When celebrities divorce, it makes for big headlines. Since Johnny Depp and Amber Heard announced their intention to split a few weeks ago, the most private aspects of their life together has been played out in public and open for examination by the media and online commentators.
With court documents detailing lavish lifestyles and counter-accusations of drug taking and abuse, the proceedings look set to secure many more headlines as they unfold.
By contrast, BBC2’s TV latest series, Mr & Mrs: Call the Mediator, shows a different side to divorce, with negotiated outcomes, as couples are helped through the separation of their finances and childcare arrangements outside the courts.
Every relationship breakdown is painful, especially when children are involved, but with all of us living ever more public lives, played out on social media, what may have a significant impact on the process is the way that couples conduct themselves through their Twitter thoughts or Instagram images.
The Depp/Heard divorce started with a war of words and flying accusations. It would be hard not to know what was going on between the couple, with their pictures splashed across front pages in both the print and online media.
As I write, the headlines are focused on another ‘divorce’: that of the UK’s split with Europe, and emotions are running high, as with the break-up of any long term relationship.
It’s a thorny issue, but it’s fair to assume that the majority, whatever their voting preference, will be hoping that any withdrawal by the UK from the EU will be approached in a positive spirit, to achieve the best possible negotiated outcome.
It’s an attitude that can make the difference for couples and their families too. The Children and Families Act 2014 says that before a separating couple can ask a court to sort things out for them, they must consider using mediation.
The BBC2 series Mr & Mrs shows that it’s not plain sailing, even with experienced and impartial mediation, but it gives a good idea of how it all works. Many people reject mediation if they are concerned about having to face their ex; perhaps they fear they’ll be intimidated, but it’s a flexible process and you don’t have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. If you want, you can have a legal adviser with you, to help put your case.
The big difference between going to court and mediation is that a judge has much wider discretion and does not have to come up with a solution where both sides are happy. Mediation can give more control over the outcome as each side can keep on negotiating, until an agreeable compromise is reached.
As we live ever more public lives, played out on social media, reliving some of the pain of divorce is the way that couples conduct themselves through their Twitter thoughts or Instagram images.
The privacy risks around social media should be obvious: one has only to look at the chatter around recent celebrity injunctions. But for some people, translating that into their own day-to-day lives does not seem to be so obvious. It may be hard to maintain privacy in this always-on, digital world, but re-thinking how you use social media when you’re going through a break-up should be a priority – not just for your own peace of mind, as where children are involved, it’s even more important.
Just type “divorce and social media” into a search engine and you’ll find millions of results, covering everything from advice to academic research. The use of social media is even given as the reason that people separate, whether because of discovery of illicit affairs or because of postings made by a partner.
There are all sorts of simple things you can do to avoid becoming drawn into damaging dialogues with your ex or upsetting each other by showing what is happening in the new life you are each living.
First, it’s a good idea to break all links and connections with your ex on each site you use. Check your settings to be sure that your profile is set to private and that you can’t be tagged by friends in newly posted pictures so you’re not sharing with your ex. You may be drawn to see what is happening with your former partner, and they with you, but it’s unlikely to help the process of moving on.
And think carefully before you post, so you avoid posting anything in anger or to try and score against your ex. Remember that once it’s out there, it’s in the public domain and can be seen by family, children, and even by a judge, if things come to court. It’s sometimes easy to imagine you are just ‘talking’ to close friends and followers when you post, but these are public platforms with a world-wide audience.
In the EU referendum aftermath, those in a relationship where one is a national of another EU country, may be wondering what is going to happen in future if their marriage suffers a break-down. But for now, there’s no change, while the UK remains a member of the EU. It’s likely there will be changes ahead, but those will be revealed as we progress through the lengthy negotiations that will be required.
For now, let’s focus on how sparring can be turned into conciliation and positive outcomes.