3 lockdowns and a divorce

I don’t know who needs to hear this right now but I thought long and hard about sharing this information, but lets be honest, the past year has been something that none of us could have seen coming. A virus that we thought couldn’t touch us, became a global pandemic and all of a sudden we found ourselves working from home, ‘zooming’ and finding ways and opportunities to make it work…much like a marriage.

This still feels strange for me to talk about divorce because I never imagined I ever would be. When you have been married for over twenty years and have four children, it isn’t an ideal situation especially when you have been bought up within certain cultures, beliefs and expectations of making it work no matter what… But, I am going to briefly share my journey over the past couple of years.

This article is not an opportunity to gain sympathy or raise eyebrows, it is purely to help others who may be feeling emotionally stuck about some of the processes and procedures of what to expect in times of being unsure.

On a warm and sunny day in August 2018, I recall sitting outside Preston Redman Solicitors office in Bournemouth. I had arrived two hours before my appointment and sat in my car questioning the actions that I was about to take, knowing that once I had taken this step, there would be no turning back. I was trying to talk myself out of it or hoping that a call from the father of my children would assist me in changing my mind. I didn’t know if I was ready or not because I didn’t know what to expect. I never got that call or an attempt for him to change my mind. He knew I was there, infact, it was him that told me that I could go ahead with the divorce, along with a warning that I would end up homeless and penniless.

The issue for me was the control element in the marriage. I later found out that financial control to the level that i had encountered throughout my entire marriage was actually a form of domestic abuse. More recently, this has been been made into an act of law. So where I had helped my husband over the years accumulate businesses and properties, and I ran the home and looked after our children I was exempt from even a look in as to what was owned. I certainly was kept out from being included in any of these too. Without going into too much detail about my personal situation, I was not only made to feel like an outsider, I actually believed that I had no entitlement to anything. After being constantly reminded of who the breadwinner was and that if I decided to take things further, with the help of his friends who are members of of the legal profession but also business partners, he warned that he had cleared things up with so much precision and tied his assets so firmly and in such a way that for it to be discovered it would take hundreds and thousands of pounds.

So, I decided to go ahead with divorce proceedings believing that I could and most probably would end up homeless, penniless…topped with a stigma attached to me for getting divorced, and a seal to assure me that with four kids in tow, no one would ever want to be with me again, so whatever future I may have ahead of me looked very bleak, very lonely and extremely depressing. What I did know for sure is that I wasn’t happy and the more I started to think about my future and my own well-being the closer I was getting to making my decision.

On the outside it looked as though I was living a happy and successful life but on the inside, it was very different. It was not a loving, supportive or fulfilling marriage that I had hoped for when I took my wedding vows eighteen years previous. Infact, it had never been, not for me anyway. There were so many expectations that by far overlooked whatever my needs as an individual were.

I found myself feeling scared, overwhelmed and slightly terrified while waiting to be called into the office. I was greeted by Tim Flower. Tim is the Head of the Firm’s Family and Litigation Departments. He is the Honorary Solicitor to the Dorset Branch of the National Landlord Association, the Chair of the Bournemouth and District Law Society Litigation and Dispute Resolution subcommittee and accredited to the Law Society Family Law Advanced scheme. Tim is a partner of Preston Redman Solicitors and is Head of Family and Litigation. He predominantly deals in the financial aspects of relationship breakdown. I was given Tim’s details from friends of mine who were supportive of my decision and who had been through divorce themselves. It’s difficult to know who is good and who is incredible out there when it comes to finding a suitable divorce solicitor because with the help of good technical skills, websites, great SEO and those who invest in good PR and marketing, you only need to type in what you require and whoever is at the top of google wins the business. This is why I believe this article is going to be valuable for many people out there. When you make a decision like I did, and when you dealing with complex situations like I was, you must ensure you have the people who have the right skills to deal with the situation.

Tim invited me into his office, asked some questions and listened intently to what my issues were. He explained everything that he felt was important for me to know from the outset. There were no false expectations, no glossing it over to make it simpler or easier. Plain facts as to what the worst case scenario could be and the risks involved for me and my family.

I won’t go into the finer details because it is still very raw and extremely painful. A few of the things that really stood out to me was that throughout the process, it became much clearer that regardless of the outcome, I would still be better off alone. So, in the back of my mind I set myself for the bare minimum.

A clean break. A fresh start and a new beginning.

During the divorce process, and after a few months of instructing Tim, my solicitor to act on my behalf, I went through what many people go through when they are in a situation like me, I called the divorce to a halt with the belief that things might change at home, a plea from my husband to let it go and that he will make amendments to suit me accordingly so that we can all be happy. The constant reminders that I was breaking up a ‘happy family’ didn’t help. Lots of love bombing, acts of kindness and skillful strategy made me go back to Tim and tell hm I wanted to give the marriage another chance, After so many years, perhaps I was rushing in too soon… And so Tim, after advising me against this with everything in his power, agreed that if that is what I wanted to do, then it is my choice.

So, I put the divorce on hold (against Tim’s advice) and hoped for the best. A year later I went back to pick up from where I left off. Because during that time the only thing that changed was that things got from bad to worse. It became unbearable so I booked in to see Tim again who was happy to get the process going again but explained that now because I had taken the steps that I did and what could now happen, what to expect moving forward. So the case was now going ahead and during the entire process we were still living under the same roof. So yes, three lockdowns while going through the divorce. Through every lockdown I truly believed that we would be able to ‘fix it’, but it didn’t happen. During the first lockdown I remember feeling as though we really could make it work. When I look back, I really did try my best to make it work, but it was one sided.

Let’s fast forward two years later and a week after my outcome from my FDR. For those who have no idea what that is, I can tell you! The purpose of the FDR hearing (Financial Dispute Resolution) is to encourage discussion and negotiation between the spouses. It is an opportunity to settle as reaching a resolution at this stage saves considerable further expenses compared to if matters proceed to a Final Hearing.

Tim found a suitable barrister to take the legal proceedings further and in stepped Luke Nelson who is known for his down-to-earth, practical and pragmatic approach to financial cases. Luke taught private family law and financial remedies at the University of Gloucester. This became evident during the case and his quality of managing it so effortlessly. Josh Ganley, trainee solicitor for Preston Redman did a wonderful job of assisting with the case. Aside from his patience while dealing with me during my worst times, his extremely strong communication skills, eye for detail and the ability to remain calm in and out of the hearing was greatly appreciated. Josh proved to be extremely thorough in his due diligence and still managed to make me smile at the worst of times! He is going to go very far in his career.

Before I knew it, the time came around for us to be in front of the judge. There was nothing at all that I needed to do do other than to be present. These two gentleman took the case from beginning to end without me having to say a single word. And the outcome was not what I expected. I knew what I was dealing with and had warned both Tim and Luke. But these guys are experts in their field. When I say experts, I don’t just mean in the sense of knowing the law, but in every single aspect of their dealings. They ensured that I came out of this case with what I had asked for and what I rightfully deserved. Half way through the case I honestly did think I was going to end up homeless. I was told to “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst”, which is what I did.

My case was an exceptionally complex one and it took much longer than we had hoped to reach an outcome. But as I sit here writing this article, I honestly couldn’t have asked for more. I had the best legal team fighting my case. I am not homeless, in-fact, far from it. The lies, deceit, cheating, ring fencing, lack of integrity and honesty against me amounted to nothing in respect of my outcome. So, if you are sitting and reading this and you are in a similar situation and are scared of making the move because you are worried of your outcome, don’t be.

Don’t stick with something because you are scared that it could go wrong. If you are truly not happy, you will get the red flags and the signs that you can’t ignore and you will know what you have to do. When you know that enough is enough, that is the time to take action. And when you decide to take action, remember that for an outstanding outcome, go to the right people.

And I can’t recommend my solicitor and barrister enough. One thing I will advise is to really listen, understand and take your solicitors advice for the best outcome. Don’t do what I did and stop part way through. This had a hugely negative impact on my case as it was already very complicated. Fortunately for me, they were still able to achieve an outcome that I was pleased with.

What I have shared here might really hit home with many of you especially if you went from being the ‘perfect love of their life’, to feeling as though whatever you do is never good enough. You give everything you can to the marriage and relationship and they will take it all and give you less and less in return. You end up feeling depleted emotionally, mentally, spiritually and probably financially and then you get blamed for all of it. What I will say though, is that the real shift came when I started to believe in myself. When I closed off that side of my life and focussed on the positive side of things. I focussed on areas that I thought could impact me positively. I created a social media profile for myself, invested myself in a business that I started from scratch. I made connections with business owners where there were collaboration opportunities. I remained open and true to myself and I run my life and dealings with honesty and integrity. Giving charity, doing meditation and an awful lot of self help reading has been paramount to me being ok through this process.

Photo credit: Jayne Jackson

A couple of days of my hearing, I was asked to take part in a photoshoot for an award-winning art project called “Asking For It’ which highlights and changes opinions towards historical and current tendencies toward victim-blaming, especially in cases of sexual and gender-based violence. Although it isn’t my favourite look, it bears a lot of significance to my case. and the timing was really interesting.

Moving on from the case and looking forward to the future, I am delighted to have been able to secure my position as a host with I:Entrepreneur as a host for ‘Sarah Meets..’ The campaign tells the inspiring stories of businesses led by entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds, to raise their profile, and ensure their successes are celebrated across the economy not as a minority, but for the incredible value they bring in their own right. If you would like to join this community please drop me a message so I can get you involved.

I am also delighted to be offered the position as Chair of Food Policy for The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), a judge for the Business Book Awards and finally, I am looking forward to continuing my role as President of Poole Bay Rotary Club. I want to take this opportunity to thank you for reading this article. Feel free to contact me directly if you wish to discuss any element in further detail.

Sarah Ali Choudhury is a UK Indian Food Expert, Small Business Champion, President of the Poole Bay Rotary Club.

 

 

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