What happens when a family undergo a separation? Are there tools available to ease the transition from one family into two? Many people view a divorce or separation as a process that is fraught with acrimony and vexation, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
The expert team of family lawyers at Ashfords has put together the practical guide below to support families that are separating to consciously uncouple with as little conflict as possible.
Treat your partner as you would a business partner
One or both of you may have decided to end your romantic relationship, but for the majority of married couples or co-parents it will not be possible to end the relationship entirely at that point.
There will often still be a number of joint decisions that will need to be made, and so there needs to be a degree of ‘business as usual’ as you navigate your separation. We would always advise therefore that you keep the direct lines of communication open. Be respectful and courteous; answer calls and texts where you can, but don’t be afraid to stop and pause and re-read a message a number of times, particularly if emotions are high. Try to imagine how an objective third party might read these communications.
Do not involve the children in the separation or adult matters more generally as the children should, as far as possible, be protected from these discussions. Similarly, neither parent should denigrate the other in front of the children.
Whilst we understand that a separation can be overwhelming and bring up a maelstrom of emotions, it is much better for the long-term good of the family to keep discussions positive. If keeping the lines of communication open proves challenging, you might want to consider using a communication tool such as Ourfamilywizard, which helps families to have accountability over their dialogue and also comes with a tone-checker feature to ensure that messages are not unduly hostile.
Place the welfare of the children first
The law views children’s welfare as the paramount consideration, both in terms of resolving any finances or co-parenting disputes, and your approach should be no different. Have their needs and emotions in the forefront of your minds at all times.
Early access to counselling and legal advice can be crucial
It is crucial for both parties to have access to early legal and professional advice (such as tax advice) so that they each understand the legal position and that their expectations are managed in this regard. This can help you to discuss the position with knowledge rather than emotion. If possible, choose a solicitor who is a member of Resolution as they will be committed to helping you resolve your separation in a non-confrontational way, and will signpost you to the process most suited to your circumstances.
Counselling can be a really effective tool to grieve the once romantic relationship and ensure that emotions are kept in check. You may therefore want to consider enlisting a counsellor or therapist when building your trusted divorce or separation team.
Maintain the status quo in so far as possible
If you have been paying for all of the family bills, continue to pay all of the bills until you and your partner have reached an agreement for how expenses will be handled going forward. Neither of you should withdraw or spend significant sums of money without the consent of the other or this may have adverse consequences later down the line.
Unless there are real safety or safeguarding concerns, arrangements for the children should continue and it is important that you encourage the children to have a relationship with the other parent.
Discuss the various options for an amicable divorce
There are lots of options to help navigate the discussions without ending up in court. Mediation, collaborative law, solicitor-led negotiation, round table meetings are just a handful of the options which usually lead to an agreement which you are both equally comfortable with.
Take your time
Understand that you are both likely to be at different stages emotional. If you have known you wanted to separate for a while, be prepared for the fact that your partner may be in shock or denial. If you try to rush the process they may react more defensively.
Be honest with one another
Disclose assets openly. There is a duty of full and frank disclosure in divorce proceedings. It is important you both have a clear understanding of all the assets you own both jointly and individually. Start by writing a list detailing the property you own, cash and investments, business interests, debts, pensions and details of income and bonus.
Document your agreement
Having an informal agreement reached directly between you, or in mediation is not legally binding even if it is written down. It is important to ensure you are both protected in the future. A solicitor will be able to help you prepare a document which records what you have both agreed and, once approved by the court, this will become legally binding.
Be kind to yourself
A relationship break-up is a major life event. Surround yourself with positive people, don’t listen to all the advice you will inevitably get from family and friends, and speak to a coach or therapist to help navigate the emotional elements of your separation.