Deciding to separate from your partner can be a huge step, and you may feel a little overwhelmed with all the ‘what ifs’ in your future. If you’re in the early stages of separation and wondering what to focus on first, it can be useful to sit down and write down a practical list of issues to deal with to help you move forward.
We’ve put together a basic checklist to get you started – you may want to add to or amend it as necessary, since every circumstance is different, but remember that your ex’s choices and priorities may not be the same as yours. Once you have a clearer idea of what you want and need out of the separation process, you can to take your list to your solicitor for professional advice on the best way to proceed.
What are my options?
Going to court is not the only way to get a divorce – an option for ‘no fault’ divorce is on the horizon, but in the meantime there are several other out-of-court solutions available, such as mediation, collaborative family law, and arbitration. Each of these methods of resolution has its pros and cons, and your decision will depend on your unique circumstances and needs. The path you take will also be in large part determined by whether or not you and your ex are able to come to a mutual decision and make an informal settlement, or whether you need the court to make an agreement on your behalf. In all cases, consulting your family lawyer before you make any decision is vital to ensure that you’re making the best choice possible for your situation.
The first item on most people’s list when it comes to separation is: ‘What happens to the family home?’ This will depend on a number of factors, including your marital and financial circumstances, whether or not you have children, your ability to run separate homes, and the legal aspects of your home ownership or rental agreement.
Once the initial decisions about who lives where are made, you will also need to consider how to divide up any property assets fairly when it comes to separation. There are several options for this, depending on whether you need to release assets quickly or are happy to retain a share in a property until a later date; your solicitor will be able to advise you what to expect and how to proceed.
Co-parenting after separation is a learning curve, and it will take time and patience to find a new balance. At first, focus on the practicalities and ensure that your children feel loved and listened to during the confusion of the transition period. If possible, sit down with your ex (and perhaps an objective third party like a mediator or family counsellor) to discuss living and care arrangements, and figure out how to divide up childcare as fairly and sensibly as possible. Remember that even though things may not end up in a 50/50 split, you both have a responsibility for your child’s wellbeing and education, and – where possible – to give them the option to see both parents.
Dividing Assets and Liabilities
Financial issues are often where the separation process becomes most complicated, but a good start is simply to make a comprehensive list of all your assets and liabilities – both shared and individual – and to consider what you think to be a fair division. Remember that this is not an exercise in ‘getting back’ at your ex; this is a necessary process with the aim of ensuring you are both in a financial position to carry on with your lives separately. The division of your joint assets may not necessarily reflect the amount you have contributed financially or be split right down the middle, but other worthwhile contributions (such as sacrificing a career to care for children) should also be taken into consideration.
When you’ve made the decision to separate, you will need to do a fair bit of ‘life admin’ to sort out all the appropriate paperwork and ensure the right people have been informed. These might include any bank or credit card companies, mortgage providers or letting agents, HMRC, the council tax and/or benefits office, utilities companies, and insurance providers. You may also want to update your will to reflect your new situation as any existing documents will remain in effect until the completion of your divorce.
Family and Friends
Sometimes the hardest step is telling your loved ones about your separation, but often you’ll find that once you’ve opened up about your situation, the support will come flooding in. Make the most of your family and friends during difficult times, and avoid involving your children in any negative discussions of your ex. Put your focus into moving forward rather than dwelling on what went wrong or who’s at fault, and look ahead to life after separation.
Make the most of your solicitor’s experience and advice – they are there to help you get the best outcome in your circumstances – and try to work as collaboratively as possible with your ex. The more you delay with acrimonious disagreements over the fine details, the longer the process will take, and the more it will cost in the long run. And remember that your solicitor is not a relationship counsellor, as much as they may sympathise with your situation. If you’re struggling, visit your GP, or contact relationship charity Relate for support and advice.
For more information on the next steps for separation and divorce, please get in touch with our friendly family lawyers at Frances Lindsay & Co. We offer a free 45-minute consultation for family issues to help you decide the best course of action and help take the weight off your shoulders. Visit us at www.franceslindsay.co.uk, call 01628 634667, or email firstname.lastname@example.org and book at appointment at our Maidenhead or Beaconsfield offices.