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    What do you say to a friend whose marriage is ending?

    Sometimes, when people admit that their marriage is unsustainable, for whatever reason, the reaction of family, friends, even strangers on the internet can be judgmental or pitying. However, what someone in this situation needs are words and actions of support and comfort, as well as professional and legal guidance.
    We are joined on the blog by Divorce Coach Rebecca Spittles, who explores her own experience of the initial stages of separation, and what to say to a friend whose marriage is ending.
    ‘“It’s a shame you couldn’t have just tried a bit harder…”
    Nothing hits harder when you have made the decision to leave. When will people understand that getting divorced is an absolute last resort?
    Contrary to popular belief, and in my experience both personally and professionally, no one actually wants to get divorced. Reaching the point of separation, especially when there are children in the mix, is the most gut wrenching, stomach turning, vomit-inducing feeling you could ever imagine if you’ve not been there.
    I don’t wish divorce on anyone. When I took my vows I took them for life, like my parents, my grandparents and all that surrounded me. I wanted that security and comfort that everyone seeks from marriage. Even simple things I was excited about, for example to have the same surname as my husband and then of my child. It was so, so important.
    Just imagine how it felt when I knew that no matter how hard I tried, the union I was in was not meant to be?
    My parents were amazing. On several occasions I came close to uttering the words separation and every time they would come up with some kind words and injected a bit more strength into me to keep going. Marriage isn’t easy.
    My sister was the best. Constantly encouraging me, being a sounding board but never once suggesting being apart was an option.
    The toughest part of my situation was that, in order for our relationship to be harmonious, one or both of us had to completely stifle their key personality traits. Not sustainable.
    Our opinions on every single little thing were different and it ended with one or both of us feeling sad or resentful or angry as there wasn’t space for compromise.
    Compromise. The word bandied around all the time when it comes to being in a relationship. What if compromise actually meant giving in? Taking on the view of the other person so that life could just about be normal? What if compromise was only one sided and the only way for the other person to ever be happy was to always do what they wanted?
    I made several huge changes. Gave up my brilliant job so I could be at home. Gave up financial independence and poured every penny into the joint account. I started asking to do things and to buy things and slowly I disappeared. But still there was no happiness.
    After 2 long years following the birth of our daughter I asked for a separation. The answer was ‘No’. Clearly, I ‘didn’t care about my marriage’. I did. I wanted it more than I have ever wanted anything in my life to work but I was empty. Nothing left.
    In the end, two days after New Years Eve, I left after a huge row (something I learned is never the best way to leave).
    I picked up our daughter and stepped out of the front door and I will always remember the feeling of this being ‘it’. We were completely over. I drove to my parents with a sleeping toddler, arrived and cried. I cried and cried.
    Eventually he moved out to his Mum’s temporarily so that I could come home with our daughter and work, and she could have contact with her Dad.
    I am writing this so that next time someone utters the words ‘I want to leave my husband/wife’ just listen. Ask why, not so you can tell her why they should stay but so that you can understand quite how far they have come to be able to say this out loud.
    If you’ve been through it, please, please offer comfort, what they don’t need is the gore of your breakup or divorce. There is plenty of time for that later!
    Share your emotion and empathise because you more than many truly know where they are at.
    Finally, for all of us sat with the friend who says their relationship is over, just help. They will be a wreck for a while to come, from being so strong to being a crying mess on the floor. An angry confused teenager-esque stage will rear its ugly head at some point along with bitterness and probably a fair bit of drunkenness.
    Just be there for them. They will come out the other side. They will never be the same again, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.’
    Rebecca Spittles is a Divorce Coach providing personalised emotional and practical support and coaching to help individuals navigate their divorce or separation.
     You can find out more about Rebecca on her website or via her LinkedIn. 
    Useful links
    My partner’s a good person but I’m not happy
    When ‘I do’ becomes ‘I don’t’: Navigating the path to divorce and what to do next
    What to do if you think your marriage is over

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    Stowe Talks How To: Part 2

    Stowe Talks How To
    Our next instalment of our Stowe Talks How To videos are now freely available to watch.
    To recap, these videos are guides for some of the key aspects of the divorce process, so you can be taken through step-by-step accompanied by our expert lawyers.
    We know that divorce can be overwhelming and stressful at times, which is why we have produced these practical videos and accompanying guides for you to download for free.
    Videos
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    Guides
    The supporting guides can be found here.
    A full playlist of all the Stowe Talks How To videos can be found here.
    Other Useful Links
    Introducing Stowe Talks How To
    Stowe Support – a huge range of free resources (blogs, guides, podcasts etc) covering all matters family law including divorce, child arrangements, unmarried couples, finances, and much more besides. More

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    Platonic Co-Parenting – Can I really have a baby with my friend?

    In recent months, the idea of platonic co-parenting has gained traction. A recent article in The Guardian on the topic was written by a woman who, after much back and forth, decided to have a baby with her gay best friend. The friends were both happily single, but wanted a child and were concerned about the social and financial implications of raising a child as a single parent.
    Platonic co-parenting can take a variety of different forms and can be entered into for a whole host of different reasons. It can be between an opposite sex ‘couple’, same sex, or even as three parents where the couple are unable to have children so bring in a friend who not only can be a donor but can be present as another parental figure.
    In essence, platonic co-parenting is when a child is raised by two or more people who are not, and have not in the past been, in a romantic relationship (although there may be a romantically involved same-sex couple as part of a three+ parental group). The child might be conceived by treatments like IVF, intracervical insemination (ICI) or intrauterine insemination (IUI). The prospective parents may choose to go down the surrogacy route or adopt a child.
    What does platonic co-parenting look like?
    Platonic co-parenting looks different for every set of parents. The reasons behind platonic co-parenting are as varied as how it can look in practise, but some reasons might be:

    Two happily single individuals each want to have a baby,
    Financial constraints mean an individual cannot afford to be a single parent,
    A same-sex couple want to have a child with a donor and the donor wants a relationship with the child.

    With any number of reasons for wanting to platonically co-parent, how it can look practically is unique to the situation. However, by definition, platonic co-parenting means that each parent is involved in the upbringing of the child, whether they are biologically connected or not.
    Each set of parents will need to come to an agreement about how conception will work, and what the practicalities will be once the baby is born. For example, for the woman and her gay best friend mentioned above, they came to an agreement that they would try ICI first to get pregnant, and then IVF. They discussed finances and decided on a 50/50 split, potential baby names, the baby’s surname and where the child, and the parents, would live (for the first year the father would move in with the mother and baby).
    In some cases, there are more than two parents. The law only recognises two legal parents; however, platonic co-parenting opens up opportunities for more communal parenting responsibility.
    In some cases, a same-sex couple may ask a close friend to be a donor, or a surrogate mother, and this friend becomes part of the family. In other examples, a gay couple and a lesbian couple might ‘join forces’ to have a four-parent family.
    There are also matchmaking apps now that allow prospective parents to meet each other or meet sperm donors.
    Is it legal/How can I make it legal?
    Platonic co-parenting is entirely legal.
    Complications can arise with the difficulties in law around parental responsibility and each platonic co-parenting relationship will be unique. However, if a parent wants to have legal guardianship of a child, this must be registered.
    For example, if a heterosexual ‘couple’ have a child together, the father can be officially recognised as the child’s legal parent by being named on the birth certificate.
    The law only allows for two legal parents, so where a group of co-parents want to raise a child, only two can be recognised as such. The woman who carries the child will automatically be recognised as the child’s legal parent. However, the law allows for more than two people to have parental responsibility, for example as step-parents, or grandparents.
    For families where there are more than two parents, it is important to consider what other arrangements and agreements you may need to put in place to grant parental responsibility over the child. This can be done through a ‘parental responsibility agreement’.
    More legal information around platonic co-parenting can be found here.
    What are the benefits of platonic co-parenting?
    There are a variety of benefits of platonic co-parenting, and these do depend on your unique situation. However, here are a few:

    It allows happily single individuals to become parents without the pressure of solo parenting,
    Sperm donors can have a more active role in the child’s life,
    Potentially more people with parental responsibility – this can mean more support and love for the child,
    It is another way for the LGBTQIA+ community to become parents without requiring romantic relationships with the opposite sex.

    Are there any downsides?
    As with parenting generally, there can be conflict in co-parenting relationships, which is why it is important to discuss legal, social, environmental, and physical factors before embarking on the journey. These can be made into a Co-Parenting Agreement, more widely known as a Parenting Plan, which, whilst not legally binding, help define the expectations of each parent and what agreements have been made.
    Communication is key in all parenting and the more open and transparent you are with your other co-parents, the better. It is important to get all your thoughts out on the table and discuss what compromises may need to be reached.
    The law can be complicated in areas such as surrogacy, and fertility treatments, so you might need to seek legal advice around these matters, and around seeking parental responsibility.
    If disagreements do arise, mediation can often help resolve difficulties and help co-parents reach amicable solutions.
    Useful Links
    What is platonic co-parenting?
    Surrogacy and parental orders
    Travelling abroad with different surnames
    What is parental responsibility?

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    How to manage the Cost-of-Christmas Crisis

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
    But it’s also one of the most expensive.
    The Cost of Christmas Crisis, as it has been coined, is taking its toll again this year. Recent research from easymoney has revealed that people are cutting down on their Christmas spending this year, as the cost-of-living crisis has an ongoing impact. 59% of us are looking to make cuts this year, with 55% of respondents stating that whilst they usually have an extra savings pot put aside for Christmas, they have saved less than planned.
    Financial Planner Jodie Phelps has put together some top tips on how to manage your money in the Cost of Christmas Crisis when the purse strings are tighter than ever.

    Be aware of the potential for emotional spending during the holidays. Stay mindful of your emotions and instead of using retail therapy as a coping mechanism write a list of other things you enjoy doing so when you feel yourself about to spend do the other things on your list instead (eg. take a bath, go for a run, call a friend)
    BUT, recognise the emotional challenges that may arise during the holidays and prioritise self-care; allocate budget for activities that bring you joy and contribute to your well-being
    Develop a budget that reflects your changed financial circumstances and keep track of your spending
    Create a list of people you want to buy gifts for and allocate a specific amount for each person
    Consider creative and thoughtful gifts that don’t necessarily have to be expensive (eg. photo collages, scrap books, experiences). Remember, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones and creating meaningful memories, not just about the gifts.
    If you have a large family or friend group, consider setting limits on the amount spent on gifts or participating in a Secret Santa
    Plan your holiday meals in advance and create a shopping list. This can help you avoid last-minute, impulse food purchases/takeaways
    Be mindful of impulse purchases, especially when faced with holiday sales and promotions
    Look for discounts, compare prices, and consider using cashback or price-tracking tools to find the best deals
    After the holidays, review your spending and assess what worked well and what didn’t. Use this information to plan for the next holiday season.
    Make a note of your Christmas pay date when budgeting, as it’s usually earlier in December. Plan for the long stretch between Christmas pay day and January pay day
    Start saving a monthly amount for next Christmas so that next year you have money allocated for you to enjoy Christmas.

    You can find out more about Jodie on her LinkedIn.
    Relationship Tensions
    Financial tensions are a huge driver in divorce enquiries, and in a survey that we conducted, 60% of respondents said that the crisis was negatively affecting their relationship.
    If you do find that tensions around money build between you and your partner around this time of year, here are some suggestions on how to safeguard your relationship at Christmas. It’s important to remember that Christmas does not cause divorce and relationship breakdown. However, it can expose pre-existing issues, so getting to the root of the problem is very important.
    Stowe Solicitor Abi Jones has some top tips on reducing tensions around the festive season:

    Communicate – communication is central to healthy relationships and talking through your worries with your partner can help to alleviate pressure
    Lean on friends or family members outside of your relationship for support if needed
    Figure out where your priorities are, and if they are different to your partner’s
    If you have differing priorities, try to compromise and find where your middle ground lies
    Consider speaking to a financial planner or another professional – you can find our recommended partners in our Divorce Directory
    Try to focus on the positives, even if they seem insignificant. Small changes can make big differences over time
    Come up with interesting ways to celebrate this time of year together without the pressure of money
    Try to have some time together. Christmas can be a very busy time so spending time with each other is essential. It does not have to be big or expensive. It could be as simple as having a movie night together when the children are in bed.

    First Christmas After Separation
    Abi discusses how to manage your first Christmas after separation.
    It may be that this is your first Christmas after divorce or relationship breakdown. If this is the case, you may be more worried about money than you usually are as you may well have gone from a dual income household to single income. Not only this, but the routine and traditions of the day may also suddenly be different.

    Create experiences, rather than physical gifts
    Downsize your giving
    Use second-hand website such as Vinted or ebay
    Do Secret Santa instead of buying gifts for everyone
    Make home-made gifts
    Keep the celebrations small
    Don’t be tempted by payday loans, as this may cause more issues later on
    If you have young children, toy appeals may be available. Certain charities have toy appeals where individuals can donate toys which are then distributed between families
    Try not to compare your Christmas to others, either of your past or other people’s
    Manage the expectations of any children – let them know that change is normal but ensure they are informed of what changes, scheduling, what will be happening, where and when.

    Remember that Christmas is one day. There is a great deal of pressure for Christmas Day to be perfect, but it is just one day in the year.
    Think about how you want to spend your Christmas. Would you like to spend it with a friend, with family or even alone. This is an opportunity to make new traditions.
    Lastly, Christmas does not necessarily have to take place on 25th December. If this is the first year you do not have the children after going through a divorce or separation you can always pause your Christmas until the day after or have it before.
    Useful Links
    Financial Wellbeing with Jodie Phelps or watch on YouTube
    Surviving Christmas after Separation
    Child arrangements at Christmas
    Christmas alone with divorce and break-up coach Claire Macklin
    Budgeting solo during a cost-of-living crisis: Listen on Spotify or Watch on YouTube
    Supporting children through divorce: Listen on Spotify More

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    November Stowe Support roundup

    Stowe Support is a dedicated home for Stowe’s free resources designed to help inform and support anyone with family law concerns.
    With new blogs, guides, podcasts, videos and events shared each month, here’s a handy Stowe Support roundup from the past month in case you missed anything.
    Here’s your monthly roundup of Stowe Support resources in case you missed anything.
    Latest blogs from Stowe
    Divorce finances: How DIY divorce can backfire
    What is a Financial Settlement and How Does It Work?
    Blended families and stepparents: A beginners guide
    Unique Challenges of LGBTQIA+ Divorce
    I’m not the ‘breadwinner’ in my divorce
    How do separated parents split Christmas?
    Watch recent webinars
    Cardiff Break Up Club: Surviving Christmas after separation
    Stowe talks 23/24: Parenting alongside a narcissist with Dr Supriya McKenna
    Listen to Stowe talks podcasts on Spotify

    Stowe Support
    To explore our full range of resources dedicated to helping people with family law matters, visit Stowe Support.
    Here you’ll find a wealth of helpful guides, videos and blogs on divorce and separation, finances, children, domestic abuse, cohabitation, alternative parenting, mediation, as well as support with relationships and wellness. More

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    Introducing Stowe talks podcast series 4

    Stowe talks podcast
    Series 4 of Stowe talks podcast and videos series has begun. 
    As ever, in each episode hosts Liza and Matt are joined by a special guest to explore a specific topic in detail.
    Alongside our expert guests, in Stowe talks series 4 we explore:

    Parenting alongside a narcissist
    The dangers of DIY divorce
    How to prepare for your financial settlement
    Supporting teenagers through divorce
    Prenups, postnups and petnups
    The unique challenges of a relationship break down in the LGBTQIA+ community
    Creating financial wellbeing following separation
    Supporting male victims of domestic abuse
    Building your family through surrogacy.

    The latest episodes
    Series 4 of Stowe talks begins with ‘Parenting alongside a narcissist’, a 2-part conversation with renowned narcissist expert Dr Supriya McKenna.
    Building on our previous episodes, in part one Dr Supriya starts by explaining what narcissistic personality disorder is and how this manifests in their behaviour, especially during divorce and parenting.
    We then continue the conversation in part two, looking at learning to manage the narcissist behaviour, how to best support your children, dealing with legal and financial abuse, the family court, and learning how to raise the threshold of what triggers you.
    Quick links
    Listen to Stowe talks on spotify
    Watch Stow talks on YouTube More

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    Blended families and stepparents: A beginners guide

    On average, marriages in England and Wales last little over 12 years at the time of divorce. But as people find love again after divorce or separation, blended families are created and family dynamics evolve.
    It’s now estimated that 1 in 3 families in the UK are a blended family, also known as stepfamily.
    In fact, in contrast to traditional stepfamily stereotypes, the narrative of blended families has transformed – even King Charles III is a member of a blended family.
    For many couples, divorce can mark the beginning of a happier new era for them and their children.
    Knowing how to make a blended family work can take time and effort but fuelled by love, the choices made by separated parents can transform a family structure.
    What is a blended family?
    Blended families are created when a couple begin a new life together with their children from one, or both, of their previous relationships.
    What’s behind the increase in blended families?
    Divorce rates are on the rise meaning more people starting new relationships are divorced, with children.
    For example, the latest ONS marriage statistics released in 2022 show that over 32% of marriages include at least one partner who is remarrying. Of course, these figures can’t track the number of couples where one or both partners have previously been in an unmarried relationship.
    Still, it’s understood there are at least 1.1 million children in England and Wales who live in a blended stepfamily.
    Becoming a blended family
    While a positive experience for many, often the most significant concerns when forming a blended family are the integration of new family members and changes to living arrangements.
    Or, perhaps it’s more the reactions of each family member to these inevitable changes, and the emotions they bring, that pose the greatest challenges.
    While parents can appreciate the benefits of becoming a blended family and visualise what their stepfamily homelife could look like in the future, the children may struggle to share that vision. For them it can feel like a huge amount of change, affecting fundamental aspects of their lives, over which they have no control.
    As with any changes, some will take them in their stride, and others will need a greater degree of support and encouragement.
    Introducing a new partner
    Gradually making children aware of a new partner and giving plenty of notice when and how things will change is vital.
    This begins with establishing the right time and approach for introducing a new partner to children, and meeting future stepchildren if their partner also has children.
    Whatever the child’s age, it’s a good idea to prepare them ahead of introductions and offer them a sense of control over the situation. Having some level of control, even if only perceived control, allows us to deal with potentially upsetting or uncomfortable events more effectively.
    Challenges for children of blended families
    There’s a lot for children of blended families to take in. Maybe they’ve come to terms with their parent’s separation, and now there’s more change on the horizon.
    They must navigate the complexities of having stepparents, possibly step-siblings, and even step-grandparents, potentially forging multiple new relationships.
    Sharing loved ones, a home, and belongings with new members of the family can understandably raise worries and negative feelings and behaviour.
    Furthermore, the shift in family roles and responsibilities can become a source of tension, with two sets of parents each with different parenting styles, rules, and routines.
    Harmonising these differences and treating everyone fairly isn’t easy.
    How can I help my blended family succeed?

    Groundwork: It’s beneficial to do plenty of groundwork ahead of any changes to your family to help children process and adapt. Take your time and explain things clearly and openly.
    Communication: Telling children about changes in their living arrangements is a crucial step. Be upfront about what will change and when, and encourage children to ask questions and share any concerns.
    Tact: Handling the integration of new family members and routines delicately and with patience will help avoid unnecessary stress.
    Togetherness: Fostering a sense of unity within blended families can help, through identifying common ground, enjoying shared activities, and establishing new traditions when the time is right.
    Age appropriate: While younger children may adapt more readily, older children and teenagers may find the changes more difficult. Recognising these differences will help you provide the right support for each child’s needs.
    Belonging: Reassuring the child of their central place in the blended family will strengthen relationships and bolster their sense of belonging.
    Regularly connect: Ensure you also give your child one-on-one time where they have your undivided attention to reinforce how much you love and value them. Where it’s safe and appropriate, maintaining a sound connection with the non-residential parent is also important for a child’s well-being.
    Be consistent: Within reason, upholding pre-existing rules and traditions while gradually incorporating new ones helps create a stable environment. This steadiness offers children a sense of security during change.

    Legal considerations for blended families
    When couples create a blended family after separation or divorce it’s worth considering how they can protect their interests for whatever lies ahead.
    Couples who live together but are unmarried may be interested in finding out more about how Cohabitation Agreements can set out agreements regarding finances and children.
    Similarly, couples who are planning to remarry, might benefit from knowing how a prenuptial agreement can offer some financial protection for theirs and their children’s future in the event of divorce.
    With the right approach blended families offer the opportunity for a new beginning and a bigger and more diverse family network. Although evolving family structures demand flexibility, understanding, and effective communication, the rewards could last a lifetime.
    Useful links
    How to successfully co-parent
    Adopting a stepchild
    Stowe talks – How to co-parent calmly and navigate the challenges of blended families with Tom Nash More

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    October Stowe Support roundup

    Stowe Support is a dedicated home for Stowe’s free resources designed to help inform and support anyone with family law concerns.
    With new blogs, guides, podcasts, videos and events shared each month, here’s a handy Stowe Support roundup from the past month in case you missed anything.
    Here’s your monthly roundup of Stowe Support resources in case you missed anything.
    Latest blogs from Stowe
    What is financial wellbeing?
    World Mental Health Day: wellbeing during divorce
    Labour announce commitment to cohabitation reform
    Adopting a stepchild
    World Menopause Day
    Islamic divorce in the UK
    What happens if I’m separated but not divorced?
    What to do if you think your marriage is over
    Book your free webinar place
    Cardiff Break Up Club – Surviving Christmas after separation
    Stowe Talks – How to build a happy blended family with Nichole Farrow
    Watch recent webinars
    Stowe Talks – Creating financial wellbeing following divorce or separation
    Listen to Stowe talks podcasts on Spotify
    Our next series of Stowe talks podcast will be launched soon.
    In the mean time, you can click to catch up on previous episodes and follow us!
    Stowe Support
    To explore our full range of resources dedicated to helping people with family law matters, visit Stowe Support.
    Here you’ll find a wealth of helpful guides, videos and blogs on divorce and separation, finances, children, domestic abuse, cohabitation, alternative parenting, mediation, as well as support with relationships and wellness. More