everything.

So, maybe don’t read this blog like that… save it somewhere so you can read it bit by bit when you’re ready. Ignore the stuff that grates and take what you can and pay it forward.

And before you hate me for looking smug or appearing to have everything sorted – I didn’t get it right, it took me ages, many mistakes were (and still are) made and some of what comes next is from the school of ‘do as I say; not as I do/did’.

I’ve tried to pull together the best of what I did right and wrong and some of things I’ve learnt from working with amazing divorcing couples over the years… I hope something helps.

Don’t reinvent yourself, don’t take up yoga (yet) sort the basic stuff first

Julia Roberts may have ‘eaten, prayed and loved’, but for most of us there are some more fundamental things to sort out when life no longer follows the expected path.

The real basic thing to sort in this brave new world is adjusting to your new financial reality. This means maximising the cash you have coming in and making a budget.

When you’re in control you have more chance of affording to do/buy the things that are important to you and your family.

Whether you are the parent paying maintenance or the one receiving it, you’ll be living on less than before, so you need to change how you spend money. If you’ve never budgeted before this will be the best thing you ever do… honestly.

1. Work out what you are spending.

Go through banks statements (easy online) and make a list of every direct debit and standing order you have.

Work out where your money goes. Set yourself a month-long project, get and keep every receipt for cash payments. Invest the time to do this properly – it will pay dividends.

Write this down and create a simple spreadsheet. Use this information to make a budget… and then practice sticking to it.

It may take a while but like all successful habits… it will take an average of 66 days to start to work.

2. Audit yourself.

Be ruthless on what you spend your money on. My biggest thing was the weekly shop – I went to that very best of green-branded supermarkets, I never went with a list, I bought whatever we ‘needed’ and I went as many times as I remembered things we needed.

The top-up shops doubled my weekly spend and crippled me. I now only buy special treats from the supermarket, I plan meals and go to a less upmarket supermarket once a week with a list.

You will have your ‘thing’ - find it and sort it!

3. Switch everything

Mortgage, car insurance, home insurance, energy bills, credit cards.

Don’t let anything auto renew…Go and look on Martin Lewis’ lovely website for advice of the specifics.

4. Save something

Even if its £20 a month. Make saving a habit. Bank it on pay day. The easiest time to increase your saving is when you get a pay rise/new job. Bank the difference straight away.

5. Claim any benefits due to you.

Do you qualify for child benefit now you’re not a double-income household? Universal Credit? Have you applied for single person council tax reduction?

I remember I went to the Citizen’s Advice (for something unrelated) and found out I qualified for a clothing grant for when my youngest child started primary school. It made a massive difference to me at the time.

Sort your co-parenting relationship out

Step one sorts out the practical stuff – now the heart stuff. One of the biggest adjustments you and your ex will need to make is the transition from parent to co-parent. My transition has been (and continues to be) anything but smooth.

However, there are some amazing parents out there who demonstrate that this can be done… and that doesn’t mean having to be in each other’s’ lives all the time or be best friends.

1. Conceptualise this as a new and different relationship.

This is not you and your partner anymore. This is two people with a shared interest in their children. Break with the past, ditch the old habits, the old ways of talking to each other… re-frame the relationship.

I think of it as a working relationship. One where there needs to be a slight distance, level of formality and an understanding neither of us has unilateral rights. Things need to be negotiated and discussed.

But the good thing is we both want the best for our children. I try and remember that when things are difficult. I tell myself we are arguing about how best to execute the goal (bringing up our children), not the goal itself.

2. Document the big stuff in a parenting plan. Set up a way to review either formally or informally and accept that things will usually change very rapidly as kids grow and timetables change so don’t get hung up on sticking rigidly to something that was agreed months ago.

The key is to find a system that provides stability for your children and flexibility to accommodate their changing needs

3. This is one time to ignore the numbers By that I’m talking about the percentage of their time the children spend with each of you. What matters is that the children have a good quality relationship with you both and enjoy the time they spend with you.

Don’t get hung up on calculating care patterns by the percentage of time – create something that works for them and you.

4. Give each other to be the space to be the parent they want to be There is no single right way to parent – so if your partner parents differently don’t create tension by expecting them to do things the same as you.

Provided no genuine harm is being done allow each other space to parent and make mistakes… nobody’s parents are perfect (therapists would be out of a job if they were!)

5. That said – maintain a united front! Children can be slippery little devils – and need to know they are safe and contained and this means providing some consistency of approach when it comes to backing each other up on matters of discipline or values.

Sort differences out privately and don’t involve the children – they really hate it and it really hurts them.

If possible, plan for the big milestones like new partners, new siblings etc. Having a conversation in advance without a date or event looming is likely to go better than having it in the heat of the unfolding issue.

Now do the yoga and re-invent yourself (or eat, pray, love)

My background is counselling psychology so not surprisingly I’ve done quite a bit of therapy and in various different forms.

There have been many times when its simply been too expensive to engage with and other times when it’s been so necessary that the cost of not doing it would have been disastrous.

There is free therapy out there – you have to look hard, get on a list and wait and wait. GP waiting lists often are long, but charities can help, and many workplaces now offer some short-term therapeutic options in their benefits packages.

Private therapists do offer reduced rates for those on a lower income. The BACP website (searchable by postcode and problem type) is a good place to start.

What I’ve learnt though is that there are a million different ways to help support the journey we are on, many of which are free but all of which require just one thing… a commitment (both mentally and in time).

1. Carve out some time for you Yes, I know when you are juggling work and kids it feels impossible to do this but I’m not talking about talking a whole days out on the golf course or at the local spa.

Start with something small, maybe 20 minutes each day just to sit and meditate, do a few yoga positions, or walk or play something you haven’t listened to for a while.

This is much harder when your kids are small but that’s what bathrooms and sheds are for (yes I have sat in the shed just to hide from mine before for a few precious minutes – note: also a good place to cry/scream into a cushion - delete as appropriate - if you need to).

2. Surround yourself with a variety of friends Sure it’s good to normalise single parent living for your kids and hang out with single parent mates – not least you so you don’t have to explain taking coffee in a flask and packing a picnic vs going the very expensive cute onsite café at which ever attraction you’re visiting.

BUT… if all you talk about is your divorce and your single parent woes your life will become these things. Spending time with friends where it doesn’t matter who’s single, divorced, dating, having a rough marital patch or a relationship-renaissance is fabulous.

Learning not to become the centre of every conversation and being there for your friends and their troubles is a good thing and will help you recover more quickly – what you focus on in your life gets bigger so be careful where your conversation turns.

Try the Frolo app (the single parent app) if you want support from a community of single parents who understand what you're going through.

3. Learn to be on your own This can be tricky if you haven’t lived alone before or are not used to doing things on your own. If you are sharing the care of your children, then pretty quickly you’ll be facing a whole weekend stretching ahead of you with nothing planned.

I’ve tried various things but the ones that have stuck for me are learning to play football and joining a women’s team (never kicked a football before in my life until I divorced) and cycling.

A mix of things that I can do alone – no pressure, no need to rely on anyone and some comradery and an outlet for my competitive spirit. In the early days I practiced eating out alone (without staring at my phone) and I still love going to the cinema alone.

I found points one and three easier than point two. And starting a business helped with point one immeasurably. By putting these stakes in the ground, I think I planted a solid framework for my new life to wrap itself around.

I didn’t have to rip everything up – nothing so dramatic, but I made changes that made me feel good about myself and that have become life-long habits and helped me adjust to my life after divorce.

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