While many New Zealanders relax in January, it is a busy time for divorce lawyers. Divorce spikes across the developed world as the new year begins. Unsatisfactory relationships can drift along during the year, but unhappiness is highlighted during the stress of Christmas and after spending more time together. The holiday period provides time for evaluation and making decisions about what makes people happy. Sometimes this means ending a relationship. If you think you’re heading towards a separation, here are a few things you can do to make it a bit easier:
Talk to someone
Separation is usually a difficult time, and you’ll need lots of support around you. Talk to a trusted friend or family member about what you are going through. It’s also worth considering counselling. Many employers now have well-being programs and pay for their employees to have a few sessions with a trained counsellor. The sessions are confidential and often people find even a couple of sessions to be beneficial.
Avoid anything that will put extra pressure on you. This may not be the best time to be travelling long-distance to visit in-laws or take on a new role. Look after your physical health too - get more sleep and exercise, drink less alcohol. Schedule time away from your partner if that is going to help keep the peace.
Don’t move out
If possible, try to stay in the house together while you’re sorting everything out. In my experience the relationship stays more amicable while couples are still cohabiting. Often agreements can be reached without lawyers getting involved. Once you’re living apart, people start to move on with their lives, which can create new issues. It can be a strain financially too, as many living expenses are doubled. However, if living together is intolerable to your physical or mental well-being, then moving out may be the best thing for you.
Think of the children
If you have children, you’ll have extra decisions to make around visitation, responsibilities, and how everything will work financially. You might need to change your work hours to accommodate new arrangements. In any case, you’ll need to make sure your separation is as easy as possible for your children. If you can, break the news to them together. Try to figure out some of the logistics of where everyone will be living and when you will see each other, before you tell them. If you have very young children, ‘bird-nesting’ can be an option. This is where the children live in the house full-time, but the parents take turns at living in as the caregiver.
Protect your assets
At some point you and your partner will have to document all your relationship property, so you could start gathering details of shares, pension funds and any financial information that is not already at your fingertips. You may wish to get professional advice from a lawyer on your legal rights and options, especially if you anticipate any issues. I advise changing passwords on your computer and bank accounts. If you have a shared bank account, you might want to put some controls on the account. For example, transactions over a specified amount must be approved by you both.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Focus on the big things: your children, your living arrangements, and the larger items of relationship property. Don’t worry about the smaller chattels at this stage.
Be careful using social media
Try and keep social media posting to a minimum. In fact, I often suggest that clients cease posting during a separation. Seeking online validation from your Facebook friends over your divorce or posting photos of a new partner will not pave the way for a smooth separation.Try to stay on good terms with your partnerThis is a big one and is often easier said than done. Emotions run high and people are not always reasonable; but if you can, try to maintain a good relationship. This will enable a faster settlement, with less lawyer involvement and less expense. You’ll be better off in the long run.
Separating can be a sad and difficult process. The more you can prepare yourself, get support around you and keep on good terms with your partner, the quicker and more peacefully you can start your new life.
This article was first published in Stuff.