It is supposed to be the happiest time of the year but, for some, the hard reality is that Christmas can be the straw that breaks the camel's back when it comes to relationships. This may be why more people initiate the divorce process in January than at any other time of the year. If you think that you are going to be among them, there are several practical steps you can take now to ensure you are in the best possible position at the start of the new year.
Although a marriage consists of only two people, the relationship those two individuals form has to withstand all manner of external pressures. These pressures may be financial, health-related, a consequence of bereavement or perhaps an accumulation of smaller things. Sometimes, it is possible to manage them without placing undue strain on the marriage. Counselling, whether individual or as a couple, may help and, if your marriage looks shaky, you might wish to explore all chances of salvaging it before settling on divorce. Even if you've decided your marriage is beyond saving, or you no longer wish to try, it is still important to take care of yourself. Some people find therapy helpful. Others might prefer the sympathetic ear of friends or family. Almost everyone will do better with some external and non-judgmental support. Do try to find yours.
Informing your spouse
Unless divorce is a decision you have come to together, you will need to tell your spouse. When you choose to do so is a personal matter. However, if you fear your spouse will be uncooperative or attempt to hide financial assets, you may wish to gather together essential documentation before saying anything. This might include copies of the deeds to your house, the current mortgage statement or rent book, savings and current accounts, and pension and share plans.
Telling the children
If you have children, there is no right time to tell them of your decision. You may want them to enjoy a last family Christmas, but this could depend on how well you and your spouse can play the part. After all, children are very sensitive even to unspoken tensions. You may worry, too, about how your divorce will affect your children. Whilst it may be true that many, and perhaps most, children will find the initial stages difficult, remember that the majority will continue to flourish once the initial upset has passed. If tensions have been high between you and your spouse, your children may even do better once everyone is removed from that atmosphere. This is even more likely if they have witnessed domestic abuse, whether physical, emotional or financial. Most experts agree that it is crucial for the children to hear that the divorce is not their fault, that both of their parents still love them very much and that (with only very limited exceptions) they will continue to see both parents.
Arranging your finances
You may want to agree your post-divorce financial arrangements amicably, and you may believe you can do so. However, it is almost always best to plan on taking independent legal advice. Now is an excellent time to gather together pertinent information and to look for a suitable legal practitioner.
If you are worried about not having sufficient money to live on, you may also wish to seek advice and support from the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), or a similar independent organisation. Additionally, if your spouse is the higher or only earner, you might want to consider your own future employment prospects. Again, the CAB may be able to assist. If there are children, remember that both parties have an obligation to provide financially for their children, and courts are increasingly keen on shared residency arrangements.
As parents, you can agree on the precise split or, if you cannot, a court may do it for you during the divorce process. Bear in mind that shared residency, regardless of the proportions of the split, demands a high level of commitment from both parents. They also often necessitate an ongoing open dialogue about financial arrangements.
Determining what happens to your home
In some divorces, one party remains in the matrimonial home. You may be keen on this outcome, particularly if there are dependent children. However, there may be insufficient capital to house both parties and any children without selling the existing home. Alternatively, the party who most wishes to remain in the home may not be able to afford its upkeep. It's best, if often difficult, to be realistic when it comes to post-divorce housing arrangements. Sometimes it can help to look forward to a fresh start in a new property. In practical terms, if you anticipate that you may have to move out of the matrimonial home, you might want to investigate the rental market in your chosen area to see what is available. Even if you hope to buy again in the not-too-distant future, you may need to go into rented accommodation in the short term. Ensuring you have sufficient funds for a deposit and the first month's rent on a rental property is sensible.
What to do in particularly difficult situations
Relationship breakdowns in cases of domestic violence or long-term emotional abuse can be particularly challenging. It may have taken you a long time to reach the decision to end your marriage. You may also feel the need to conduct preparations in secret. It helps if you have a sympathetic and helpful friend, neighbour or family member, who can help you find somewhere safe to stay and assist with other practical matters. However, remember that your safety, and that of any children, is paramount.
This article was written by Cordell & Cordell, a London-based law firm that specialises in the fair legal representation of men in family law and divorce disputes.
Published on 30th October 2017
(Last updated 6th November 2017)