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OPINION - I know the nightmare of divorce, so here’s my guide to how to do it right

Rob Rinder.  Evening Standard byline photo.  (NATASHA PSZENICKI)
Rob Rinder. Evening Standard byline photo. (NATASHA PSZENICKI)

So here we are, finally at the end of winter — and it feels like everyone’s untying the knot. Ironically for a month that’s got St Valentine squatting right in the middle, February has always seemed to me like the divorciest month. Wobbling couples have a horrible time over the festive period, do some serious chatting in January, and then — just as the weather improves — call in the lawyers. It’s the 28 days of Splitmas.

Of course, the whole business can be unbearably messy. I’ve seen more marriages fall to pieces than I can count (I’ve even been through it myself) and along the way I’ve managed to learn a handful of useful principles. So here’s Rinder’s guide to doing divorce well — from someone who didn’t.

First, the biggest one: if you’ve got kids there is no such thing as divorce. Yes, you’ll cease to be married — fingers crossed you’ll even find a better, bouncier other half who’ll laugh at your jokes — but never forget you’ll be connected to your ex-partner forever. There are decades of bar mitzvahs, graduations and weddings ahead of you. There’s no point delivering the perfectly crafted “farewell insult” when you’ll be sitting next to each other at an oboe recital later that day. So keep it civil: you’re in it for the long haul. Also, just to be clear — using children as weapons in a break-up is indescribably terrible. With a small number of heartbreakingly tragic exceptions, refusing custody simply isn’t worth it and doing it “tactically” to screw concessions out of a co-parent is unforgivable.

Second, strain every sinew to try and reach some kind of adult agreement before you get lawyered up. If you can be mindful and sensible about what you want and what you need (two vastly different things), you might save yourself several tonnes of heartbreak and years of wasted time.

I don’t mean to besmirch my colleagues who handle divorces, but you can’t deny the simple litigation algebra: the more cash you spend, the worse it’s gone for you and the better for the lawyers. Just take an evening with some nice wine to try and sketch out what really matters to you both.

Third, don’t let money poison everything. I’ve seen the friendliest conscious uncouplings turn into the dirtiest of dingdongs when the bank accounts were cracked open.

Don’t get me wrong, in a period of economic catastrophe, financial stability is important. But while you can often find more money, you can never make more time.

Fourth, if your former partner is being difficult, be elegant; if they’re being obstinate, be flexible; when they choose to be selfish, school them in generosity. The path to happiness is always along the high road. The other direction leads to nothing but expensive, toxic misery.

So follow those rules, be your best self and — hopefully — it can be as close to painless as divorce can get. Then, once you’ve listened to Britney Spears’ Stronger several thousand times and bought yourself some fabulous new outfits (preferably revealing ones), you can focus on the fun bit: letting us all find you someone much better.

Joan’s recipe for happiness

I was at a dinner a few years back — long before I was on anyone’s TV screens — and in came the unspeakably glamorous Joan Collins, with her gorgeous husband, Percy. As someone who, from early childhood, modelled himself on Alexis Carrington’s shoulder pads, it was a quasi-religious experience.

I’m still not quite over it.

Of course, if there’s anyone who can tell us everything we need to know about the ins and outs of divorcing, it’s the magnificent Dame Joan — it took four failed marriages before she reached the ideal in Percy: hilarious, utterly devoted to her and wanting nothing more than to treat her right.

It just goes to show us that it may take a fair while, but — if you keep your eyes on perfect happiness — you really can get there in the end.