Having a happy Christmas… when it won’t be ‘happily ever after’

By December 8, 2020Blog, Divorce & Separation

Many people wait until the Christmas holidays to separate. Even though they know in their hearts that it’s over, they want their family to have one last special Christmas.

But having an impending separation looming over you can make the Christmas period more stressful. By taking control and making small steps towards separation, you can prepare yourself for what lies ahead and position yourself for a better overall outcome.

If you find yourself preparing to celebrate Christmas but knowing this will be the last one together – here are some things you can do to prepare:

1. If you’re concerned about your safety – get a Safety Plan in place

If you’re even just a little bit worried about your safety, your first priority needs to be to get a Safety Plan in place. There are plenty of people and organisations that are there to help and advise you. These include your local police, domestic violence counselling services, personal counsellors, a trusted family lawyer and family and friends.

2. Change and protect your passwords

Once you’ve separated, you want to be sure that your partner can’t access your email, social media accounts or documents. Changing passwords on these accounts and any online cloud storage accounts, along with personal computers, tablets, and your phone, only takes a few minutes and is well worth doing.

3. Consider personal counselling

The very idea of separation can be daunting and unsettling. For many people facing separation (or just thinking about it), personal counselling can be incredibly valuable in helping and supporting them through the process – from working out whether or not to separate to following through and coming out the other side.

4. Document your financial position

You should know and document your financial position as a couple and as individuals:

  • Draw up a list of financial assets and liabilities – including any property, debts, investments, superannuation and other assets.
  • Make copies of relevant documents – from bank statements to tax returns, trust deeds, superannuation statements and company financials if relevant.

If you have little knowledge of your financial position (or your partners) – doing this now could save lots of headaches down the track. Sometimes it can be hard to get hold of these documents after you’ve separated, and having a clear record of the assets and liabilities at the time of separation can help avoid a host of hassles down the track.

5. Set up a separate bank account

Open a personal bank account in your name and start putting aside money for when you separate – especially if there’s a chance you may need to leave quickly.

If you are planning on leaving, you should aim to put away enough for some bond, a couple of weeks’ rent and moving costs. If you’re planning on your partner moving out, you still want to make sure you have money to cover basic expenses like groceries and rent.

If you and your partner have money in a joint account, consider transferring some to your personal account before you separate.

6. Get an idea of what your future income might look like

It always helps to have a feel for what your financial situation will look like once you’ve separated and while you’re separating.

For many couples coming to an agreement on property settlement can take months (and sometimes years). While every couple’s circumstances are different, during that time there are still bills that need to be paid, and often additional costs that come from having two separate households.

Understanding what income you’re likely to have during this time (as well as when the separation is finalised) will help you plan and get ready. Talk to:

  • Departments and organisations like Centrelink and the Child Support Agency to see what entitlements you may be eligible for.
  • A financial planner or accountant who can assist you with budgeting and managing your expense – pre and post-settlement.

7. Consider what parenting arrangements will be best for the kids

As parents, we all want what is best for our kids. While you probably have a good idea of what you would like to see happen, it’s important to do your research. Research developmental guidelines for children, and perhaps get advice from a child counsellor or psychologist about what arrangements might be best for the children given their ages and the practicalities.

If you think care of children is likely to be an issue, keep a diary of the level of care and sharing of parenting duties between the two of you in the months before separation occurs.

8. Talk to a reputable family lawyer

Whatever you do, don’t rely on Google or others people’s experiences. Just because ‘Bec and Ben’ split everything 50/50 doesn’t mean that you and your partner should. Nor does the fact that ‘Amanda’ got full time custody of the kids mean that you will.

Just as every couple is unique, every family law case is unique, and there is certainly no ‘one-size-fits-all approach to working through the different arrangements – from property to parenting. Getting advice from a reputable family lawyer before you separate will mean that you have a clear picture of how the law applies to your circumstances. 

9. Work out what will happen next

Before you have the conversation, it’s good to have a clear idea of what you would like to happen next. Will you leave? Or do you expect them to leave? What will that look like?

If you have children, what arrangements would you like to put in place initially? How will you manage the finances and ensure the bills get paid in the weeks immediately after you separate?

Or does it make more sense to stay under the one roof, to begin with?

While most of these considerations need to be worked through with your partner, starting with a clear idea of what you want to happen will help.

10. Prepare for the conversation with your partner

This is often the toughest part. If you can, plan the conversation for when the kids will be out or when you are least likely to be interrupted. Be clear on what you want to happen after the conversation and, if possible, have arrangements in place.

If you are concerned about your safety or how your partner will react, have a plan in place for what you will do if the situation gets heated. This may mean asking a friend or family member to check in on you or be ready for you to stay at short notice. In some circumstances, particularly where you’re concerned for your safety, it may mean getting an Intervention Order in place or having police there to provide assistance.

If you’re considering separating, feel free to get in touch – we’re here to help you understand your different options, how the law applies to your situation and offer valuable advice.