3 Important Considerations for a Stress-Free Separation

Separation after marriage comes with a large amount of baggage. Not only do you have to process your feelings following the breakdown of what was to be a lifelong union, but there are many practical aspects to navigate, particularly when there are children involved. Read on for a checklist to complete before implementing a separation.

1. Legal aspects

In cases of amicable separation, you may not need to involve the courts. However, it is important to discuss property division and the children's wellbeing with your former partner. In cases where you cannot reach mutual agreement, you can enlist the help of a lawyer, mediator or arbitrator, and then go to court if all avenues are unsuccessful. As much as possible, former spouses are advised to explore out-of-court options since they are less draining for all parties involved. There are several upsides to this:

  • Make decisions yourself rather than being coerced by a judge
  • Reduce timelines and emotional and financial costs of the separation
  • Ensure better relations after separation, especially if there are children
  • Ensure civil communication and easier resolution of present and future disputes

2. Parenting agreements/plans

Usually, a lawyer will guide you through creating a parenting plan that details your arrangements for the children. If there are no disputes, this plan will be drawn by the lawyer and signed by both spouses without involving the court. In addition, the plan may be changed by mutual agreement in a similar manner. Remember that parenting plans are different from parenting orders, which come from a court and are legally enforceable. A comprehensive plan should list the following details:

  • Living arrangements for the children
  • Visitation arrangements for the secondary parent as well as important relatives like grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins
  • International travel and passports
  • Educational decisions, including school attendance, payment of school fees and current and future educational expenses
  • Child support, including duration, amounts and provision for review
  • Support if the child has special needs
  • Resolution of unforeseen circumstances affecting the plan

3. Property, assets and liabilities

You will need to decide how to divide your joint and individual assets and liabilities. Consider the following:

  • Division of home and contents thereof and personal property like cars
  • Spousal maintenance – duration, amount and provision for review
  • Joint and individual pensions – most people overlook the importance of retirement plans during separation
  • Present and future debt and financial obligations – life insurance/auto insurance premiums, personal, home and/or student loans, existing tax liabilities, credit card debts and legal fees among others

Begin by creating a list of present assets and liabilities with current value and related costs. Next, find documentation indicating ownership and value, and inform relevant parties about your changing circumstance. Finally, if your will is affected, make plans to revise it or write a new one.