The husband or wife who may not have been expecting the separation is likely to be feeling anxious and overwhelmed by numerous decisions that need to be made and what the future may hold.
Every family is different but common areas for concern will be:
- care of the children
- living arrangements
- paying the bills
- finances generally.
Immediate steps to consider when separating from your partner
Arrangements for childcare
If you have children, your children will want to spend time with both of you. Think carefully about how you will tell the children about the separation. If possible, it can help to tell the children together. Crucially, bear in mind that things said by parents in the presence of children, both positive and negative, can have a lasting effect.
If you are to continue living under the same roof it may be sensible to plan a rota so that you each have weekly allotted time to do an activity with the children without your spouse or partner present. This allows the other parent to have some time to themselves and also helps the children adjust to the concept of having time with each parent separately.
If you plan to live in separate households immediately the children will need to feel reassured that contact with the parent who has left the home will continue. If one parent does not have suitable temporary accommodation consider whether contact could take place somewhere else, perhaps at a grandparent’s house.
If immediate alternative housing isn’t available or affordable set some ground rules for living in the house together and giving each other space.
If you or your spouse decide to move out you will not lose any rights in the property although if the property is owned in your spouse’s sole name it would be sensible to record your matrimonial home rights at the land registry.
If you or your spouse decide to move out and need to return for any reason it is preferable to agree this in advance rather than letting yourself back into the house unannounced.
Changing the locks to prevent the other spouse returning is not advised although the situation would be different if there were domestic abuse concerns. If changing the locks is something you feel is necessary it is advisable to speak to a family law solicitor before doing so.
Paying the bills
It can help to make a list of set monthly outgoings from all accounts. It should then be clearer, when cross referencing with available income, who can afford to pay for what.
If you have a mortgage you will need to agree how the monthly payments will be made. If one of you is staying in the home, the other might not want to contribute to the mortgage, so working this out is important.
Remember, it will usually take many months to work through to a final resolution about the finances and so it is important to have a clear understanding at the outset about what each party can afford to contribute.
If you are living alone, apply for a council tax 25% sole occupancy reduction. Check other benefit entitlement too. If you are separated you may be eligible for Universal Credit even if you are still living under the same roof.
Are there financial details I should obtain straight away?
Get two or three estate agent valuations for any properties. Estate agents will provide market appraisals for free.
Speak to a mortgage advisor and find out what you could borrow. Most mortgage advisors are usually happy to run checks based on several different scenarios at no charge.
Creating an inventory of household furniture and contents can help avoid disputes at a later date.
Put together a list of the available assets and any debts. You might not have all the details but this and will provide a useful starting point for further discussions. At Birketts clients can access our online tool called Settify. This uses artificial intelligence to gather relevant details. Clients completing Settify will receive a free, personalised report in relation to the finances.
Check whether there are any overdraft facilities on any joint accounts and whether these overdraft limits need to be frozen or removed to avoid you being held jointly liable for debt.
It is likely that you will need to budget for legal fees. Give some thought to borrowing options. If money can be borrowed from a family member make sure this advance is documented as a formal loan.
Getting legal advice and support
Most legal advisors will offer an initial fixed fee meeting and it helps to take advice at an early stage. A lot of ground can be covered in this initial meeting. It may also be possible to obtain initial advice from charity run law clinics in your area or Citizens Advice.
For further advice in relation to the practical first steps in the divorce or separation process, please contact Denise Findlay or another member of the Birketts Family Law Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at April 2021.