November 8, 2013

Back to basics: taking the first steps to divorce

Few couples take the decision to separate and divorce lightly – in fact some people can battle with inner angst for several years before admitting there is no alternative way forward.

One of the most stressful events in our adult lives, the breakdown of a marriage invariably leaves those involved emotionally and physically drained.

At this critical time, knowing where to start on the path to divorce can seem overwhelming.

At Jones Myers we understand that men and women need support and advice to guide them through the process of separation and divorce and enable them to look towards a positive future.

In the countdown to Christmas – a period which historically sees an increase in the number of divorces – we are going back to basics with a series of posts taking you step-by-step through the practicalities of divorce. We will also offer tips and advice from guest bloggers on coping with the emotional and physical fallout.

Although an invaluable research tool for all areas of our lives, including divorce, the internet can also be a double-edged sword offering so much information that it’s hard to know who to trust and what to believe.

Drawing on our collective experience, we have compiled a list of critical concerns for those embarking on the divorce path. Here are three of the most frequently asked questions and our answers.

What is the first step in a divorce?

Having made the decision, you need practical help and advice from a good family lawyer who will put you straight about the process of divorce, the financial aspects and arrangements for your children. Having the correct information at the very earliest stages can help you to make informed decisions and avoid costly mistakes later. Armed with the knowledge of what to expect will settle many preconceived anxieties.

What you should avoid as a first step is doing anything that might antagonise the situation such as changing locks or moving money from bank accounts.

Do I have to leave the marital home when I separate/divorce?

The family home may well be the main asset in a divorce and be central to any financial settlement.  One partner could buy the other one out or the property could be sold and the equity divided.

If children are involved it is common for one partner (often the mother) to stay in the family home initially.  Sometimes clients want to stay in the family home long term, believing that it gives children greater security and stability.  However, this situation may simply be delaying the inevitable. Whatever the situation, it is of paramount importance that the interests of the children come first.

Leaving the matrimonial home doesn’t mean that you will lose your share.  It is a practical decision, which will give everyone space to think and to avoid conflict and stress.

How can we make sure the children don’t suffer?

How and when you explain to children that your marriage or relationship is breaking up sets the foundation for how they will cope in the future.  It is natural that they will feel sad and angry – they may even blame themselves.

Plan carefully what you intend to say and give them the news at the earliest opportunity – how much you say will depend on the age of the children.  Ideally both parents should be present to break the news and they should be consistent in what they say, avoiding blaming each other.

Children need to feel safe and wanted so stick to routine and reassure them that they are loved by both parents. Carry on doing ordinary things and encouraging them to talk.  They do not need arguments in front of them, personal details or to hear whose fault it is.

We have written several blogs about helping children cope with divorce, including tips from Kate Banerjee, head of our children’s department, and one by author Helen Victoria Bishop about her book “Jack” written to help younger children deal with family break-ups.

Over the coming weeks we will be looking at issues including the divorce process itself and the different options available such as mediation and how to ensure that children’s interests are at the forefront.

If you have any questions about separation or divorce, including civil partnerships, please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail.