Going through a separation can be one of the most emotional and stressful times in your life. It can be difficult to accept that you and the person with whom you’ve been in a relationship will no longer be together forever.
If you are going to separate, or have already separated, many things may be racing through your mind. It’s likely, however, that the recurring question is, “What next?”.
We’ll call this the “what’s next factor”.
Let’s start at the beginning. You may not yet be separated but are thinking about doing so. If this is the case, the best step you can take to address the “what’s next factor” is to identify your support network – those people and professionals who will guide and assist you through the separation. These can be lawyers, accountants, your GP, counsellors/psychologists, friends and family.
However, let’s say you have just separated, there was no time to consider what you should do next, and the “what’s next factor” is staring you right in the face. In this case, there are a few things you need to consider. These include:
- If you have children under the age of 18, what should happen with their parenting, living arrangements, and their support? How can you and your former spouse create an amicable co-parenting relationship that meets the needs and best interests of the children?
- What should happen with any jointly owned property or debts, and how can you safeguard your future financial security?
- If there has been any domestic or family violence, what protection do you need for yourself and/or your children?
While the idea of consulting a family lawyer may be daunting, whether you are yet to separate or have already separated, this is an important first step because they will help you to understand the legal implications of your separation and assist you to create an action plan for meeting your needs and obligations with regard to the issues above, empowering you to take control of the situation.
Sometimes the best course of action following separation is to look to have a conference with your former spouse. This might include marriage or relationship counselling, or even a mediation to try to reach an agreement as to what things need to happen regarding the children, property and debts.
Mediation, sometimes called family dispute resolution, is an ideal process that allows for a platform whereby you and your former spouse can discuss the issues at hand following separation, and provides a safe and impartial environment for this conversation to occur.
Sometimes mediations don’t work; other times they do and you can walk away being satisfied with an agreement as to the final issues, or even the interim issues with a view to going back to another mediation if necessary.
In the event that a mediation does not work, or communication with your former spouse has simply broken down, you should consult your family lawyer who can step in to negotiate on your behalf and advise you on your alternative options, including the process, costs and timeframes for making application to the court if that becomes necessary down the track.
As was highlighted earlier, one of the most important factors to consider following separation is identifying who makes up your support network. Some people say their friends and family are their support networks and they feel comfortable in talking to them about what has happened. That is perfectly fine, as long as you feel safe and comfortable. But it may also be useful to consider your professional support network. Whilst this may include your family lawyer, family lawyers aren’t necessarily trained as counsellors and, if necessary, it might be best to consult your GP or see a counsellor or therapist. Health professionals can assist you in understanding and digesting the events that have passed since separation, perhaps even the lead-up to when you and your former spouse separated. They are invaluable resources because they can ultimately assist you in shifting your perception of the separation, even of your former spouse, into a positive light and may therefore allow you to look towards a final resolution that is both cost and time efficient.
In summary, if you have just separated, you should:
- identify and call upon your personal and professional support networks;
- see a family lawyer for advice about the legal implications of your separation (i.e. what should happen to any children, what is going to happen with the property);
- see your GP for a referral to a counsellor or psychologist;
- consider family dispute resolution, a mediation or counselling with your former spouse as a means of reaching agreement and resolution.