Separating from a spouse or partner is difficult, there are no two ways about it.
We know that half of all relationships end up in divorce but not one of us ever expects it to happen to our own relationship.
Whether the break-up is your choice or not, the grief you feel can be overwhelming in those early days. You might experience feelings of loss, anger, sadness and resentment, and you may also have to deal with how everyone else reacts to the separation – your partner, children, parents, friends and acquaintances.
Just when you’re feeling the most vulnerable, you find yourself with some incredibly difficult issues to work through.
- How will you and your partner tell the kids?
- How will you share the parenting?
- Where will you both live?
- How will you agree on who gets what?
- And here’s a big one, how can you avoid a long and expensive court process?
Unfortunately, separations can become ongoing arguments which leave everybody feeling damaged. This is what you want to avoid, and the good news is that you really can avoid it if you and your separating partner work together to resolve differences. There’s no such thing as a fun separation, but there are separations where both sides keep their dignity intact so that they can move on positively to the next phase of their lives.
Here are a few important things that you need to do, consider and decide upon in preparation for and during separation.
Talking to each other
One of the most important things you can do when separating is to communicate clearly and calmly with your partner. If the break-up is coming from you, be clear about your decision to end the relationship. If it’s coming from your partner, take some time to pull your thoughts together, get support and work out what your next steps are.
At this point it’s crucial to recognise that you and your former partner may be in different stages of acceptance of the situation, and so you should approach this life change with as much understanding and flexibility as possible.
Counselling and mediation are useful tools to help you both clarify your thoughts and expectations. Being articulate and realistic about what you want will be a big help when it comes to agreeing the outcomes of your separation.
Talking to the kids
If you have children together, it’s important to talk to them about the end of the relationship. It will be one of the hardest things you have to do and you will most likely have to explain it more than once.
Talk to your children about the change of situation in a way that makes sense to them, and encourage them to ask questions and communicate their feelings and concerns with you. If possible, sit down and share the news together taking care not to blame or demean each other. Be prepared for anger, tears, blame and confusion. If your children are young, there’s a good chance you’ll have to explain what’s happening again and again.
It’s not going to be easy but having these discussions calmly and amicably will have a big impact on how well your children handle the separation.
For more information you can download the brochure Children and Separation – A guide for Parents.
First steps: Checklist
- Consider opening a new post office box and redirecting important mail
- Set up a separate email account and change passwords to any personal media, internet banking and other accounts
- Ensure you have access to funds. You may need to open a new bank account or apply for a separate credit card. You may need to transfer some funds across to that account from your existing redraw facility or jointly held funds
- Pack and take away from the home important irreplaceable items and place important documents (e.g. birth and marriage certificates, passports) somewhere safe. It’s a good idea to make copies
- If you feel you may need to leave the home (even temporarily), pack an overnight bag for yourself and, if you have children, pack some of their belongings as well. If you do move out, take your personal items including medications and records, personal documents, and any other household contents you wish to keep. Getting them later can sometimes be difficult.
Questions to ask: Finance and Property
It’s important to think about what will happen with the finances and property once you have separated. The more you can discuss and agree these issues together, the easier the separation will be for you both.
- How will you and your former partner support yourselves and your children?
- Which bank accounts will income and wages go into?
- Who will pay which bills and debts?
- If you’re cancelling bills, whose name will they go into and who will pay them?
- Who will stay in the house and who will move out?
- How will the rent or mortgage be paid?
- What will happen with joint bank accounts?
- What will happen to the house, car, furniture, and other assets?
- Do you need to sever a joint tenancy on the property?
Understanding the legal process
A practical guide to separation – Sydney Law GroupYou can’t formally register a separation under law and the law requires you and your spouse to be separated for at least 12 months before you can apply for a divorce. It makes sense to confirm your separation date in writing as proof should you decide to get divorced later on.
Seeking legal advice when you’re separating doesn’t necessarily signify the beginning of a long and painful legal battle. A good family lawyer will help you understand your rights and responsibilities and avoid confusion about the informal and formal procedures you can take.
The role of the lawyer is to provide you with information and help you identify your options and potential outcomes. You should meet with your lawyer with a set of questions in mind. Take a support person with you if you would feel more comfortable.
Legal advice may help you to resolve the matters between you and your former partner. Though some court applications may need to be made urgently, the issues can often be resolved by consent through well-positioned and considered negotiations.
For a comprehensive guide to separation, download our booklet When life gets sticky: A practical and positive guide to separation.
Want to talk?
Sydney Law Group is an experienced team of family lawyers who are passionate about achieving the best possible legal results for our clients. We exist to help you through this difficult time and to guide you to a positive outcome without extra emotional or financial stress. We’re on your side, every step of the way.