Divorce and separation: The Survival Kit
Separation and divorce might leave you feeling down, but if you don’t prepare properly and remain calm you could end up down and out. I’ve prepared some simple tips on how to approach the separation and divorce process so you stay organised, in control, sane and healthy.
Most couples want to keep their separation and divorce out of the courts so they can save time, money and the emotional strain of dealing with courts. However, to do this both parties must really trust each other and go into any settlement talks with fair and realistic expectations.
NEGOTIATION is the best way to sort out your separation and any issues with organising the parenting (where there are under 18 children), and any division of your property.
The way you behave can impact on those divorce negotiations. You can carry on and derive short term pleasure through being difficult or seeking revenge on your partner, or you can think strategically for the long term. While there are many things that you can’t control in your divorce and negotiations, you can always control the way you behave and where you exert your energy.
You need to think in a tactical way when you’re negotiating and it all starts with being prepared and organised. And even if informal negotiations seem to be going well, never sign off on anything until you double check with a family lawyer.
Money money money
Often when relationships are travelling well there is a high degree of trust placed in those who may take the role of “financial controller” or “chief bookkeeper” in a relationship. However, once the relationship is on the rocks a successful divorce will be dependent upon how knowledgeable you are about you and your spouse’s financial circumstances. You need to know the answers to critical questions, such as:
♦ What are your assets? (House, shares, other real estate, other investments, companies you have set up either individually or together)
♦ What is the value of both parties superannuation? (This is in most cases it added to any divisible property pool and normally split)
♦ What does it cost to maintain your lifestyle? (How will that change after separation – will it be more, or less?)
♦ What are your expenses? (Get it down on a spreadsheet)
♦ What are your liabilities? (Get them down as well)
♦ What will it cost to send any children to school, college or university? (Future expenses need thought)
♦ Have you included contingency money if things go wrong?
♦ Are health, household and car insurance costs covered? (With cars, don’t forget depreciation)
You need to calculate your future living costs before negotiating any settlement.
For example, be aware of your future costs in running a household and looking after any children, and of course, yourself. Use previous household bills and bank statements to properly document what those expenses will be.
Even if you haven’t been the one handling the finances, you should locate and make copies of monthly statements of all your joint and individual bank, credit card, mortgage and retirement accounts. Think of any other financial documents that are important and make copies of these as well. These records should be updated when necessary and kept in a safe place either at home or in some other secure place, as you may need them as evidence at some point.
If you can’t get important financial documents from your ex to calculate a potential settlement, you may be entitled to subpoena them through the court. A subpoena application can lead to the court making orders that the other party must provide you with documents.
When you are armed with accurate and current financial information, you become a formidable and impressive negotiator who can work out agreements based on facts for the good of you and any children you might have.
Calculate your immediate needs and future costs before negotiating a settlement. Having previous household bills and bank statements is a great way to draw up a budget, which can also be used as a negotiating tool, in that it properly documents your expenses.
Document what doesn’t smell right
The games often begin once the separation starts and sometimes they’re not very nice. You need to put your detective hat on and document any behaviour both direct and indirect that is clearly unkind, unfair or just plain shifty.
For example, you should take detailed notes of any improper behaviour that your former partner engages in, during the separation and divorce process, which may have an effect on any legal proceedings. Threats or acts of violence, refusing or making difficult any access to children (or to financial records) are some of the usual problems. And when documenting these problems record the date, place, what both of you said or did and the details of any witnesses.
Keep any relevant emails or text messages but remember as well that all emails and texts on your phone may be made available to your former partner’s solicitors, including those that you think you have deleted. If either of you also post on social media these things can also become evidence in family law matters. Be careful what you post!
Separation and divorce always has the potential to be a rather unnecessary burden when you take on too much. However, you don’t have to go through it alone when you have professionals who can assist. Recognise when you need help whether it be for legal, financial or emotional concerns. If you have the money, organise a top-notch divorce team that can deliver results. If your resources are low there are plenty of organisations who offer free or low charge assistance. At The Legal Eagle our lawyers do low cost work drafting documents and applications in family law matters. We can also help you with planning a strategic approach to negotiations. We stay in the background while you DIY your matter and save big bucks.
Remember, issue tasks according to professional abilities, so you can devote more of your time and your energy on taking care of yourself and your family.
If you’re keen to DIY your divorce or separation, seek some basic legal advice, if only to understand your entitlements. You should do this regardless of what your former partner says. In fact, if your former partner is telling you not to get legal advice, you should hear the warning bells and make sure you get some.
You should also consider getting financial planning advice if this is an area you’re not comfortable with. The ASIC Moneysmart page has a budget planner as well as some great financial planning advice when you’re separating. They also have a financial counselling service. Plus the wonderful people at Relationships Australia can also hear you out and point you in the right direction.
Staying in control
When you’re feeling vulnerable it is easy to fall into the trap of signing documents or making verbal agreements to things you are not comfortable with, or just impractical. Take your time and always consider your options. It helps to get the advice of those you trust, such as your lawyer or close friends and family, but keep in mind that everyone will have an opinion. At the end of the day it’s your life and your future, and you alone should gauge, on the basis of all the advice you’ve been given, what is best for you.
So remember, do not rush into any interim agreements with your former partner on parenting or financial matters, as any agreement may have considerable emotional sway on both of you when it comes to negotiating your final agreements.
Choose to take control of your life by taking considered action. Where you have planned your future roadmap there will be less chance you will react and act with anger or revenge. Plus angry behaviour always comes back to haunt people and can negatively affect your negotiations or any court proceedings.
If your feeling overwhelmed and emotional during a negotiation, simply acknowledge that you don’t want to discuss anything right now. Take some time out so that you can breathe and clear your head. Being calm and composed often requires good timing to get you back on track with a more considered and strategic approach.
When it comes to your kids
If you have children who are under 18, try to see things from their perspective. Although the family law asks that the two of you do everything with the best interests of the children in mind, it’s important to give them a chance to have their say. Separation and divorce has immeasurable implications for children whether they are babies, teenagers or adults. How you handle your negotiations with your ex, particularly around custody, has important consequences not only for you and your ex, but your children, the grandparents and even the extended family.
Remember that any decisions you make with the other parent regarding their parenting should be in their best interests, not your interests or those of your former partner.
You should also protect your kids from your anger and fear by not talking badly about their other parent in front of them and by encouraging that relationship. All children are entitled to have their mum and dad involved in their lives, except in circumstances such as where there have been proven instances of child abuse.
And if you are the parent that has decided to move out of the family home make sure you keep the lines of communication open with the children. Your positive interactions with them will help with the separation process, and will also preserve a relationship for later when the dust settles and a new normal sets in.
Surround yourself with people who will support you. A good support team is great and could include your lawyer or legal drafter, psychologist, counsellor, doctor, and last but not least, good friends that you can have a laugh with.
Be honest with yourself and accept responsibility for your decisions and your life. You may feel hard done by but ask yourself whether it’s worth play the victim. If you are balanced and see there is two sides to every story your children will feel little need to take sides.
Try and react rationally and not in anger because people who are clear about who they want to be in their separation, have less regrets going forward. Having less regrets really means that you are going to heal from this really horrible part of your life.
Counselling programs through Relationships Australia can also help people who are separating and/or divorcing to deal with their grief and anger, so that they can ‘let go’ and move on with a new sense of purpose and optimism.
Look after yourself by getting out in the fresh air and taking some exercise. Making sure you eat well and avoid the quick fix of junk food. Also, be conscious of when you may be using medications, alcohol or drugs and food as props to help take your mind off things.
Keep up your social life and engage with friends and sleeping as much as you can.
That’s a recipe for a smooth divorce.
And don’t forget your spiritual side as well. Prayer, meditation or even just filling your mind with positive images and messages can be a real source of strength as well.
The fine art of negotiating
When it comes to negotiating you need to put your emotions on the back burner. It is absolutely critical whether it’s property or child maintenance that you learn to think financially and not emotionally.
Keeping your feelings in check as much as possible is the key to thinking clearly about the important financial decisions ahead of you, because those decisions are significant. In fact, decisions you make during your divorce often have the potential to impact you for the rest of your life. Be objective and practical.
Aim to negotiate directly (a DIY divorce), rather than through lawyers or the court. However, always have a lawyer on standby when you feel you’re out of your depth. Negotiating an agreement directly with your former spouse regarding finances and parenting has positive consequences that negotiating through lawyers or the court does not bring. These include minimising hurt and bitterness, giving you more control over how you want your marriage or relationship to end and reducing legal costs. Common sense says that the more involved you and your former partner are in any agreement, the more likely that it will be workable for both of you.
Before you have a meeting with your former partner prepare, prepare, and prepare.
- Prepare an agenda for the meeting to keep it on track and ask your ex for their input.
- Be prepared by having copies of all your financial statements, asset and liability information and tax advice.
- Prepare a budget based on this information.
- Think through and then be clear on what your bottom line is when it comes to a settlement.
- Prepare by working out your opening questions and your general themes/ key messages.
- Prepare by considering what your ex might say (or not say) or do to trigger you. What hot buttons might you press in them – and do you really want to press those buttons?
- Prepare by practicing – role play can be a great insight into how you may react to certain questions or how you may put certain interests on the table.
Ask yourself whether the location of the meeting is going to be neutral, private and safe for you. Some people like a cafe in a busy shopping centre or a meeting room at the local library. Either way, plan for an exit strategy if things are getting hot, but offer to continue to negotiate later when you are both calmer with another meeting or alternatively you could email any proposals for your ex’s consideration.
Alternatively, if you get upset, think how will you look after yourself so you can keep your emotions appropriately under control for the remainder of the conversation. Remember that no one knows how to press each other’s buttons more than the two of you, so try to not engage in this or deflect it when it’s aimed at you. The best way to do this is to stick with the agenda and not get emotional.
Get an agreement that any assets will not be disposed that are in your former partner’s name and ask them to agree in writing that they will not dispose of those assets without your written consent. If you’re still worried about this you can always put a caveat (or stop) on any property being sold that is in your former partner’s name.
Also consider whether your former partner will incur debts on your behalf post separation. If so, you may wish to advise those creditors (preferably in writing) that you will not be assuming any liability for those debts.
If you come to an agreement, talk to your solicitor about how these can be best drafted and finalised. It’s better the lawyers or legal drafters write the agreements, as hastily self-written agreements can at times be full of holes and hard to enforce.
Your brand new life
Keep a healthy focus on the future
Anyone who is going through divorce has to keep their sights trained on the future. Realise that no matter how horrible things are now, ultimately, you and your kids will be okay. There is life after divorce and with the proper planning, your single life can be productive, fulfilling and financially secure and stable, as well.
If you are unable to forgive your ex or yourself, moving on will be a struggle. An unforgiving heart is the biggest obstacle to letting go. Find true forgiveness and you will live a full and rich life.
Grieve and then let it go
Allow yourself a set grieving period and resolve to move forward after your scheduled time to mourn. Commit to letting go of the negative thoughts after your grieving period ends.
Clean Out Your Closet
In any relationship, you often collect a lot of stuff that reminds you of your ex-partner. This is the worst form of clutter and you need to go through your house and decide what will actually serve you well after a recent separation or divorce. For the rest, if your ex has made no claim on it and all your property matters have been resolved, hire a skip bin and gleefully throw it all away!
Reacquaint yourself with favourite hobbies and pastimes
When you are part of a couple, many of your choices are made by the other person. Remind yourself of your preferences by trying new things and relearning what makes you happy. What do you like and dislike? Give yourself the freedom to explore.
Get Out and Get Social:
It’s quite pointless sitting home staring at four walls and moping. There are singles groups for divorced people all over Australia. Doing enjoyable things with people who have been through the same experience can be good therapy and fun also.
And if you are thinking about dating, don’t carp on about your failed relationship but do focus on the new wondrous soul you have in front of you because the world is your oyster.