Contrary to popular (media) belief, few of us ever set out thinking we’ll separate from our partners – we pretty much think we’re in it for the longer term. It comes as a huge shock when we realise that, for whatever reason, that’s just not going to happen – and whether we’re the one who leaves or who is left, our world, our hopes and often are dreams are turned upside down. It’s no great surprise then that when separation happens, we’re totally unprepared and at a loss to know what to do next.. Not only does the emotional side knock us over like a juggernaut, but what about all the arrangements? Where on earth do we start?
To keep this post readable, we’re summarising the key initial 10 steps in separation. You don’t eat an elephant in one bite, so let’s break the issue down into a number of key points that you can tackle first and know you’ve got the foundations in place. This gives you a little breathing space to decide your next course of action.
Decide who lives where. This doesn’t mean forever, but once the relationship has broken down, it’s far better for both of you to have your own space. Further details on living arrangements are here.
Establish a routine
To minimise the impact on the children, it’s advisable to get a contact routine agreed and established as soon as possible. We’re essentially creatures of habit and routine provides a comfortable framework. It also ensures everyone knows what’s happening when, the less ambiguity there is about this, the less opportunity there is for misunderstandings. Remember, the children love both parents and have a right to maintain a good relationship with both (where possible). Never ever use children as a bargaining tool in your separation. For ideas about contact patterns, visit this post.
Separate the finances
If you’ve a joint bank account, consider changing this to a sole account in your name. You may need to alter any direct debits – your bank will be able to help with this. If you’ve a mortgage, bills or loans in join names, decide who will pay these and let the lender or provider know.
Seek legal advice
Most solicitors will offer a free consultation and this is a good way to establish a route forward, and work out what both parties are entitled to. Make appointments to see a few solicitors, not only is this a good way of getting all questions answered, it gives you the opportunity to find who suits you best, should you need legal support. Although relationships between you and your partner are likely to be hostile at this stage, it’s advisable to try and come to an agreement on finances and family issues between you wherever possible. Legal aid is no longer available for family law cases (with a few exceptions) and cases can prove expensive. Mediation is a good half way house and widely recommended to avoid court. There is also the option to represent yourself should you have no option but to take legal action, we will be writing more about this in this section.
Contact the Child Tax Credit Agency
If the resident parent is in receipt of, or think you’ll be entitled to child tax credits based on your salary, contact the CTC immediately with the new information.
Agree on Child Maintenance
We’ve kept this separate from splitting the finances simply because it’s a living cost rather than asset split (which is something you can determine at a later date once you’re sorted). Due to recent changes in the CSA (Child Support Agency), there are charges levied on both parents if you use the CSA to collect maintenance, the aim of this is to persuade parents to come to their own agreements. The CSA however does have a very useful online calculator. There is more advice on Child Maintenance and private family arrangements on this thread.
Inform the school
It’s only natural for children to have wobbly moments when they’re parents split and the school will be more supportive if they’re aware of the situation.
Inform friends and family.
This can be a double edged sword – whilst you often need support from your nearest and dearest, sometimes well meaning but invalid advice can often inflame the situation. Look for support for you and your children and try and avoid the criticism of your ex partner – you want help on moving forward not criticism about the past or your decisions.
Sort out Child Care
. Your daily routine has changed and this may mean having to use / alter or find child care. As with the contact routine, getting this in place in the early days will be a huge tick of the list in terms of stress, and will help minimise the stress going forward.
Don’t leave anything to chance.
While in the emotional aftermath of separation, this is a good time to have a solid framework in place so there’s no ambiguity at all. If everyone knows and agrees on the issues above, there are fewer opportunities for misunderstandings and fall outs.