Separating is not a walk in the park. It’s more like trekking to Everest Base Camp. It takes time, physical and mental exertion and a great deal of resolve. The closer you get, the tougher it becomes and the risk of running out of oxygen increases. You need all the strategic support you can get! In the words of a Sherpa guide to Everest: “Without a Sherpa, there is no expedition.”
Enough with analogies! In reality, divorce may be harder than climbing Everest! Below, you will find a list of things that should help you plan ahead. Think of this as your divorce or separation sherpa.
1. Consider how you want to break the news to your partner
No matter how you turn it, this is never an easy thing to do. Never.
Take the time and get the support that you need. Some couples found it easier to share this in a more controlled environment, such as counselling. Other couples are comfortable keeping this conversation private. If you have children, you may want to plan this discussion outside of the home or when they are at school or daycare.
No matter what you decide, make sure it is safe! Your partner may be completely blindsided and her/his reaction may be totally irrational and uncontrolled. When in doubt, create a safety plan!
2. Understand your financial picture and how divorce or separation may change this
It is common in a relationship that one partner manages the household finances and the other deals with another household responsibility. This team-like approach may work really well during the marriage but can cause a great deal of anxiety when things change and you are now expected to know and manage everything on your own.
To contextualize, when you get married, the law assumes you are equal partners in sharing the value of all of your property. Property refers to the assets and debts accumulated during the marriage and that still exist at the date of separation – cars, homes, investments, savings and debt. Typically , the partner who has more property pays money (half of the difference) to the partner with less property.
Here is an example:
John has accumulated $20,000 (that’s his net worth, assets less debts)
Maria has accumulated $10,000 (that’s her net worth, assets less debts)
John’s property is $10,000 more than Maria’s
John pays $5,000 to Maria – that’s half of the difference (or equalization payment).
These rules may not apply for common-law partners or where there is a cohabitation agreement or as some call it a “prenup”.
There are special rules for matrimonial homes, gifts, inheritances and Canada Pension Plan credits.
Individual pensions are also considered part of the property that gets divided at separation. This is a sore point for many because they feel they worked hard to pay into their nest-egg. Dividing pensions will impact retirement income and, for many, necessitate postponing retirement. If one partner has stepped out of the workforce, even temporarily, to raise children it can become a source of contention because their support of the shared household has been non-monetary.
All of these can be addressed at your kitchen table – or with a neutral mediator. If you and your partner agree that a different type of division is fair for your family, you can certainly do that!
3. Educate Yourself About Divorce Options
The process of separation and divorce can be challenging and costly. As a society, we have been conditioned to “lawyer-up” and use the legal system to lead the transition. There are other options. There are better options. Please refer to our post – Mediation vs Litigation – to educate yourself on the differences so you can make the decision that best suits your unique situation.
4. Take Care of Yourself
If you are going to make any major decisions, you need a clear mind. “Listen to your own inner voice, and pay attention to what you need mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Then, act upon what you know is best for you”, says therapist Michelle Goldstein. She lists the following self-care activities that may be helpful during this transition:
- Be kind to yourself. Eat the cake. Laugh at a stupid joke. Cry at a stupid commercial.
- Listen to yourself. If you’re tired, take a nap. If you “just can’t”, give yourself a time out.
- Cut yourself some slack. This is a difficult time. You don’t have to be a hero.
- Set boundaries. It’s okay to say no and it’s okay to stay away from people who are not supportive.
- Remember what you like best about yourself and use these as daily affirmations to remind yourself that you’re awesome and that you’ve got this.
- Do something new that excites you. Yoga, painting class, ultimate frisbee team, stand-up comedy. It’s a great way to start the next chapter.
- Get active and get outside. A sojourn with mother nature is the best salve for the soul.
Seek help and support. Divorce and separation are tough times. There are people who can help. Friends, professionals and family. A sign of strength is knowing when to ask for help – and asking for it.