Preparing for Separation or Divorce

Preparing for Separation or Divorce

Family Law
Mark Norton
Mark Norton

If you are thinking about separating from your common law partner or your husband/wife, there are some steps that you can take to put yourself in the best position to work out a fair and equitable solution post-separation.  These tips are not about creating an unfair advantage, but are about ensuring you have the information and resources to work out the best arrangement for all involved:

1. Collect Documents and Inventory Items

After separation, significant money, time, and effort can be spent trying to determining what assets and debts you and your ex have.  It can be easier, less contentious and efficient to collect this information before separation.  The information should include:

  1. A tally of your assets (bank accounts, RRSP’s, insurance policies, etc.) and your debts (credit cards, lines of credit and mortgage amounts).
  2. An inventory of valuable household items. Please note that this does not mean you need to document and inventory every knife and spoon, but you should document expensive furniture, valuable collections, jewelry, etc.  This is much more important if you plan on leaving the family home.
  3. Inventory all safety deposit boxes.  If possible, bring a reliable witness to confirm the inventory.
  4. Make efforts to find out what you owned before the relationship.  Look for old, historical bank records that you may have.  Make a copy of records including having electronic copies of files.

2. Ensure you have Resources and Cash available to you

Steps in this regard

  1. If possible, have money in a separate bank account rather than in a joint account that you share with your partner.  In some instances, if there is a joint account and you have access it may be appropriate to take a portion of the funds from the joint account and put it into an account in your own name.  It is recommended you consult a lawyer before taking that kind of action.
  2. If access to cash is limited, use the family credit card to buy gift cards and gift certificates to grocery stores or for the necessities in life.  It can take time for things like child support and spousal support to flow so these cards can be critical for your well-being.
  3. Put aside cash on a regular basis including getting cash back at the grocery store if buying groceries.  This is a good strategy if you have a partner who is very controlling of finances.
  4. If possible, ensure you have some bills or a credit card in your own name.  Building up a credit score and credit rating is important if you need to obtain credit post-separation.

3. Don’t Leave the Family Home (Generally)

There can be significant advantages to remaining in the family home through the separation.  These advantages can be financial and also related to issues around parenting and parenting time.  Consulting a lawyer about staying/leaving the family home before separation can be important.

If there are issues of safety and family violence however, leaving the family home may be your only option.  Staying in the family home at “all costs” is not recommended in those circumstances.  

4. Consult a Lawyer

Consulting with a lawyer before separation can be massively beneficial.  A good lawyer should be able to help you craft a plan to put you in the best position post-separation.  I also find that there are many questions and unknowns people have pre-separation that, which if answered, make the decision to end or not end the relationship easier.   Lawyers are also under the obligation to advise clients of services that can help save a relationship, such as couples counselling.  The expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is a wise strategy.

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