Thinking about separating in the New Year? What next?

Thinking about separating in the New Year? What next?
By Paula Tanner

Christmas can be a stressful time of year, especially when things aren’t quite right in your relationship. Maybe you and your partner spent too much time together over Christmas, and spent much of that time sniping at each other or outright arguing.

Maybe you’ve decided you can’t go on - and now you want to separate or get a divorce.

So, what do you need to think about next ...

  • Relationship counselling - You may have decided that enough is enough. But take a step back and think about it – is it just the stress of Christmas that has brought things to boiling point between you? Is there any possibility of giving things another go? Is it possible that attending relationship counselling, either together or on your own, might help you work things through? 

Of course, it’s entirely up to you whether you think there’s any benefit to trying counselling, but a lot of people feel happier with their decision when they know they have definitely given the relationship every chance they can. Attending relationship counselling can help you work through what is going wrong and what options, if any, there might be to fix it. 

Of course, counselling might also make you realise that there is no future in the relationship and confirm for you that you want to separate. Either way, it’s worth thinking about whether relationship counselling is for you. 

  • Get advice - It’s helpful to seek advice as soon as possible, whether that’s legal advice or financial advice or both, so that you know where you stand and what needs to be done, whether or not you decide to do anything formal in the immediate future.

If you are married, it’s helpful to discuss what options are available for divorcing because, in England and Wales, you can’t simply divorce because you’ve fallen out or grown apart (in the USA people often divorce on ‘irreconcilable differences’ but that isn’t an option in England and Wales). In the early stages of a separation, the only options available for a divorce are adultery or unreasonable behaviour. If you don’t want to make allegations against your ex, you could wait for two years and then divorce based on two years’ separation, provided your ex will consent. 

You should also discuss with your advisor whether you can afford to live separately or whether you’ll both need to carry on living under the same roof for a while. Living ‘separate and apart under the same roof’ can still be classed as a separation for divorce purposes provided you aren’t sharing a bedroom, cooking for each other etc. But taking advice on the options could be key to ensuring you know where you stand and what you need to do. 

  • Start getting your paperwork in order - If you’ve decided to move on with a divorce, whether immediately or in two years (or more), it’s a good idea to start getting your paperwork together. As and when you are ready to divorce, you will need your marriage certificate which you will have to send to the court with your divorce petition. It has to be the original marriage certificate or, if you can’t find it, an official copy which you can obtain from your local register office or online (at ).

As part of a divorce process, it is likely that you will have to deal with finances and work out a suitable division for you both. That means that you will need to know what assets you both have and how much they are worth. If you decide to divorce, you’ll need valuations of any properties you own, either individually or together, bank statements, credit card statement, P60s, payslips and pension valuations as well as details of any shares or other savings or assets either of you has. 

Getting all that information together can be time-consuming so, if you’ve decide that divorce is the route you’re going down, start looking at getting all this information together sooner rather than later – it’s better than scrabbling around trying to get it all at the last minute. Even if you’re going to wait for two years or more before you divorce, it’s sensible to start keeping your bank statements, payslips, P60s etc and make sure you know where they are – that will definitely help you when the time comes. 

  • Consider arrangements for the children -  Perhaps one of the most immediate things you’ll need to sort out is arrangements for the children - who will they live with after separation and how will they divide their time between the two of you. If you can work that out before separation, even if it’s only an interim arrangement while you work out a longer-term plan, it will help you all. You and your ex will know who the children will be with and when, and you can plan your work and other commitments around those times. Similarly, the children need to know when they are going to be seeing both their parents – and importantly, they need to know that they will be seeing you both.

It’s harder for children to deal with their parents’ separation if they feel that they won’t be seeing one of you anymore, and it can help the children accept what is happening if they know you have both made plans rather than simply telling them that you are splitting up but you haven’t worked out arrangements yet. 

Of course, I understand that making plans calmly isn’t always possible when you are in the emotional process of separating, but the more you are able to agree between you, the easier if will be for you both and for the children to handle the new situation. 

  • Try not to blame each other in front of the children - This is another one that falls into the ‘easier said than done’ category, but it’s important to try as hard as possible not to blame your ex or talk badly about them in front of the children.

No matter what you think about your ex and who you feel is to blame for the break-up, the children are a part of your ex and so, speaking badly about their other parent can be interpreted by them as speaking badly about a part of them. It can make the children feel bad about themselves, as well as making them feel like they are stuck in the middle and being torn between the two people they love the most. 

It’s far better if you can try to present a united front, in the children’s best interests. This will help you to keep proper boundaries in place, so the children feel secure, as well as helping you avoid the situation where the children start trying to play you off against one another (for example, “dad’s more fun because he always lets us stay up late” or “mum is nicer to us because she always lets us eat chocolate before dinner”). 

  • Grandparents can help - If your ex’s parents have always been a part of the children’s lives, even if they live far away and don’t see them that often, try to allow them to stay involved. It’s understandable that this might be difficult for you - you might feel that your ex’s parents are totally in your ex’s camp as they will naturally want to defend their son or daughter. Some grandparents are better at dealing with that than others – they are only human after all and they are caught up in this separation too, although they have no control over what is happening. But, even if you feel that your ex’s parents are behaving unreasonably, try to give some thought as to how it will affect the children to lose their grandparents.

Children in the middle of a separation are already going through a lot of upheaval, and are likely to be finding it difficult to deal with that emotionally. Grandparents who have always been there, and who the children feel they can rely on, provide a good source of stability for children at such a difficult time. Of course, your ex’s parents may not have been that close to your children or might not have been involved in their lives to any great extent before your separation. Or they might be unable to keep their thoughts on the separation from the children, which causes them as much distress as if their parents were involving them in such adult issues. But if your children have a strong bond with their grandparents, doing your best to ensure that the bond is preserved could provide a much-needed sanctuary for the children during this time of huge upheaval - and of course, having the grandparents on hand can help you out and support you too! 

  • Get some counselling yourself - I started off this post taking about counselling so you’d be forgiven for thinking I was repeating myself. But here I’m not talking about relationship counselling and trying to work things out. I think it’s important to think about counselling for yourself to help you deal with the fall-out from the end of the relationship, both during the process of separation and when you’ve finalised your divorce.

Counselling can help you get over what’s happened - it’s a bereavement after all and you’ll have feelings of grief and “what if..?” even if you are the one who finally ended it. 

So take some time to look after yourself. 

Paula Tanner is a Divorce & Separation Consultant

If you need  any further information then please visit Ethos Family Solutions (