According to the media, we are in the middle of divorce season. The truth is there isn’t one set time of year when people split up. Yes, some times of year are busier than others, but any solicitor worth their salt will tell you that “divorce day” is a myth.
Having said that, if you now find yourself facing a divorce, whether it was on the cards or a bit of a bombshell, chances are you’ll be feeling a bit lost. It’s perfectly normal to feel unable to focus and as though you want to hide under a duvet and wish that it would all just go away. Once you feel able to try to start moving forward, it’s hard to know where to turn and what to do next.
Seeing a lawyer is a great step (I would say that, wouldn’t I?) and one that you should take sooner rather than later. However, much of what you need to sort out isn’t related to the legal side of your separation, but rather the practical side.
This article provides you with some ideas as a starting point, to help you to take control at what can otherwise be a really overwhelming time.
Putting yourself first
Wellbeing is very much a buzzword in the workplace at the moment. That extends to separation too – treating yourself more kindly through this awful time won’t magically resolve everything, but looking after yourself will put you in the best position to face things head-on.
Think about what you need to do to make sure that you are able to cope. Which of your friends can provide you with practical support, and who can provide emotional support? It’s likely you’ll need some space and time to come to terms with the situation emotionally – who can help you with that?
Treat yourself – whether it’s a trip to the cinema, time with friends, a massage, a swim – do something to take your mind off things for a bit. You’re allowed to press “pause” and take some time out to recharge.
There’s only so much friends and family can do to help. Think about whether you’d benefit from speaking to a counsellor or therapist. Some specialise in relationship breakdown and divorce. Another source of support may be a divorce coach. A good lawyer may be able to recommend some suitable sources of support.
There can be a lot to sort out when splitting up. It’s hard to know where to start and perfectly normal to wonder how you’re going to get everything done alongside juggling the demands of everyday life.
Give yourself some focus – where do you want to be in six months’ time? A year? Be realistic, but have something to work towards.
Draw a timeline or keep a diary – put in some dates and deadlines for when you want to have achieved things by, to give yourself some focus (but don’t be too hard on yourself if things slip – there’s a lot going on over the coming months!). If some of these aims involve the cooperation of your ex, communicate this with them so that they can commit to working together to achieve this.
If you have children, they will of course be your priority – things on your mind will include how to tell them about the separation, minimising the impact on them, giving them certainty and how you are going to agree the arrangements for them with your ex.
Here are a few ideas to help you start getting organised:
- Start gathering important documents, such as your marriage certificate, birth certificate, passport and financial information (bank statements, insurance policies, payslips, P60, tax returns, car ownership papers) and keep them in a secure place – you’ll need these at a later date;
- Think about what will happen to the house in the short-term (get some legal advice before making long-term decisions). Will one of you move out? Think about practical arrangements and how you’ll manage your time in the house if you’re both living there for now;
- How will the mortgage/rent and bills be paid as an interim arrangement;
- What will happen to joint bank accounts – will these be maintained for bills etc or closed now?
- Avoid increasing debts unnecessarily – decide whether to limit access to or cancel joint overdrafts and credit cards;
- If one of you is staying in the family home and the other is moving out, do you need to move household bills into one name?
- Look into single occupancy council tax if you’re now living alone;
- Research any benefits and tax credits that you may be entitled to and make an application;
- Review and update the beneficiaries of your pension and any insurance policies (life insurance, critical illness etc);
- Check who your vehicles are registered to and where the registration documents are; Think about how the personal possessions, , furniture and household items will be shared (a lawyer can help with the big assets – house, savings etc, but it’s sensible for you to agree how these smaller items will be shared)
- Consider changing your PINs and Passwords for your personal bank accounts;
- Check the access on your different devices and online accounts (email, music streaming etc) and whether you need to update passwords to ensure privacy;
- Review your social media accounts – ensure these are password protected, but also think about what you have posted in the past and what you will share in the future. Maybe even take a “social media break”;
- Think about the practical arrangements for any pets. Understandably, this can be a really emotive issue. Try to think about what will work best practically – who is around most to provide a permanent home? Is there a plan that will work better for your family?
Legal advice and the long-term
One immediate consideration will be your property rights and whether these need protecting. This will depend on who owns the property and how. A lawyer will be able to advise as to any steps you need to take to protect your interest in the house and whether you can remain living there if there’s a dispute, and will help you to take the appropriate steps.
You will inevitably need to think about how to formalise the end of your relationship and whether you want to get divorced. There seems to be a myth that you have to wait two years to get divorced. That’s not true – you can get divorced straight away, but you have to claim unreasonable behaviour or adultery. A good lawyer can advise as to the best way to approach this. No-fault divorce is on its way, but we don’t have a definitive date from the government as to when this will be law.
Whether you decide to stay married or not, you will need to agree a financial settlement. This is where the advice of a lawyer can be invaluable. We can tell you how the law works in this area (it’s not simply a case of agreeing who has what – there are legal factors that can influence this) and help you draw up a written agreement (court-approved alongside a divorce, or a binding separation agreement if you’re staying married). You may need input from a good financial advisor and/or mortgage advisor – your lawyer will be able to advise about this and pass on some suggested contacts.
You may need to create a holding will or update an existing will, or create or update any powers of attorney. I can put you in touch with a colleague who can give you more information and help you to decide the appropriate steps to take in your circumstances.