How do they have an amicable separation?
It doesn’t happen by accident.
An amicable separation starts with a shared commitment to wanting to have an amicable separation and purposefully making decisions to achieve that goal.
An amicable separation commonly looks like this:
the couple have made a conscious decision and have an on-going commitment to having a peaceful separation.
- able to speak to one another, and otherwise communicate, in a way that is respectful;
- both continuing to meet their financial and other obligations, even though they are separated; including paying bills for the house and/or each other and/or the children, irrespective of where the children sleep.
- both genuinely focussed and have a shared interest in maintaining some type of positive relationship for the benefit not only of their children, but also for their own well-being.
Simply put, there is a continuing and ongoing element of goodwill between them despite the challenges associated with the breakdown of their relationship as a couple.
Making the choice to have a peaceful divorce is step one.
You then actually need to do the things to keep your separation amicable.
It’s not always simple. However it is entirely possible!
While there are challenges along the way, and grief, both spouses prefer to their energies into creating a positive, fresh start. They would prefer to avoid doing the things that result in a post-separation legal and emotional battle.
So, if this sounds like something for you, I have 12 tips you may find useful as you start to navigate the process (and in creating this list, I have many more tips so stay tuned for part 2):
Make the commitment that you will stay out of Court.
There are many options available to you and your spouse that provide you with a peaceful way to resolve all the legal things. Many peaceful options that provide you with far greater control over your future: kitchen table negotiation, mediation, collaborative separation.
Find a “peaceful lawyer” and get some legal advice before you start negotiating.
A commitment to having an amicable separation doesn’t mean you don’t need to get legal advice.
The role of the lawyer is to provide you information and advice to help you understand the process so you can make informed decisions about your future.
There are different types of lawyers. Gladiators and peaceful lawyers.
Your ability to maintain an amicable separation is much better when you choose to work with a peaceful lawyer who is knowledgeable and on-board with helping your resolve your separation using the least destructive option possible.
Understanding the process and your options before you start negotiating with your spouse will help you feel empowered and confident to make the best decisions for your future.
Find a psychologist or a counsellor.
It is inevitable that you will experience a range of emotions following your separation – working with a psychologist or a counsellor will help you understand your emotions and control them. A good psychologist or counsellor can help you find your voice and feel empowered to say what you want and need, which will help keep your separation amicable.
The more informed and educated you are about the process and your options – legal and financial, the better decisions you are able to make. You need to understand your financial circumstances and your financial options to be able to contribute in any meaningful way in the discussions with your former spouse and reach an agreement. It’s not enough to rely on your lawyer or financial advisor to understand everything, it’s important you do too. There are some very simple finance books around to start with, but ultimately, nothing beats speaking to someone about your own, specific and unique circumstances.
Make sure your expectations are realistic, which will help you have an amicable separation.
Find your tribe
Don’t try and do this alone. You will need support to get through your separation – from friends and family. Your tribe will help bring clarity to your self-doubts and insecurities that may arise as you travel this process. The right tribe will be supportive of you, your spouse and the amicable process you are committed to following. Almost everyone will have advice or an experience to share – it’s okay to ask them to leave their negativity at the door if you don’t find it useful. It’s important to make sure you trust your instincts and do what is best for you.
Don’t assume an amicable separation is automatically easy
Make no mistake, no separation is easy. It doesn’t meaning there is endless fighting, but even an amicable separation can be heart-breaking. But, refer to point 3 above – getting some counselling will help you navigate those emotions helping you stay focussed on your goal of an amicable separation.
Understand what you have
This works both ways. In an amicable separation, you and your spouse will both be committed to being frank and transparent about your finances. You can’t negotiate if you don’t know what you’ve got.
Look to the future
At the start of your separation, spend some time thinking about how you might like your future to look. Set some goals and make sure those goals are at the forefront of every decision you make during your separation. If your spouse wants to fight over the ladder, but getting the ladder is not your main goal, or won’t help you work towards that goal, let it go. You might be shocked to hear a family lawyer say this, but it doesn’t matter whether your former spouse gets “more” than you. Focus on the future and your goals.
Think about your kids
Not to place any parent-guilt on your shoulders. If you want to maintain an amicable separation and consciously decide to minimise the conflict. Not just conflict your children are exposed to, but generally. Accept you and your spouse may have different ideas about what is appropriate for your kids, that’s okay!
Trust, but verify
It’s not uncommon that when two people are experiencing separation, they may find it difficult to trust each other. Doubting every single thing your former spouse says is unlikely to help you achieve your goal of an amicable separation. What you can do is give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, and then verify the things you are unsure about – the value of a house for example.
In separation, you can only move as fast as the slowest person.
Save for legal time-limits that apply in defacto relationships (2 years) or divorced spouses (12 months), there is no timetable under which you have to finalise everything.
If you are pushing your spouse to finalise things before they are ready, you are unlikely to achieve your goal of an amicable separation. Ironically, your separation is likely to go faster, and more amicably, if you give your spouse space and time to catch up to where you are.
While you may have processed the separation quickly or before you said “it’s over” – your spouse now needs time to move through the grieving process and take the time to understand how they want their future to look. While it seems counterintuitive, your ability to have an amicable separation on this basis will be far more achievable!
Formalise any agreement.
Formalising the agreement will give your both a clean break to start your new lives and the clarity to know what’s yours is yours.
There may also be practical advantages to formalising your agreement – transferring ownership of a house for example, or splitting super – but you are also protected against any significant changes in circumstances that may arise in the future.
Even in circumstances where your separation is amicable and there is an element of goodwill and you and your spouse are able to communicate well, it is still important to ensure the decisions you make about your financial future and legal options are fully informed decisions.
The more you know about the process of formalising your separation yourself, the better you will be able to make informed decisions and manage the process.
Finally, even if your former spouse is not being reasonable, you can’t make their behaviour change. But you can uphold your commitment to maintain a peaceful, respectful and dignified separation.
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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