In this episode, we dive deep into the substantial topic of divorce with our esteemed guest, Jacqueline Wharton. Jacqueline is a divorce advisor on a mission to empower individuals to have what she calls “good divorces.”
During our conversation, we explore a wide range of facets related to divorce, including the common challenges people face in the process. We also discuss the essential ingredients that contribute to a “good divorce,” emphasizing clarity, compassion, and the well-being of all involved parties.
Additionally, we delve into the legal responsibilities that parents should be aware of during and after separation, with a focus on safeguarding the best interests of their children. Jacqueline also shares insights into navigating new relationships or marriages after divorce and offers strategies for ensuring children’s well-being remains a top priority.
Jacqueline Wharton (00:00): There are other issues in terms of you negotiating with your new partner, how your finances should be working in the family. That in of itself is a very complicated issue. But hopefully if you’ve both been through divorce or separation, you will be more willing to have those conversations openly and
constructively because you know how important it is.
Laura Jenkins (00:21): In The Blend is a podcast series that helps parents navigate life within a blended family. Join me as I speak with experts and guests to get practical advice on how to have a harmonious blended family life. This series dives deep into the unique dynamics, logistics and challenges of raising a blended family.
From new partners to juggling mixed finances, we will help guide you through it.
(00:50): Welcome back to In The Blend. In this episode, we’re delving into the substantial topic of divorce and have the privilege of hearing from an expert in the field. Jacqueline Wharton. Jacqueline is a divorce advisor on a mission to empower individuals to have what she calls good divorces. During our chat, we’ll be exploring the common challenges people face during this process. The ingredients for a good divorce, legal responsibilities for parents during and after separation, navigating new relationships after divorce and ensuring children’s wellbeing remains a priority. So whether you are personally facing this journey, supporting a loved one through it, or simply seeking valuable insights for what can be one of life’s biggest challenges, this episode promises to offer wisdom, guidance, and a path towards mastering divorce with clarity. Let’s dive in now. Jacqueline, you are Australia’s first separation and divorce advisor. You are a relationship coach, a mediator, and also a former family lawyer. So you are clearly the right
woman for the job when it comes to our episode theme.
Laura Jenkins (02:09): So to start us off, can you share with us how your personal journey through divorce led you into your current line of work?
Jacqueline Wharton (02:17): Absolutely. So I had been a litigation lawyer for one of Australia’s major law firms for seven or eight years. Got a little bit over that. Ended up working at Telstra as a negotiation advisor. So they put me through a whole lot of training and negotiation, the Harvard Law School negotiation program, conflict coaching, facilitation mediation, and it just opened up a whole new world to me about how people can resolve their disputes and probably a lot more efficiently than they can court. They have a lot more control over their matter. So I was really attracted to negotiation as a skill.
(03:08): The father of my children then left and me and I started as a lot of people do studying psychology. Now, my psychologist, after you told me that I’d be a terrible psychologist because I was far too bossy, I think that was my legal training. And she said to me, what do you really want to do? And I said, I really want to help people negotiate their divorces. And she said, well, I’ve watched you negotiate with your ex for a year now, and I’ve been waiting for you to say that to me for six months and here are three names of clients who I want you to ring. So I was like, oh, I dunno what I’m doing. I went home, I researched, I looked everywhere. So this was 16 years ago. I couldn’t find anything at all. And there were some people in the UK I think called Divorce Angels where you could ring them and they would go to court with you, but nothing else really what I was looking for someone to hold your hand basically through your divorce to be what I would’ve wanted.
(04:18): So yes, I started with those three clients and after about a month with them asked Al whether they would pay for my services and they all said that they would. And so that’s how it started. And really, I’ve been working a bit behind the scenes. I don’t really promote myself that much for 16 years and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I did dabble in family law for a little while because I wanted to see the other side, but after a while I felt I was more useful in this sort of area. There’s lots of family lawyers out there, so this was a little bit different. And I received a lot of professional validation and what’s the right word, comfort or I enjoyed helping people in a very intimate and productive way. So that’s how separation divorce advisors started.
Laura Jenkins (05:21): Fascinating. Well, it sounds like the perfect role for you in your current stage of life and career. I know that navigating divorce can be incredibly daunting. Can you tell us about the most common challenges that people face when they’re going through this process?
Jacqueline Wharton (05:48): Yes, and there are a lot of challenges. Divorce is all consuming, I should say that for people that haven’t been through divorce, it’s very difficult to explain how it actually feels. I often say it’s a lot like having a baby. You can read all you want, you can talk to people, you can learn as much as you can, but the reality of it is very different. So for a lot of people, they feel that they’ve lost their past, their present, and their future. And it’s a very scary time. You often feel like you’re in free fall, but at the same time while you’re grieving, you are called upon to start negotiating with your ex on finances and parenting if you have children together and you can’t avoid it. So that would be the absolutely major challenge of having to sit down with someone who there’s not always conflict.
(06:53): Some people are very amicable and that’s wonderful, but in lots of cases, obviously there are tensions and to negotiate or fight your way to a resolution in their circumstances can be really difficult. People feel on the financial front that they want to be valued. They’re scared about their finances, what their future looks like. They don’t want things to change with the children. They’re worried about how much time they’re going to be spending with their children. Will they lose their children? Will their children be harmed through the divorce? So the challenges are often that people are, as I said, scared and don’t really know what to do next. What is the next step? How do I begin this? How do I even start to get to the other side of the mountain? And unfortunately, there is no way through it. You have to go through it. You can’t go around it under it, whatever, you have to actually go through it, which is unfortunate. But by learning to be prepared or starting to prepare, learning, trying to get as much information as you can talking to professionals, you can start taking the first steps.
Laura Jenkins (08:17): I think in your case as well, because you’ve been through it. Plus with the training and background that you’ve got, you’d be very well placed to be able to really empathize and understand a lot of the challenges that you mentioned that people are going through.
Jacqueline Wharton (08:33): I think I felt all of them, most of them anyway. Yeah.
Laura Jenkins (08:41): So I know on your website you say you are on a mission to empower people to have good divorces, and I love the sound of that given the challenges that you’ve just mentioned. So what are the key ingredients for a good divorce then?
Jacqueline Wharton (08:57): It’s such a good question, isn’t it? And I think having a good divorce is very, it’s a very individual concept. So I obviously there’s a whole lot of terms being thrown around these days. We see it all the time. People have got an amicable divorce, Hugh Jackman and Deborah on the weekend or last week. It’s all about being amicable. Then we have the whole conscious uncoupling concept having, so I might talk about those concepts actually, and then turn to maybe what I think a good divorce is. So being amicable really requires two people. It requires two people to come together and agree to treat each other with respect through the divorce negotiation stage and be open to listening to hearing each other and to work together constructively to towards resolution of whether that’s parenting, practical issues, financial issues. That’s how I always see an amicable divorce or separation.
(10:24): Conscious uncoupling is I think more about how you feel about what’s going on, uncoupling yourself from the emotional aspects of the relationship and not engaging in warfare as it were. So think more, as I always say. Think more. Yes. Well, hopefully Hugh Jackman and Deborah rather than Angelina and Brad, you’re not, no shots behind each other’s back as it were. So we have amicable divorces, we have conscious uncoupling. And then I think for myself, a good divorce is really a combination of both of those as far as you can, because what you’re looking for is to act in accordance with your own values, working out your own goals and being able to look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and think, I did okay.
(11:28): Not every day you’re going to think that we’re all human. Some days are going to be better than others. Some days we’re less reactive to what’s going on. But a good divorce I think means being open to growth. But being walking your talk, there’s something called, well, I call it, I’m not sure everyone else calls it, but I certainly call it when I’m working with my clients post divorce growth. And it’s a bit like post-traumatic growth as I think Lee sales has made, she’s made that term quite commonplace of post divorce growth. I see it in my clients every day if they’re open to learning and being curious, reflecting on what happened, reflecting on what their contribution was to the relationship breakdown and really focusing on being the best parent they can be. You see people come out of divorce, more humble, grateful, willing, more tolerant of others.
(12:43): A lot of the time they call it, I think in the states a reset whereby everything’s sort of rushed away. You have to rebuild and gives you a platform to rebuild. So I think having a good divorce is also part of that is being open to growing, having some growth through the process. Sometimes of course, in the middle of it all, you’re not going to feel like that because you’re reacting to all the practical and you’re reacting to the financial and all the stresses and the little conflicts and whatever. You’re not feeling like that. But
over time I see a lot of people growth.
Laura Jenkins (13:17): Yes.
Jacqueline Wharton (13:17): Which is great.
Laura Jenkins (13:19): Oh, it must be really reassuring for those listening who are going through the eye of the storm at the moment to know that there is that opportunity for growth out the other side. And it’s great to hear that people get to the stage where they are having that time to reflect on themselves and things that worked well and things that perhaps didn’t work so well in that previous life, and then ultimately that’s going to set them up for more success in their new life from life. So let’s talk about the legal piece, which I’m sure is quite close to your heart as well, given your background in family law. So what are some of the key responsibilities that parents should be aware of during and after the separation process? So assuming the divorced couple have got children.
Jacqueline Wharton (14:19): So the main responsibility, so first of all, it’s really important that everyone understands that under the Australian Family Law Act, parents don’t have rights. Really, they’ve only got responsibilities. The only people that have rights are the children, and that’s a right to have a meaningful relationship with both or connection with both their parents. And I talk about that being whereby the children know who you are, your child knows what makes you laugh, what you don’t like eating, who your best friends are, what your little routines are, what your quirks are. That’s knowing someone intimately. And children have a right to know both parents in that way, unless of course there’s issues of safety, which is obviously means that their safety comes first, always safety first under the Family Law Act. So the responsibility is in terms of parental responsibility, there’s a responsibility to ensure that you are informing the other parent as to what, for example, medical procedures your children are going through.
(15:39): Education, religion, parental responsibility really encompasses all of those types of guardianship issues. So yes, medical, health, education, religion, some social cultural issues, and you have responsibilities to ensure that the other parent is as far as possible across those because you are meant to be making joint decisions, decisions together on those very, very, very important issues. Day-to-day care, very different day-to-day care. When your children are with you, they’re with you. You are responsible for what time they go to bed, what they’re eating, unless it’s a health issue, of course, who they’re playing with when they do their homework. But unless there court order’s in place, those are your decisions. And I do know that some parents would like to have mores over what time the children go to bed with the otherparent, but unfortunately, it’s not really within the realms of parental responsibility. That’s more day-to-day care.
(16:54): There are other responsibilities under the ACT relation to finances, which is, and it’s a really important obligation that both parents have, and that’s an obligation to provide full and frank disclosure, financial disclosure to the other parent. And that’s a positive duty and an ongoing duty. So even if the other side doesn’t ask for a particular document, you’d still required to provide it to them and you have to keep providing it to them until you’ve come to a financial settlement. So that’s important to know because people often say to me, oh, well I don’t need to give them my private bank account details or whatever. And I said, no, actually you do. You are required to disclose everything. So everything that you are spending in your private accounts, the other side is entitled to see until you’ve come to a fully legally finding agreement on your finances.
Laura Jenkins (17:51): Interesting. And can that change at any time up until the children are 18 years of age, or is there a point at which that agreement becomes null and void as the children become adults?
Jacqueline Wharton (18:05): So the financial agreement.
Laura Jenkins (18:07): The financial agreement.
Jacqueline Wharton (18:10): No. So the financial agreement is usually about your split of assets and sometimes spousal maintenance. So once you’ve entered into that, that stays put. There’s another agreement that you can come, you enter into in relation to child support, and that’s called a binding child support agreement. And that would generally remain in place until the children are all 18 or have finished year 12. So sorry. Obviously as each child turns 18, the agreement would cease to apply to them as they turn 18 or finish year 12, whichever is the latter.
Laura Jenkins (18:52): Got it.
Jacqueline Wharton (18:53): Yes. The law is quite complicated in this area in terms of understanding what documents you need in relation to each of your agreements. So there are four or more different types of agreements that you might need to sign off to finalize your parenting or financial settlement and get divorced.
Laura Jenkins (19:17): Okay. It’s a complex web.
Jacqueline Wharton (19:20): It is unfortunately
Laura Jenkins (19:22): And made even more complex when that divorced couple are then considering new relationships or marriages as well, which will happen after their separation or divorce or even if they’re getting divorced for a second time round and then going into another relationship. So what sort of extra complexities in your experience are surfacing in that scenario?
Jacqueline Wharton (19:48): So when people enter into new relationships, so there’s obviously the parenting side and there’s the financial side. I might deal with financial first if you don’t mind, and then let’s talk about the parenting because that is complex. But obviously there’s a whole lot of other issues that happen once you move in with somebody else if you’ve got children or even if you don’t. But if you have children, if spousal maintenance is being paid to you, then you should really get some legal advice as to whether that will still be being paid. Child support should still be being paid to you by your ex, or you should still be paying child support. The new partner isn’t necessarily responsible for paying for your children, so that should all be fine. But there are other issues in terms of you negotiating with your new partner how your finances should be working in the family.
(20:48): That in of itself is a very complicated issue, but hopefully if you’ve both been through divorce or separation, you’ll be more willing to have those conversations openly and constructively because you know how important it’s, I work with a lot of couples who come to me to do binding financial agreements before moving it together. They’re really the prenup as the colonial term for them. And they’re really good conversations because people actually talk about their money values, how they see their future together financially and otherwise, and really have those raw conversations before the conflict arises. So money is often how value, it’s how we perceive ourselves. So being able to have those honest and transparent conversations before making any joint purchases, major purchases, it can be really helpful for people to understand where they sit and what they can expect, and that can lead to much more productive conversations and probably less conflict within the relationship.
(22:07): So even though those conversations are hard, when you’re putting the prenup together, they’re very much worthwhile. So that’s on the financial front, obviously the children front, the parenting front, there are a whole lot of issues. It’s obviously blending. I always say it’s like blending. You’ve got two hands and you’re trying to blend the fingers together. And there can be a lot of friction at different times and different reasons. It often looks much easier from a distance, but managing all the children can be quite challenging. It isn’t the Brady Bunch, is it My partner, my partner and I are partners. We live apart and we’ve been lived apart for 12 years and we’ve got three children each the same ages. People were always so keen for us to move it together. And we were like, well, where’s Alice if we get an Alice? Maybe. But otherwise not, it isn’t as easy as he’s, and it certainly isn’t easy in the first few years of a separation because the other parent is often quite stressed about the impact of the new relationship on their relationship with the children. So you’ve got not just what’s going on in your household, but what’s going on outside your household with the other parent.
(23:45): I always think it’s better to be transparent with the other parent if possible. They don’t get to dictate who you see or how you want to live your life, but in terms of for your children, it is better that they know that other parent understands what’s happening, so they don’t have to hold secrets on your behalf. We don’t want children to be holding the angst. So if you are introducing a new partner to your children, for example, it’s always good to tell the other parent first so that when little Johnny comes home, you can say, oh, Johnny, I hear that your dad introduced you to Sally today. How did that go? And
what a relief for little Johnny that he doesn’t have to go home wondering, does mom know? Is mom going to be upset? Do I tell mom, we try and take as much stress off our kids as we can in that respect. I’ve forgotten the question.
Laura Jenkins (24:50): No, look, that’s such a good tip, and you’d answered the question well, so the question was around the challenges that people face when they’re entering a second marriage and we’re talking about the financial and then the parent, the aspects I know and look, and there’s no one size fits all, as you say, and your personal situation with the two houses can work equally well as another Brady Bunch style scenario, but it purely depends, doesn’t it, on so many factors that are unique to every single circumstance and situation.
Jacqueline Wharton (25:33): Absolutely. I think it was, like I was saying it, I think to you before we got online that I always think that new relationships are like a cake. Everyone knows that there are ingredients and that you put in the oven, the process of it, but all those different ingredients create a very different cake. And it does need to be, yes, they all need to be mixed in well, but probably at different times.
Laura Jenkins (25:59): I love that analogy, spot on. Coming back to the children, are there any other ways, I love the tip that you just shared. Are there any other ways in your experience that parents can ensure the wellbeing of their children is going to remain a top priority when they’re moving into that new relationship or perhaps moving in with somebody new?
Jacqueline Wharton (26:30): Yes. So look, I think just generally in divorce and obviously moving in with a new partner, you always have to remember that, well, first of all, I would always say don’t force it. And I’m sure you’ve talked about that many, many times on your podcast. You can’t force your children to your other partner or like your other partners, your children if they have them. It evolves. If your parents, children trust you, they’ll generally begin to trust the other, your new partner. But forcing things on children can be fraught, I think, especially as they get a little bit older. So I would always say patience. Another good tip is to always think about what hat you’re wearing when you’re interacting with your children. So you are wearing your parent hat 80% of the time. Your woman hat, your man hat, your adult hat is a hat that you tend to wear when you’re not with your children.
(27:35): And so you can react to whatever is going on in an adult way when you’re wearing your adult hat away from your children. But when your children are with you, you’re wearing a parent hat and everything needs to be seen from their perspective. If they feel that you are doing that, they will trust you and they’ll trust your judgment and they won’t feel forced into a situation that they don’t don’t like. At the end of the day, they’re looking for your attention, and if you seem to be giving it to someone else all the time instead of them, then they’re going to react to that and they’re probably going to react against the other, your new partner, to be honest. So you’ve got to make sure you’re giving your children enough time.
Laura Jenkins (28:15): I love that analogy of the hats as well. I think that’s a good visual just to be thinking about which role am I playing in, being really mindful of that when you’re in each of them.
Jacqueline Wharton (28:29): Because the other thing, when you’re wearing your parent hat, you then remember that you are the adult and they’re the children. And that can be really important. When I talk a lot about, and I won’t bore you with all of them, but the three C’s of a child centered divorce, and they all begin with C, but the most important ones for me are obviously conflict. So you’re not ever exposing your children to conflict. We all know that children can suffer greatly from conflict through the divorce, and in fact, children can actually fare very well through divorce and can grow as well. But that’s the conflict that causes their angst. So conflict. It’s important that you don’t expose your children to that. And that’s going to be really important for the other parent too, if they’re having some difficulties with you moving in with a new partner that they’re wearing their parent hat and really thinking about the children first.
(29:32): The other thing that’s the other C word is let children be children. Don’t make them become your confidant. So oversharing about the new relationship too can make the child a little bit too invested or involved, and you’ve really got to have that time. I think parents need to have, or new partners certainly need time to themselves before they’re really involving the children. And I always say to people, look, I know sometimes people don’t want to enter into new relationships with children when they’ve got children, until they know that their children like the other person. And I think that’s absolutely fantastic, and I agree with that entirely. But at the same time, once you’ve introduced your children, the relationship definitely changes. And it’s really nice to have that honeymoon period without involving children at all. So yes, yeah, try and try at least keep your children out of it for some time while you test whether it’s going to work. And children don’t need to be constantly seeing people coming in and out of your life if yes, optimally
Laura Jenkins (30:49): Such good advice. And so for somebody who’s listening to this, and they might not be there yet, they might be right at the beginning of their divorce journey, they’re not thinking about blending families quite yet. What advice would you give to help them approach the process with confidence and with clarity?
Jacqueline Wharton (31:14): Yes, another really great question, but a big question obviously. So I always say that the most important word in divorce is preparation. I sometimes say to people, think about how much time you put into organizing your wedding, and then think about what you’re doing now. This is probably the biggest negotiation of your life. You’re not only negotiating for a share of hard thought finances, but you are also often fighting for time with your children. And finding’s probably not the right word, I’ll say, negotiating or discussing. And you would never walk into a negotiation in your workplace if you were running a negotiation in your workplace when you were talking about negotiating that amount of money or something else as sacred as time with children. You would be preparing for that for a long time. You would be understanding all of your numbers, you’d be understanding your children’s schedule, you’d be looking at it from all angles.
(32:27): And unfortunately, a lot of people just don’t do the preparation. I understand why. It’s very scary for a lot of people. They’re not across their numbers, they’re not across the macro, their bigger picture in terms of what their mortgage is or how much super they’ve got or have they got shares or they’re not across all the numbers, the big numbers, and then they’re not across a lot of the detail of their everyday budget. So it’s scary to do. But once you start preparing, once you start doing your budget, once you start understanding your bigger financial picture, you will feel more confident to understand what it is that you want and what is achievable and whether or not you should be thinking about keeping the house. People often want to keep the house when they have children, whether that actually is a good financial decision for you in terms of the children, it’s really important that you think your children’s schedule, you think about what’s important to your children, who do you want your children to become?
(33:44): You’ve got to give some thought as to what might happen in five years and not just the now. Do you want your children to be confident? And if so, how are you going to achieve that with your ex? How are you both going to work together to give them your children the right environment to thrive so as to become secure? So unfortunately, it is hard work. It’s prepare, prepare, prepare, and it’s also trying as much as you can to take the emotion out of it, which is very difficult. But in Australia, we have a no fault divorce system for a reason. No fault means that you are not going to get more of the asset pool because you didn’t like the way your ex behaved and behaved unless it’s of course family violence, in which case it’s a factor that should be taken into account.
(34:47): But just because you didn’t like what they were doing from day to day doesn’t mean that. That means that you’re entitled to more so you’ve got to, or if you’ve been left for example, it doesn’t mean because you’ve been left that you’re entitled to more of the asset pool. So getting across understanding how the law works, getting good advice from third party professionals, getting across your numbers, getting across your children’s routines, and then also preparing your mindset or your mojo. I always say a good divorce is 50% mojo and 50% matter management. So you really need to understand where you are emotionally on your divorce journey and learn to harness the negative or the more the black cloud emotions to pull you across the stormy seas of your divorces if you like. But yes, learning to understand your emotions and learning to self-soothe and seeing and preparing for your future, yes, preparation is key. Unfortunately, it’s hard work. Yes, but it’s worth it.
Laura Jenkins (36:06): Such good advice. Well, thank you very much for your insight and your time today, Jacqueline. I could keep talking to you for hours here, but we are at time, Jacqueline. Just lastly, where can listeners go to connect with you or get in touch with? Sorry, I’m going to say that line again, Jacqueline. Just lastly, where can listeners go if they’d like to connect with you or learn more about the services that you offer?
Jacqueline Wharton (36:39): Well, I have a couple of different services. I have an online course, which is a separation divorce masterclass, and it’s really designed to help you work through your divorce. There are a lot of resources out there, but this is really a designed to ensure that you know what to do next at any point in the journey. And it’s, as I said, 50 videos with associated worksheets from everything from do you actually want to leave to how to leave a lot different types of living arrangements like nesting and financials, parenting, and how to engage a lawyer if you need one. So that’s the online course, and you can find that at the relations suite. So relations and then S ut au. If people want to talk to me individually, they can reach out to me through my other website, separation and Divorce Advisors. And I also work with couples who wish to be amicable. I have a process called Separation Collaboration, which is a very transparent and forward looking process, but it’s designed to keep negotiations going in a very structured and constructive way. So that works really well and usually post that process finishing, we’ve got an agreement signed and people are still, as a general rule, on really good speaking terms, which is I think what everybody wants at the end of the day. No point holding onto your anger.
Laura Jenkins (38:26): No, absolutely not. Very good. Well, thank you again, Jacqueline. We so appreciate your time and have a wonderful afternoon.
Jacqueline Wharton (38:36): Oh, thanks so much for having me, Laura. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Laura Jenkins (38:40): Thanks for listening to In The Blend podcast. The show notes for this episode are available @intheblend.com au. And if you like what you heard, be sure to subscribe and please rate and review in your podcasting app. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.