After separating, you may be unsure as to what happens next, particularly if there are children involved and/or there is property, such as a house, cars, credit cards, and even businesses.
Sometimes, your relationship with your partner has deteriorated to such an extent that you don’t necessarily want to talk to them about what happens next.
If, however, you and your partner do remain on speaking terms, there are some things you can do yourself to navigate your way through the separation, through the sometimes dark and difficult times, to the other side. One of these is negotiation.
What is negotiation?
Negotiation simply means talking to one another in a respectful manner, with a shared interest, to reach a resolution that you are both happy with. Ultimately, the idea is to:
- recognise and acknowledge each other’s situation and any overarching issues;
- acknowledge each other’s feelings and concerns;
- identify and acknowledge each other’s goals;
- identify and discuss each other’s proposed action plans to reach your goals; and
- identify those elements on which you can agree to make things work.
There is nothing saying you have to reach an agreement immediately. This may work for some, but it may not for others. It’s important to take your time and respect each other’s space.
When is the right time to talk to my partner?
If there is or has been domestic violence, or you are fearful of your safety, then this may not be the right course of action. If you do fear for your safety or have experienced domestic violence, then please contact your local police or a family lawyer.
Of course, it is important to give each other space and respect each other’s wishes. It may not be appropriate to immediately start wanting to talk about how property will be split or what will happen with the children. There inevitably will be a cooling off period and it is important to recognise this.
It is also important to keep in mind that whilst you may be ready and think it is the right time, your partner may not be ready.
The best approach is to simply ask. If the answer is no and you are prepared to wait and give the other person some space, then do so. If not, go and see a lawyer.
How can I start the conversation? Is there somewhere we can go?
To be honest, any such discussion can simply start with: “Hey, I think we need to talk about what happens with the children/the property. Do you think we can have a chat and try and reach an agreement?”.
It may be difficult, but respect is a key factor in such discussions. You should:
- be respectful when talking to one another – do not go on the attack;
- respect and acknowledge how you both feel;
- respect each other’s space and recognise when the other person doesn’t want to talk anymore;
- respect what you both say – listen and give each other a chance to speak.
Believe it or not, the kitchen table tends to be a common place to start talking. If this doesn’t work out, try a mutual location or even over emails – keeping in mind your emotions and perceptions of each other can be significantly exacerbated if you don’t communicate face-to face regularly, and you may lose control of the situation.
What if I can’t do it by myself or it’s not working out?
There are many professionals who can assist you by facilitating discussions or even speaking on your behalf. You can engage marriage and relationship counsellors, psychologists, family dispute resolution practitioners, and lawyers to help where appropriate. There are also government-funded organisations that can assist you with this process for minimal cost, such as Relationships Australia and CatholicCare.
So, we managed to reach an agreement, but what now?
If you have reached an agreement and you are happy with the outcome, it is recommended you formalise the agreement. You can do this via a binding financial agreement, parenting plan, binding child support agreement, and/or a consent order (depending on what the agreement is about).
In such circumstances, you should see a family lawyer to get some advice on your options and costs to make sure your agreement is formalised and binding.
Importantly, there are some things you should keep in mind, such as:
- any limitation dates;
- whether the obligations created by the agreement can actually be fulfilled (eg, refinancing a mortgage);
- whether the agreement helps or allows you to achieve your goals; and
- your budget.
Following a relationship breakdown and separation, it is important to ensure there is a plan moving forward about the future parenting arrangements for your children or what happens with the property. Of course, if you are able to negotiate directly with your partner, either to full agreement or at least part of the way, that is ideal. But remember, if this is not possible, an experienced family lawyer can always assist you to negotiate an outcome that is best for you and your situation.