First Steps After Separation

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 webpages 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 parenting, complex financial situations, and children’s aid cases. The comments on these pages are the product of that experience.

Making a mistake is not just doing the wrong thing, but also not doing what you are legally required to do. The video below sets out what spouses and parents are legally required to do first after they separate.

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 altogether. 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.

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 Guide to the Basics of Ontario Family Law, which is available as a $9.99 Kindle eBook, Kobo eBook, or iBook for your iPad or iPhone and as a paperback from Amazon and better bookstores. You can also listen to the Ontario Family Law Podcast or watch these videos on issues related to separation and divorce in Ontario.

A common question is what will happen to the children. There are rules that judges have to follow when deciding custody cases. It is important to learn those rules before making any decisions about parenting children after divorce. 

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

You will leave a consultation with an understanding of what you need to do next – and a written outlined of that plan. If you want to “retain us” to handle your case completely, then we will take over most of the tasks from there. If you want us to help you with specific tasks, or family law coaching, we will give you an estimate or quote on the fees.

We can’t give you a price in advance of the meeting because family law matters vary in terms of how complicated they are, how difficult one (or both) spouses want to be and how much work will be required. Whether separated spouses choose, court, arbitration, mediation, collaborative law, or negotiation has a huge impact on fees. The video below explains what makes some family law cases more expensive than others.

Regardless of what is going on with your particular matter, we will give you an estimate of what the next steps will cost or, if you choose unbundled services, you can set a budget. 

5. Protect Your Kids From Conflict

The research is clear that exposure to conflict between their parents causes serious and observable harm to kids. It is not just best for the kids to shield them from conflict, the law now legally requires parents to do so. Parents have a legal duty to keep their kids far away from conflicts between parents who have separated. In addition, each parent has an explicit legal duty, to the extent it is in the children’s best interest, to promote the children’s relationship with the other parent. These legal requirements can be hard, as separation is an emotional time. But, there can be serious legal consequences to breaching these duties – including the possibility of the Court cutting off any contact with the kids. There are parenting professionals who can advise on how best to shield children from conflict when that is difficult. Parenting professionals and family lawyers are able to advise whether a parent has a reason for restricting contact between the children and the other parent – but even in those cases, there is a duty to promote their relationship.

6. 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 separated couples to sort out their affairs without a long or stressful fight.

7. Consider Mediation, Arbitration or Collaborative Practice

Ontario Family Law requires separated spouses and parents to consider using the alternative to resolving disputes before going to court. This is because going to court almost always involves a bitter fight, a lot of accusations, and emotional upset. That hurts kids. 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. Watch the video below to find out if going to Court is a good choice for you.

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 insist on being unreasonable and will not cooperate to try to reach a resolution, court is the only option. The video below describes more about the option to court after separation.

8. Start Gathering Your Disclosure.

Recent changes to Rule 13 of the Family Law Rules put great emphasis on early financial disclosure. The Rules now require a person starting a Family Court procedure to serve financial disclosure at the beginning of the proceedings and the other spouse to also provide disclosure shortly after. The first the Court will do in a Family Law Proceeding is make an “Automatic Order” requiring the parties to exchange financial disclosure within 30 days. There are sanctions for not doing so – and a person who goes to Family Court without having given proper disclosure will be on the wrong side of the judge right from the beginning. 

Even if you are not going to court to work things out with your spouse, and for most people going to court is not only unnecessary but a bad idea, you still need to exchange financial disclosure to have a valid and enforceable settlement with your spouse. Getting the financial disclosure together at the beginning of any process helps move things along much more quickly, at a lower cost, with fewer fights. If you do not get disclosure together, you will spend time, and money, at court, mediation, arbitration or collaborative practice sorting that out. This is aggravation you can easily avoid.

This page describes the Family Law disclosure process and what disclosure is necessary at the start. 

9. Remember What is Important in Life.

Check out the life advice available here.

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

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