Strategies for Separation: Essential Do's and Don'ts for a Smooth Process
By Jenna Lalani, BC Family Lawyer
Navigating the end of a relationship is never easy, especially when it involves having a conversation about separation with your partner. It's a fragile time filled with a whirlwind of emotions, where the words we choose and the way we deliver them can drastically shape the course of the entire process. However, understanding the necessary steps, crucial do's and don'ts, and potential paths that can be taken can make this difficult journey more bearable. In this blog, we dive into this emotional process, offering guidance on how to approach sensitive conversations, when to get legal advice, and what to consider when it comes to your safety and the welfare of any children who may be involved.
How do I tell my partner I want to separate?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to telling your partner you want to separate - this period is exceedingly sensitive for all parties involved. Emotions like frustration, anger, and hurt can act as kindling for conflict. It is easy to say things in the moment or speak from a place of anger; however, it is important to remain calm and level-headed when you’re about to have a conversation about separating.
Your initial conversation can set the tone for the entire separation process. If you play the blame game, you may end up putting your spouse on the defensive. Give yourself an opportunity to discuss with your spouse what you are thinking while being respectful and calm. Preparing ahead of time can aid in this process, so consider jotting down the essential points you wish to discuss to keep the conversation focused.
The two of you should listen and hear each other out during this initial discussion. Your spouse may feel blindsided and respond with suggestions for counselling or, alternatively, become defensive and hostile. Each couple’s dynamics are unique, but counselling often serves as a valuable first step. Exploring every avenue for reconciliation is important; however, even if you decide to separate, counselling can be a valuable tool in fostering effective communication, particularly when children are part of the equation.
Remember, this initial dialogue is just a starting point, not a stage for final negotiations. While it's natural to want to make compromises to maintain peace or assuage guilt, it's crucial to avoid negotiations during this initial conversation. Preserving a respectful and understanding atmosphere is key to taking this first, challenging step towards separation.
Should I talk to a lawyer before I talk to my spouse or after we officially separate?
Being prepared is key. It is helpful to speak with a family lawyer when you have the intention of separating as a lawyer can advise on your specific case at hand. There can be a discussion about what a separation would look like, any steps you can take to prepare, and what each of you would likely be entitled to in a separation so that you are ready for any discussions with your spouse. You should know your legal rights when separating so that you are not unknowingly agreeing to anything.
What if my partner is abusive?
Your utmost priority in these circumstances should always be safety. If your spouse's behavior prevents a rational conversation from taking place, you should speak to an experienced family lawyer to discuss obtaining a protection order.
Formulating and implementing a safety plan for yourself - and your children, if applicable – is integral when the situation becomes unsafe. Your safety plan should include a secure place to stay, whether that means the known location of shelters nearby or a family member or friend’s house, as well as family support.
The following resources offer guidance for anyone interested in developing their own personal safety plan:
In Alberta - The Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter is a prominent organization committed to eradicating family violence and abuse affecting women, children, youth, and men. Their comprehensive online platform provides a wealth of information, including resources tailored specifically for safety planning.
In British Columbia - Collaboratively, the Ministry of Justice and BC Housing have published an in-depth booklet on crafting a safety plan. This valuable guide is conveniently accessible through their website.
Key 'Do's to Keep in Mind When Separating
- Use your separation period to work through interim and long-term agreements - if you are married and going through a divorce, you must be separated for one year prior to being able to obtain a divorce for all jurisdictions in Canada. Using this separation period to work through interim or long-term agreements will make the divorce process easier once things are already finalized. You save time, money, and stress when you utilize the time efficiently.
- Communicate - as long as you feel safe to have a conversation with your spouse, leave any anger, frustration, or hostility at the door. This may require parent coaching, counselling, or even a divorce coach. it is worth it, especially if you have children as you are involved with each other for the rest of your lives. It is important to work on a post-separation relationship to allow you to co-exist in a healthy way.
- Get legal advice - often, separating couples are on the same page. They turn to an online template or a handwritten draft of terms and think that it is good enough to sign. A huge downside to this is that, sometimes, not everything is adequately dealt with. It is more difficult to change or challenge an agreement then it is to do it right the first time. If the terms have been agreed upon between you and your separating spouse, Crossroads Law offers flat rate separation agreements to get legal advice, properly paper the terms of agreement, and to sign and finalize your agreement.
- Be open to a 4-way meeting or mediation - a 4-way meeting is a meeting with you, your lawyer, your spouse, and their lawyer. This allows for the two of you to establish a positive atmosphere to speak freely about what you both want. This can be done at any stage of your separation and there may often be several 4-way meetings before a substantial agreement can be reached. These meetings can streamline the negotiation process, reducing the need for back-and-forth legal correspondence. Moreover, they foster open communication between the parties, helping them collaboratively resolve certain issues. Sometimes, a neutral party is needed to help the parties reach an agreement. Mediation is a great option prior to court, and it should be attempted if the terms cannot be agreed upon.
Key 'Don'ts' During Separation
- Do not withdraw significant funds from accounts or dispose of any assets – the British Columbia Family Law Act, the Alberta Family Property Act, and the Divorce Act protect each party’s right to family property. Until property division or asset equalization is finalized, it is important not to move money around, sell property, or even buy property.
- Do not withhold child support - if children are involved, you must remember that child support is for the benefit of the child. Withholding support for any reason will not lead you to your desired result. It is not meant to be a tactic to pressure the other side into an agreement or add some financial strain to your ex while the separation is in process. All this will do is make you look bad in court and add to the back pay / arrears that will be owed in the future.
- Do not use anger or pain to narrate your separation process – while it’s easier said than done, these emotions can not only impede the process but can also end up controlling both you and the separation process. Not only does this prevent your matter from truly moving forward, it can also result in more time and money spent in legal fees. If matters went to court and your spouse can demonstrate your unreasonableness, perhaps through evidence of stalling or non-compliance, you might even find yourself facing court-ordered costs.
- Do not sign anything or give up because you feel pressured - challenging an agreement after the fact is not an easy task and it may not be able to be re-opened. Get legal advice before signing anything to ensure that the terms of your agreement are feasible and fair for both parties.
- Do not compare your family matter to a friend or family member - every family law matter is different. While lawyers and judges rely on precedence (previous court decisions and orders) and follow the legislation (ie. the Family Law Act or Divorce Act), it doesn’t mean that your case will end up the same way as someone else’s. While it is great to discuss your matter with someone who may have experienced a similar situation to you, it is important not to get fixated on an idea that does not necessarily align with your specific case.
At Crossroads Law, our dedicated team of seasoned family lawyers are well-versed in guiding clients through separation or divorce, ensuring you and your family’s interests are protected every step of the way. We understand that the dynamics of each relationship are unique, and our approach is tailored to fit the nuances of your specific case. Schedule a complimentary 20-minute consultation with one of our experienced lawyers or mediators today and start your journey towards a well-managed, respectful separation.