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Helen Noble

Associate Solicitor - Sevenoaks

4th October 2016

Life lessons from headline breakdowns

Watching others acting out the ending of a marriage on a public stage can provide a valuable lesson on how to ‘uncouple’ with least pain. 

Whether fiction or fact, marriage breakdown issues have been stealing more than their fair share of headlines in recent weeks.

BBC Radio 4 listeners tuned in to hear revelations about the oppressive relationship endured by Helen Titchener in the Archers storyline.  In celebrity news, the announcements by Angelina Jolie and Zoe Ball have resulted in many column inches of speculation and rumour.

It may seem like coincidence, but post-summer is a peak for relationship breakdown, a close second to so-called ‘divorce day’ in early January.  According to divorce professionals, it’s often the result of families being forced into each other’s company during holidays, whether on the beach or around the Christmas tree, with those in fragile relationships finding the extra strain too much.

Although high profile cases may seem a world away from reality, according to the professionals it’s worth trying to learn lessons from them, if your relationship is going through hard times and the ending of that relationship seems inevitable.

The Pitt-Jolie divorce has the potential of a bitter battle, with Jolie seeking to secure sole custody of the couple’s six children.  Apparently, the divorce petition was revealed to Pitt just hours before the papers were filed with the court, and the world was aflame with the news.  In stark contrast is the muted note of the joint statement put out by Zoe Ball and DJ husband Norman Cook, best known by his stage name Fat Boy Slim.  They spoke of their sadness and promised to support each other and to raise their children together.

Family law expert Helen Noble of Sevenoaks based solicitors Rix & Kay said:  “It’s always a sad situation when a couple separates, but avoiding anger, managing emotion and making a conscious decision to work towards co-operation from the outset can help reduce the pain of break-up, especially when children are involved.

“Under the Children and Families Act 2014, a separating couple must consider using mediation before they can ask the Court to make a decision, whether about their children or their financial arrangements.  Resolving arrangements through mediation can be less costly and quicker than using the Court process.

She added: “One advantage the Jolie-Pitts have is that they are able to apply for an immediate no-fault divorce without proving wrong-doing or placing blame on one partner.  That’s not available here, and having to ascribe blame to get a swift divorce can fan the flames, by stirring up grievances to make a case.  Again, seeking agreement and avoiding nasty surprises can help.  There must be sufficient reason for the divorce, but the bare facts are usually enough, without the detail.”

Unlike California, divorce without apportioning blame is allowed in England and Wales only after a two-year separation.  Many separating couples wish to have their financial arrangements settled before the end of two years living apart.  As a result, spouses are likely to resort to alleging the other’s behaviour is unreasonable or that there has been adultery to get a speedier divorce.

Coming together to work in a collaborative way, or attending mediation, is not always possible, particularly in cases of domestic abuse, such as that portrayed by the fictional Titchener characters in Radio 4’s Ambridge.  As Helen explained: “The storyline in the Archers, is a more complex one.  The issue of with whom a child should live has been portrayed in a series of court hearings, highlighting the dilemmas involved in ensuring a child spends time with both its parents, in such situations.  Clearly it would be difficult for the parents to sit down and work things out together.  Where there has been domestic abuse, a couple would not be required to attend mediation together.

“Importantly, this story has depicted a situation that reflects the new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships, which became law earlier this year under the Serious Crime Act 2015.  It’s a criminal offence, quite separate to any action for divorce, although such conduct could be the grounds to end a marriage, if used as evidence of unreasonable behaviour”.

If you would like to discuss divorce, mediation, arrangements for your children at the end of a relationship or financial arrangements at the end of a marriage, civil partnership or a cohabiting relationship, please contact Helen Noble, solicitor in our Family department on 01732 448164 or emailing

Web site content note:
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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