The golden rules of an amicable divorce – as Bill and Melinda Gates split

Divorce can be a famously messy process. But it doesn’t have to be, according to experts.

Liz Connor
Tuesday 04 May 2021 12:32 BST
Cambridge University awards honorary Doctorates
Cambridge University awards honorary Doctorates (PA Archive)
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


After 27 years of marriage, Bill and Melinda Gates have announced they’ve filed for divorce, saying  “we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple”.

“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” they both tweeted.

Although they have called time on their relationship, the billionaire couple appear to be parting on good terms – they say they’ll continue to work together on their charitable foundation.

So, is it possible to ‘uncouple’ in an amicable way? We asked divorce lawyers and experts to give us their top tips for ‘untying the knot’ with less acrimony and expense…

1. Let go of your grievances

The decision to end a relationship can be traumatic, chaotic and difficult to navigate emotionally. This is where access to professional counselling, outside of your divorce proceedings, can really help.

Couple ripping up heart on a piece of paper
Couple ripping up heart on a piece of paper

“The longer you hold onto your grievances against your ex, the harder you will find it to settle matters,” says Samantha Jago, a partner at law firm DMH Stallard. “Don’t use the court arena to perpetuate your grievances; this is a costly, stressful and protracted way to try to reach a resolution. By letting your grievances go, you can move on – not only towards settling your divorce, but to a much more positive place in your life.”

2. Take your time and don’t rush your partner

Sue Andrews, family partner at B P Collins law firm, says that it’s very rare separating parties are in the same emotional place at the beginning of divorce proceedings. “One person may have been thinking about ending the marriage for some time, and this news may come as a complete shock to the other,” she explains.

So it may be better for you and your ex to separate for a while before you overwhelm yourselves with the nitty gritty details of the divorce. “If you don’t give it time and formal steps are pursued with inappropriate haste, a spouse’s feelings may alternate between great sadness and anger, which will usually result in a delay to the divorce process,” she adds.

“This is often because that person feels scared about their uncertain future, rather than a wish to be difficult for its own sake. I rarely meet a client who six months down the line doesn’t feel better, more positive and less entrenched than they did in the dark and grief-stricken days of early separation.”

Unhappy couple in meeting with therapist, psychologist, divorce lawyer or legal consultant. Upset woman and man having fight in therapy session.
Unhappy couple in meeting with therapist, psychologist, divorce lawyer or legal consultant. Upset woman and man having fight in therapy session.

3. Explore your options together

“A common misconception when it comes to divorce is that litigation through the courts is the only option,” adds Grainne Fahy, family law specialist and partner at law firm BLM “In fact, divorce can be settled through many different paths, including negotiation, mediation, arbitration or collaborative divorce.”

Fahy says mediation can help you settle finances, child arrangements and other matters with your ex-partner through a completely neutral third party. Similarly, collaborative divorce sees both parties come together, but rather than an independent mediator overseeing the process, each party’s solicitor joins to negotiate a solution.

“Family arbitration is another option whereby the resolution process happens privately, rather than in court, where an ‘arbitrator’ is appointed to decide the case,” she adds. “‘Out of court’ options are often quicker, cheaper, more flexible and amicable than going through the rigmarole of court litigation, with both partners having their voice heard in a way that is more conducive to a fair settlement.”

4. Pay attention to how you communicate

“Communication problems are routinely cited as a key reason for the unravelling of the relationship,” says Kate Daly, co-founder of the platform Amicable.

Couple talking while sitting at sidewalk cafe
Couple talking while sitting at sidewalk cafe

“It’s really essential to learn, or relearn, effective ways of communicating in order to resolve differences. Try not to interrupt each other, treat each other with respect and take a break if things get heated.”

5. Avoid social media

“My big golden rule is to avoid social media – it’s one of the biggest drivers of family tension and raises the temperature considerably,” says Holly Tootill, partner at national law firm, JMW Solicitors. “Often people are hurt and are looking for support, but instead of sharing your feelings over Facebook or Instagram seek professional support or find someone to confide in offline.”

“Going through a divorce is never going to be an easy process,” adds Emma Davies, partner in the divorce and separation team at law firm Nelsons. “However, by keeping things amicable, you can enjoy a better relationship with your ex-partner, and reach a friendly agreement which will save you money in solicitor’s fees.”

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