It is generally accepted that divorce is one of the most stressful life events that anyone can have to navigate. Whether you are able to maintain a level of co-operation with your spouse, or matters become highly contentious, there will be vast amounts of information that has to be collated and considered, and complex legal principles that have to be processed and applied. For those with a neurodiversity this can be especially overwhelming.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity refers to differences in neurodevelopment, impacting the way a person’s brain works, learns and processes information, including Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Tourette’s.
Based on different studies, between 15-20% of the population is neurodiverse — including up to 10% of people who are diagnosed with dyslexia, 5% diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and 1-2% with autism.
Managing the process
At the commencement of the divorce process, and the beginning of financial proceedings or negotiations, there is a lot of information that needs to be collated into specific forms. It is important that anyone instructing a solicitor to assist and advise them with this process takes time to discuss how this is going to be achieved. In the event that a client is neurodivergent, this should be disclosed to ensure that the advising solicitor understands them, and a conversation can then take place to ensure the client is well supported to reduce stress and anxiety, in that initial stage and throughout.
By way of example, if the client is dyslexic, it may be very difficult for them to sit down and fill in a Court form such as the Form E. They may benefit from going through this with a member of their legal team, or taking it in small sections rather than one big document. Their dyslexia may also impact on their ability to digest substantial written information, and telephone calls, diagrams and charts may better assist their understanding.
Poor memory recall is also a key characteristic of the dyslexic brain. A dyslexic client will be well assisted by a short note following up on any discussion, agreed to-do lists and reminders.
Following the example through, a dyslexic client may need more time to reflect and process information, but then “get it all at once”, and demonstrate extraordinary competencies of problem solving and creativity.
If a client has ADD/ADHD, managing multiple tasks to a deadline may be challenging for them, and their solicitor should work with them to establish how they can be best supported. Whether that is by regular reminders, taking it one task at a time, or sitting down together.
Divorce coaching can be invaluable in enabling a client to navigate and positively manage their divorce. A neurodiverse client will need to ensure that they have an excellent support system in place, which might well include a divorce coach who understands their differences. Emma Rees-Davies is a divorce coach who can help, as she notes:
“As a divorce coach, I have seen the anxieties and complexities that can come with neurodiversity and will strongly encourage clients to divulge this to their solicitor. If a client feels awkward telling their legal team (sometimes shame can attach itself to neurodiversity too), I can help with this. When we all work together as a team, we can help clients to get clarity and in turn regain their feeling of control, which boosts their confidence. Legal language can confuse a client; I ensure my clients understand what is expected of them, explain the meaning of the legal forms / questions. As part of the support team, I can also help with form filling, often breaking it down into small sections and explaining the process of divorce as it takes its course. I personally have lots of experience working with varying levels of neurodiverse clients and have a neurodiverse daughter.”
You are in control
As the client, you understand your neurodiversity and what can be done to support you better than any other. We will not assume that particular adjustments are required, simply because you have a particular neurodiversity, but will be guided by you.
The key message is to be open about your neurodiversity, your concerns and anxieties. We are specialist family lawyers with expertise to help you navigate your divorce. Please contact us to speak to one of our family law experts in confidence.