Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Much has been written in the last couple of weeks about this time of year being a busy time for family lawyers.

Sadly, my experience mirrors that of others - yes, it seems many couples do separate over the Christmas and New Year period. 

Perhaps people decide they really can’t stand another Christmas their in-laws , perhaps they’d known for some time prior to Christmas but were hanging on to enable one last semblance of a “happy” family Christmas, or perhaps they’re working on the principle of “New Year – New Me”.

Whatever the reason, if you are, or someone you know is, one of the many people who find themselves either embracing a new life this year or forced into one, here are five key things to consider:

·     What will the journey be like?

It seems everyone has a friend who has separated.  So often, the friends have had a hideous experience with family lawyers and the court system and will be full of doom and gloom.

It’s really important to decide at the outset what you would like the tone of your separation.  It may be that your separated partner doesn’t want the same journey as you, but it’s a start to know what.  It may be that your separated partner doesn’t want the same journey as you, but it’s a start to know what you want.

If you have kids, is it important to you to be able to functionally co-parent?

Are you out for revenge, (hopefully not!) or do you want to be able to amicably resolve things and move on with your life?

Will you be able to resolve things directly with your partner, or will you need help?

Can you be in the same room for negotiations?  So would mediation or collaboration work?

Are you happy to spend lots of money having a big court battle, or would you rather resolve things far away from the court process?

·     Be supported by those around you, but seek professional advice

As separation is so common, many people think they are experts.  “Oh, you’re a mum with the kids   - you’ll get 75%.  That’s what my cousin got”.  “Mate you won’t have to pay her spousal maintenance, my friend from work doesn’t pay anything to his wife”, “Don’t worry, the kids will be living with you half the time.  That’s what my neighbours do”.

Family law relies heavily on assessing individual circumstances so what happens for one family won’t happen in the same way for the next.

By all means, be supported by your friends, but don’t rely on what they say about practicalities.  Seek professional advice about your own situation.

·     Decide what professional advice you need

It can be a good idea to start with advice from a lawyer as they can act like your project manager and refer you for psychological, financial and other advice as required. 

If you see a lawyer who has trained in collaborative practice, they will have a strong emphasis on helping you resolve matters between you in a way that keeps you out of court.

Some people choose to start with seeing a mediator-  an independent third party who can help them to have constructive conversations about their arrangements post-separation.

Alternatively, you could start with a child psychologist to discuss arrangements for the children, or with a financial planner or accountant to discuss property settlement and income support.

Whichever path you choose, I recommend at least speaking to a lawyer about any potential agreement and how to make sure your arrangements are made binding.

·       Remember anything you put in writing to your ex, by email, text etc can end up attached to an affidavit and presented to the court if you end up there.  And even apart from that, words have impact. 

Think very carefully before you initiate communication of any kind and make sure you re-read anything you’re writing to think about the impact on the person receiving 

·     If you have kids, take note – the research overwhelmingly concludes that children do okay when their parents separate, provided they are not in the middle of conflict.

Remember, your child is half  their mum and half their dad.  Don’t criticize your ex around your children and don’t expose them to any arguments between you.  Children need to be free to love and enjoy time with both of their parents. 

Although separation can be a painful time, with the right support, and with time, it will be okay.

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