First Steps After Separating From Your Spouse

Are you separated or separating?  What should you do first?

Separating or divorcing, or having any sort of family law matter can be emotional and stressful.  It can be hard to figure out what you should do.  Here are 10 things to do when you separate from your spouse.

1. Take a Deep Breath

If you are looking at web-pages for family law lawyers, there is a good chance that you are either going through a major life event, or you anticipate that you will be going through one.   Getting married, separating, getting divorced, being involved with a children’s aid society or dealing with a former partner can be very stressful and emotional times.  They are not a good time to act impulsively.  Lots of people make decisions that they regret later because they did not think them through and get good advice.  I have seen lots of people do the things listed on my “How to Lose Your Case” page, while thinking they were doing the right thing. You should also watch this video about common family law mistakes.  Before you do anything else, you need to take a deep breath and give some thought about the decisions you have to make.  I have done a lot of complex family litigation - over custody and access, complex financial situations, and children’s aid cases.  The comments on these pages are the product of that experience.

Taking a deep breath and carefully planning your next steps is even important, perhaps especially important, when your spouse has had an affair.  Read this page for particular advice if you know your spouse is cheating on you. The advice below is still important, but there are some additional considerations if your spouse has had an affair.

2. Talk to your Adult Friends and Adult Family

The people around you are a good starting point in assessing your situation.  They are a good first “reality check” to make sure that you are seeing things clearly at a stressful time.  If you are going to get into a “battle”, then these are the people who you want beside you.  But, they may also have ideas about how to avoid the battle all together.  But, if there are kids involved, these are NOT the type of  issues with which they should be involved.  The potential for harming kids by doing that is very high.

The Guide to the Basics of Ontario Family Law - $20 easy to understand book on Ontario Family Law and Ontario Family Court

3.  Learn a Bit About Family Law

Family Law is incredibly complex.  You will not be able to understand every nuance and how they affect your case.  The only way to know what kind of process you want to follow, and what steps you need to take is to research the basics.  Family Law is different in every jurisdiction, and the differences can be big.  So, if you live in Ontario, you need to find a reliable source of information about Ontario Family Law.  One reliable source of that kind of information is the Devry Smith and Frank LLP Guide to the Basics of Ontario Family Law.   It is available from Amazon as a paperback or as $9.99 Kindle eBook, Kobo eBook or as an iBook for your iPad, iPhone or Mac. You can also listen to the Ontario Family Law Podcast or watch these videos on issues related to separation and divorce in Ontario.

Ontario Family Law Podcast Episode 1 - Separation and First Decision

1 - Separation and First Decisions

4.  Decide What Process You Want Use

Separating and divorcing does not necessarily mean going to court and fight it out.  Sometimes that is necessary.  However, some couples are able to sort out their affairs using another process.  If they are getting along well, they may be able to consult with a lawyer and negotiate an a separation agreement.  If the couple really wants to work things out, but have serious disagreements about what the final result should be, they may try collaborative practice or collaborative law to have a process that will help them without attacking each other.  If one spouse will not cooperate, is being devious or dishonest, then going the court may be the only way for a spouse to protect his or her rights.  It is important to consider what process you need because that will help you decide what type of family lawyer you need to help with your separation or divorce.  John Schuman has negotiated a lot of agreements, had successfully litigated several cases through trials and appeals and is also trained as a collaborative lawyer.

Here is a one minute video that goes over your options for resolving things with your spouse after separation:

5. Talk to a Family Law Lawyer

Judges feel that it is important for people in family law crises to have a family law lawyer.  You need some professional, objective, advice.  Often that advice will help you work out a solution. But if not and you go to court, you need someone to not only navigate through the complexities of the court process, but also to make sure you show yourself in the best light at a time when it is not clear how to do that.

Very few family  cases get to trial.  Many cases that do go to trial have one or both parties without a lawyer.   Family Law Lawyers know the law and the court rules.  They know what are reasonable resolutions in the circumstances.  Family Law Lawyers also know how to get clients to that resolution.  Long disputes or trials are very destructive.  They cost a lot of money and they burn bridges.   There are times when you have to go to trial.  I have done many of them.  But, that is almost always because one side (or both) is being unreasonable and either needs a fight, or is avoiding getting to a resolution because he or she cannot let go.  Where parties want to cooperate and try to resolve the issues respectively, it is possible for a separated couples to sort out their affairs without a long or stressful fight.

I handle a lot of complex cases.   I know how to fight for the “best interests” of your children.  I also know how to find the hidden income and assets, and how to deal with complex financial structures, from trusts to complex corporate organizations.   Only the best family law lawyers know how to work through those issues and make sure that their clients get what they are entitled to - in court or out.  Navigating through these issues can be a challenge - even for other professionals.  One thing you don’t want is to get less than you deserve because you did not know how the law applied to your situation.  A good family law lawyer is an investment.

It is usually impossible to predict the exact cost, because that depends on many variables from the reasonableness of the parties to the complexity of the issues.  However, my philosophy is that what you get at the end of my services should be worth more than what you paid to me. To find out more about fees, see my page on the cost of family lawyers.

6. Consider Mediation, Arbitration or Collaborative Practice

Going to court almost always involves a bitter fight, a lot of accusations, and emotional upset.  In court, people are motivated to make the other side look bad to try to win the case.   For that reason, court is not a good way to resolve matters between people who do not want a big fight or to have a judge decide which side is right.   People may have disagreements that they need to resolve, but that does not mean they have to fight them out in court.  Mediation, Arbitration, Mediation/Arbitration and Collaborative Practice are ways to resolve those disagreements without a big fight.  Those options give the parties more control over what the final settlement will be. In court, a judge who does not know the parties, decides how they will live the rest of their lives.  Often both parties do not like the result.  But, if one (or both) parties insists on being unreasonable and will not cooperate to try to reach a resolution, court is the only option.

7. Watch this Video on the first steps you should take after separation

In addition to the video, you may want to listen to the Ontario Family Law Podcast on making your first decisions after separation.  It is up on this page on the left.

8.  Remember What is Important in Life.

Check out the life advice available here.

9. Contact a Certified Specialist in Family Law to Book a Consult 

Get the advice, guidance and information you need by contacting Toronto Family Lawyer, Family Mediator, Family Arbitrator and Collaborative Lawyer, John Schuman, using the form below or by calling 416-446-5847.

10.  Help Out Any Friends or Family Going Through Separation or Divorce

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© John P. Schuman 2014