As the holidays come to an end, and a new year starts, it has become a really common process for many to reflect on the year that was and consider how we might like our lives to be different in the year that lay ahead of us.
Goals are set, resolutions and changes are made. Some are significant. Some changes and decisions are made about how we hope our lives will look for the next 365 days.
And then what?
We go back to work, we keep juggling the school holidays – sometimes feeling like we’re winning, and sometimes, ever-so-subtly checking the calendar to see how many days are left.
One of the most significant changes that occurs for many families at the start of each year, is the end of a relationship, and it can be really challenging to know what to do next once that decision is made.
From the many conversations I have had over the past 11 years as a family lawyer, a lot of people contemplating separation or divorce in the last half of the year, feel ready to do so in the first half of the next year – either that, or there is a greater feeling of stress associated with the Christmas period, or a greater feeling of disappointment that our expectations weren’t met during the holiday period.
Perhaps it’s a matter of making it through the Christmas period without disrupting family life, or it’s a matter of managing the school holidays the best way you can.
If you find that you are reading this article and nodding your head, know that you aren’t alone. Simply making that decision, without anything else, can leave us feeling a little muddled and our world turned upside down!
In my experience, the thing that makes the biggest difference to how someone travels through their separation, is getting the right information relevant to your circumstances, engaging in effective communication, and lots of deep breaths!
You may be wondering what steps you can take to help get yourself prepared for an appointment with your lawyer:
Here are seven tips for helping yourself get ready for separation:
- Understand your financials– it’s a good idea to make a rough list of all the things you own and owe (your assets and liabilities), and the current value or balance. These things include real estate, cars, boats, motorbikes, bank accounts, superannuation, credit cards, personal loans, savings. You may not know the exact figures, but a good place to start is estimating – and then some online services. For example, www.realestate.com.aumight provide you some comparative values for similar properties in your area, savings and loan balances can be easily identified online, superannuation statements are delivered twice a year but can be verified with a phone call or checking online.
You might also find it useful to write yourself a budget of your income and expenses, and what your financial reality looks like as you separate. It’s likely there will be some financial shuffling required and compromising on expenses you have but perhaps don’t need right now, as you adjust to your single income lifestyle.
If you are contemplating keeping the family home, you may find it useful to get advice from a financial advisor, mortgage broker or online calculator to see what your borrowing capacity is – having this understanding can really help you determine what options are available to you when it comes to dividing your property.
- Educate yourself – these days, it’s easy enough to learn about the basics associated with separation online. Make sure you are looking at reliable sources prepared by appropriately qualified professionals. Keep in mind that the general information that is available online is a starting point only, and won’t provide the specific information that is appropriate to your families’ unique circumstances. Getting the right information at the start can make the world of difference to how your separation, and the associated conversations, unfold. It can also be a really valuable tool to understand how to communicate effectively, engage in active listening and get a good understanding of different styles of negotiation.
- Pay attention to self-care – it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a counsellor during this period, invest in your physical health (and by extension, your mental well-being), and make sure you spend enough time on your own to get your thoughts in order, make notes of questions or concerns. Be aware of your limits. There is no denying that the decision to separate is a significant one. It will also, undoubtedly be an emotional time for you and your family– managed carefully and well, it doesn’t need to turn into a fight.
- Choose your support network carefully –social media provides a number of wonderful resources, articles, support groups and a link to maintaining some of your most treasured friendships. A word of warning though, be careful what you post online, and what conversations you engage in online. Some things are better kept off the internet. Before you post anything – or even text or email, consider whether (a) it is something you would say face to face; (b) if it’s something you actually want many people knowing; and/or (c) if it is something you would be comfortable reading about yourself on the front page of the paper. When I was younger, my dad always said that you should be able to count the number of your closest friends on one hand.. in a world where so much of our lives are shared online, it can be valuable to keep that tip in mind.
- Focus on the bigger picture– While it may sound like an odd thing to do, now is the perfect time to think about what you want your future to look like, and what kind of divorce or separation you want to have (which I expect you will say dignified, respectful and peaceful).
- Choose your legal advisor carefully – it’s important to understand what your legal rights, responsibilities and obligations are and choosing a lawyer who focussing on resolution away from litigation can be really valuable in giving you the confidence to have the kind of peaceful and dignified separation you want. At the same time, don’t be concerned if your spouse takes some steps to understand their legal rights, responsibilities and obligations as well. While it can momentarily leave you feeling vulnerable, from my perspective, the more education and information you both have from appropriate sources, the more effective negotiation discussions will be, the more focussed and committed you will both be to finalise your separation and move toward the future in a positive way.
- Understand your concerns – the easiest way to do this is to put them in writing so they can be discussed: with your spouse, or your counsellor, or your lawyer. Everything you are concerned about is relevant and should be brought up with the appropriate person so it can be discussed and a resolution found.
While separation is, obviously, the end of your relationship as a couple, if you have children, your relationship as co-parents will continue for many years to come and it can be valuable to keep in mind that the process of separation, while life-changing in many respects, can be a positive experience for all of you.
Megan Sweetlove is a divorce lawyer and the owner of Sweetlove Family Law. Megan has worked with families who are experiencing separation and divorce for over 10 years. She is passionate about helping separating couples improve the way they communicate so they can successfully resolve their conflict and rebuild their relationship to be the best thing for their children.
If you or someone you know needs assistance during divorce you can organise a complimentary 15 minute phone appointment with Megan here.
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