Tis the season to … get Christmas out of the way and then think about the reality of separation in the New Year
Relationship breakdown is incredibly hard at any time of year, but especially hard at Christmas when the expectation on us all is to be festive and jolly. For parents there is the additional pressure to ensure that their children have a special time over what might be their last Christmas as a “family unit”.
You might be in the very early stages of separation, perhaps you have not fully reached a decision or discussed this with your other half yet. Or you could both have already agreed to separate but have not sorted out all the practicalities. Given what a busy time of year January is for family lawyers, you can be assured that you are in good company by deciding to get Christmas over with before taking those first steps to separate.
Once you have made the decision to separate it is vital to get good legal advice about the divorce itself, and also about the arrangements for your children and the finances. If you know your rights before you discuss these issues with your partner then you are much more likely to achieve a better outcome, not just for you, but for the family as a whole.
If you have children, usually the first consideration will be about where they live and how much time they spend with each parent. It is no longer a given that children will live with their mums and have contact with their dad every other weekend. More and more frequently fathers wish to share the care of their children with the mother. This need not necessarily mean the children spend equal time with each parent, the arrangements will vary for each family depending on many factors. What arrangement works best for the children is ultimately the most important thing.
The next major decision is usually what will happen to the family home. Will one of you remain living there and can you afford to do this? If so, can the other spouse afford suitable housing for themselves and, if needs be, the children? Would they rent or buy somewhere? It might be that the family home needs to be sold with a view to both of you buying a new property. In order to properly assess your options advice should be taken early on from an independent financial adviser to consider both spouse’s ability to get a mortgage (and how much they can get).
You should also consider whether you will need financial support from your ex after separation, or if you should pay them maintenance. Child maintenance is usually agreed by reference to the amount payable according to the Child Maintenance Service. Many spouses are not aware that they might also be entitled to spousal maintenance in addition to child maintenance.
Pensions are usually the next biggest asset after the family home, and yet they are so often overlooked. This is possibly because the immediate future is of more concern than ensuring proper financial provision upon retirement. Again, legal advice should be sought about the various pension options upon divorce.
There are a number of different ways that arrangements for the children and finances can be agreed upon. For some people a “kitchen table” discussion where you and your partner reach agreement directly with each other might work. Some find mediation effective whereas for others solicitor lead negotiation is the best option. Whatever method you use, a financial agreement should be drawn up into a binding court order, known as a Consent Order.
Whilst this is a very busy time of year for most of us, rather than wait for the New Year it might set your mind at rest and take some of the stress out of the situation to get some advice now.