There are few experiences that feel as seismic as separation. In this instalment of The Divorce Project, I’m going to unpack what the first year of separation often looks like. Before we begin, I want you to know something that is comforting (if disappointing): there is going to be nothing particularly unique about the path you are about to travel. Many women have done it before. It is hard, but you will get through it. It is just a process, and it is really psychologically beneficial to recognise it as such. And a year from now … well, you’ll feel entirely different to the way you feel today coming to this article. I promise.
If you missed out on the first instalment ‘The First Two Weeks: What Happens When You Leave A Marriage’, read it here.
Interim Financial Agreement
When you separate, your debts don’t go on hiatus. Unfortunately. The last thing you want to do is think about finances when you’re leaving a relationship, but if you neglect to do so your credit score may be at risk. This has knock-on impacts for your future financial health, so can’t really be ignored.
An interim financial agreement is a temporary arrangement that identifies who is paying for which debts until an agreed-upon date is reached. It is often during this initial stage of identifying liability that you may realise there is more joint debt owed than you understood. If you are the party in the relationship who did not manage finances, this time can feel very confusing and overwhelming. If you discover you’re in more debt than you imagined, or you’re facing independent financial management for the first time in a while you may feel guilty or silly. Several of my friends – all of whom are competent corporate types, by the way – expressed how they felt ‘stupid’ at not having more knowledge of shared finances at the breakdown of their relationships. You needn’t feel this way; it’s quite normal in a trusting and functional relationship that there’s delegation of responsibility – and yes, that includes finances.
It’s important that your lawyer brokers this interim financial agreement so it is officiated and everyone understands their responsibilities. In my divorce I was principally responsible for the repayments on three mortgages for several months as my ex was unemployed at the time. Upon financial settlement (the end of the line where all assets are divvied up), I was topped up the amount of funds that were his responsibility during the interim financial agreement period. It’s important to keep a record of all your expenses on joint responsibilities during this period so you can claim back amounts you paid on your ex’s behalf upon separation.
Interim financial agreements are necessary as in the heat of early separation, it is rare for both parties to be in a position for good decision making. Emotions are heightened and a new reality needs to be set in motion. Big and final financial decisions are better left for a time when the dust has settled and the separating pair are accepting of their position and ready to move forward. In order to reach the capacity for good decision making, you may find it helpful to see your GP for a referral to a great counsellor or therapist. You will potentially also want to consult with a financial planner and meet with your accountant to understand your new financial position. Interim financial agreements keep the wheels on during this time of growing independence.
Shared Parenting Arrangements
If you have children, negotiating an acceptable shared parenting arrangement will be a priority. I did not have a child when I went through separation, so cannot speak directly to this experience; however having worked in the family law space I do have a good understanding of the basic points of friction and what a great shared parenting plan can look like.
Word to the wise: women are often terrified of going to a lawyer early in their separation because she wants to play ‘nice’ with her ex. This isn’t necessarily because she likes her ex; rather it is because she is afraid of him turning nasty upon the officiating of their separation, costing her significant amounts in legal fees and potentially taking away the access she would like to her children. Unfortunately, many women engage the expertise of a family lawyer far too late into their separation, when some behaviours or unsuitable agreements have gone on for some time to their disadvantage.
My advice is to get legal advice as early as possible. If finance is a concern of yours, know that many family lawyers will come to a suitable arrangement with you and upfront payment won’t be necessary. The thing is: you don’t want to rely on the hearsay of mates when it comes to your rights and your obligations. Particularly when it comes to shared parenting arrangement. And additionally if you have been a victim of domestic violence (emotional or physical, no matter). Some common myths at separation include:
- That you must give him 50% access to your children
- That you need to stay in the house if you want to keep it
- That you need to compromise to driving huge distances regularly for ‘change over’ if you live in different locations
If you have a lawyer in your corner, you’ll also have access to other services that will support you and your ex build a workable co-parenting arrangement – chief amongst them being a mediator. If you can access a lawyer who is also a mediator, you’re onto a great thing. They’ll help design arrangements that can be formalised, and their knowledge will help you establish what is normal when it comes to co-parenting (and not just what your ex tells you is normal).
The first year of separation is where much of the hard word in setting boundaries is done. And it’s a huge subject to write about, which is why I’ll be breaking it down into three separate blogs. In our next portion, we’ll address negotiation around tax and trusts, and the liquidation of property.
What fun! No, not really. But rest assured – as one who has been there – it really does get better.
If you feel at risk of domestic violence please contact White Ribbon Australia. Their website has ample links to other support services including Beyond Blue, Lifelife, Mensline and more.