Anyone who is contemplating a separation or divorce needs to take certain steps at the outset to get things on the right track.
“What should I be doing?”
Anyone who is contemplating a separation or divorce needs to take certain steps at the outset to get things on the right track and make sure they don’t do (or omit to do) anything they may later regret. Lesley Gordon is often asked by clients “What should I be doing?” With this in mind, she has put together some practical steps to help ensure any separation goes as smoothly as possible and is fair.
1. Seek advice
Seek advice from a specialist family law solicitor. Some solicitors who offer family law services also buy and sell houses, draw up wills and deal with neighbour disputes. If you had a potentially life changing medical problem you would want your local GP to refer you to the specialist consultant at the hospital. Take the same approach to your separation.
2. Get a clear picture
Get a clear understanding of your rights and responsibilities as soon as possible. These will differ according to whether you are married or cohabiting. Knowledge really is power. The more you know about the law and what to expect from the process the less time and energy you will waste on unproductive worrying. Many people come to see us for “what if” advice; some go on to separate, others do not. The key benefit is it lets you make more educated decisions
3. Consider your options
Going to Court may not be the best way to resolve things. It can inflame the situation and is very stressful. There are times when going to Court is necessary, but it is usually the last resort. It’s the legal equivalent of surgery. Alternatives for reaching agreement on the division of assets and/or the care arrangements for children, such as negotiation, mediation and collaborative law, are all effective dispute resolution options.
4. Find out about your finances
The more information you have about the finances, the better. In many relationships one party will handle the family’s finances and the other will have less knowledge as they take responsibility for other tasks.
- If you do not know much about your family’s income, outgoings and assets, find out. We can help you with this if required.
- Retain copies of financial documents in a safe place and print information that is stored on the computer.
- Make a list of your assets and any debts and understand their value. If you can, you will also want to make a list of your spouse’s assets and debts.
- Consider closing or freezing joint accounts so that your spouse does not run up balances that the bank can then ask you to repay.
- Aim to have some funds in an account in your sole name to support yourself in the short term. You should take advice from a solicitor before making any changes to the household financial arrangements.
5. Keep it civil
Aim to establish a civil, business like relationship with your estranged partner. If you can do that it will make the process much easier, and much cheaper.
Think carefully about how you are going to tell the kids about any separation, what you are going to tell them and how you are going to reassure them. If possible tell them together with your spouse.
6. Don’t involve the kids
Don’t argue in front of the children or involve them in the adult issues. No matter how furious you are or how tempting it might be to let them know the ins and outs, it does not help any child to hear their mum or dad be criticised or to ask them to take sides between the two most important people in their life.
7. Update legal documents
Update financial and legal documents as soon as possible after a separation. A married couple will routinely name the other as the beneficiary in their Will, on their insurance policies, and as their death in service nomination. Following a separation most people’s wishes change.
8. Don’t go it alone.
Separation or divorce is a stressful and emotional experience. Support can be provided from friends, family members or from independent professionals such as your GP, a coach or a counsellor. The better care you take of yourself, the better placed you will be to deal with the tough parts and make decisions that will set you up in the best possible way for the future.