Catherine Leach – WAToday.com.auFamily Lawyer | Managing Director at Leach Legal l The Legal Life Coach
Coaches, ‘nesting’ and amicable splits: WA divorce in the modern age
Perth woman Suz Hutchings spent two years agonising about whether to separate from her husband. They had been together for 21 years and had two children, but something had shifted in their relationship.
“That was such a heavy weight on both of our shoulders, but becoming single and being in this space now, it just feels so good. I feel so free and so does he,” she said.
The pair is one of around 5800 couples who file for divorce in Western Australia each year, and the number is trending upwards: so much so, a niche market of divorce coaches has emerged to guide people through the life-changing process.
Coach and author Carla Da Costa war formerly a business coach but began exclusively offering divorce coaching 18 months ago when she saw the exploding demand.
“My clients are typically women aged 35 to 55, they have generally been in a marriage or long-term relationship from their 20s and early 30s, and it’s a very daunting thought to be single and on their own again after such a long time of being with one partner,” she said.
“They almost always have children as well, and the children are usually the block that stops them ending the relationship sooner.”
Da Costa said the children entering school was often the trigger for a woman to re-evaluate her relationship.
“She’s out of the nappy stage, and sometimes what happens is when they look at their partner with fresh eyes, suddenly there is a loss of connection, a loss of attraction, they’ve potentially outgrown them and there’s resentment for that sometimes – and this can often go both ways,” she said.
Hutchings, 42, said Da Costa’s guidance helped her to learn how to live life on her own.
“I was going out and partying and doing all that fun stuff and then everyone around me was saying, ‘You should spend time on your own’, but I didn’t really know how to do that. When you’re with someone for such a long time, it’s really hard,” she said.
Catherine Leach, of Leach Legal, said it was usually women initiating divorce proceedings in Perth, with most couples able to come to a financial and parental arrangement without engaging a lawyer.
“Of the people that split up, the legal profession probably see maybe half of them, and then of that amount, probably 95 per cent of them would go on to get an agreement,” she said.
She said most couples settled on a 50-50 arrangement with their children before settling into a more permanent arrangement down the track.
“There’s a few couples that have come through that do ‘nesting’, so they leave the kids in the house and then buy an apartment; the parents move in and out and the kids stay in the house,” she said.
“In my experience it doesn’t work very well long term, because the parents get a bit sick of going in and out, and they also get new partners and want to live their own lives.”
Da Costa said most clients she coached strived for an amicable separation with the goal of creating a new positive family dynamic.
“It’s not that your family ends, it’s just that the family dynamic changes and expands a little bit,” she said.
Perth woman Renee Scorda, 36, said before she separated from her partner of 14 years, the thing she feared the most was the unknown.
“I’d feel so overwhelmed … I felt like I was frozen,” she said.
“I am a logical person and I knew what I needed to do, but everything just felt so overwhelming.”
Since the split, Scorda has learned to appreciate the journey, and not fear the destination.
“Our child is happy, our relationship is better and even though it’s not your typical storybook family, it’s been positive so far for our family,” she said.
“I know there are going to be challenges eventually that we will need to face, and we’ll just have to work our way through that as a team like we have done so far.”
Hutchings said after years of being undecided on whether to split, her and her former husband had rediscovered their friendship.
“If you can be amicable like we are, it’s amazing,” she said.
“My ex-partner and I were sitting at an appointment for our son the other week and we were just laughing and I said, ‘I’m so grateful that we’ve got this relationship now because we are back to being amazing friends’.
“I joked that he should really thank me for leaving him and he said, ‘I do’.”