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Stage One of the Divorce Process: Top Tips on Separation

Each year in January our team sees a spike in divorce following the festive season. This year we’re taking you through the stages of divorce so you know what to expect if you find yourself in this situation. Stage one is separation, and the following looks at the factors and issues you may wish to consider upon separation.

Separating from a spouse is never easy. It’s a time of emotional upheaval for both parties and is especially disrupting for any children involved. Unfortunately, a spouse does not only face emotional challenges upon separation but also the challenges surrounding the practicalities of separation.

It’s important to note in the first instance that it is in the best interests of everyone involved to ensure that immediate discussions post separation remain as amicable as possible. Don’t assume that all separations have the capacity to be amicable, however the benefit of keeping matters civil cannot be understated. It may be preferable for any discussions to take place in a neutral environment, rather than in the matrimonial home and discussions should never be in the ear shot of any children.

Temporary Living Arrangements

One of the most poignant matters for you and your spouse to consider is temporary living arrangements. These arrangements are temporary on the basis that living arrangements will often change once any financial settlement upon divorce has been reached.

Upon separation, spouses may remain living in the same home until a financial agreement is reached, however it’s also commonplace for one spouse to move out of the family home. It is therefore important to decide whether one spouse moving out is in fact affordable. The question of affordability also relates to whether the spouse moving out of the family home will continue to contribute to the mortgage and/or outgoings of the family home.

It is advisable to sit down with your spouse and prepare a list of all outgoings. For example, this may include mortgage repayments, bills, household food, child care and any other regular costs. If one spouse is moving out of the family home, it’s important to take into account any rent, deposit and bills that spouse will have to pay for temporary accommodation. You can then consider this schedule of outgoings alongside you and your spouse’s respective income to gauge who should pay what. For example, it may be agreed that in the event that one spouse has to pay for temporary accommodation, then that spouse can reduce his/her payments towards the mortgage. You can always ask your mortgage lender whether a ‘mortgage holiday’ is possible. This is a period in which you can suspend your mortgage repayments and is dependent on what your lender allows.

It’s important that these decisions are made between you and your spouse and not unilaterally. You need to ensure that mortgage repayments are covered in full to avoid defaulting, and you may wish to discuss with your spouse whether any joint accounts will continue to be used or whether you should each open your own bank accounts and close joint ones. If you close any accounts, make sure you re-arrange direct debits and consider whether you should cancel credit cards where you are both cardholders.

If the home is held in your spouse’s sole name only, you need to obtain advice from a specialist solicitor regarding protecting your interest in the family home by lodging a Matrimonial Home Rights Notice at the Land Registry. 

What if We Have Children?

If you have children, you will have to consider how each of you will care and be responsible for them post-separation. It’s important to attempt to agree on how much time each parent spends with the children. It may be that interim arrangements are agreed, before more long-term arrangements are worked out. It’s always helpful to look at school calendars when deciding on a pattern of care and for this to be set out clearly in writing.

You should also agree how your children should be informed about the separation; helpful guidance can be located online. You may wish to inform your children’s school that you are separating and update their contact information so both parents receive the important information in relation to your children's education.

Additionally, you can ensure that you work out a plan to cover children’s school or child care expenses. Separated parents will more likely be eligible to receive further government benefits or more hours’ free childcare; it may be worth looking into this at the earliest opportunity.

What are the Next Steps?

It’s never too early to consider mediation in order to assist you and your spouse in reaching an agreement as to the way forward upon separation.

It is also crucial that you seek the advice of a solicitor and in doing so, it will be helpful for you to set up a new email account and/or change your existing password, in order that you can correspond with your legal team safe in the knowledge that such correspondence is confidential and is not available to your spouse. 

If you’re looking for advice on any stage of the divorce process, our expert family team is here to help with the advice you need. Contact us for further information.   

Sarah Bunn is a family law solicitor who specialises in all aspects of family private work at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

If you’re going through a divorce, it’s important to understand each stage as you go through the process. You can find out more about each stage in the links below:

Stage Two: Mediation

Stage Three: Divorce

Stage Four: Finances

Stage Five: Children

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