When a relationship breaks down, the parties involved can often feel overwhelmed by the multitude of issues that need to be addressed and it is often difficult to know what to do. Legal experts in family and matrimonial law are trained to deal with the many and varied problems which arise when this happens.
Here are my top tips for minimising the stress and tension at what can be a daunting time:
Marriage breakdowns can be stressful for everyone involved. Where there are young children to consider, it can be difficult to protect them from the emotional fall out, especially if issues arise over where the children should live and who pays for what. It is essential to do your best to protect children from the adult issues. Avoid involving them in petty disputes, don’t talk negatively about your other half in front of them and don’t use them as leverage to get what you want. If you prioritise the needs of your children over everything else and strive to make decisions based on what is in their best interests, you will not go far wrong.
It can be difficult in such an emotive situation to think clearly and logically, especially if the separation has come as a shock, or as a result of something your partner has done, as opposed to it being your own decision. It is important not to do anything that you may later regret or that could be detrimental to your situation. Withdrawing or spending significant sums of money, for example, is not normally a sensible thing to do, unless you are concerned that the other party is likely to do something rash and you need to take urgent action to protect assets. Continuing to operate your finances as you did during the marriage is generally the best way of avoiding any financial crises, as long as you are not leaving yourself in a financially precarious situation by doing so. And as long as there are no safety issues, it is not usually advisable to move out of the family home, especially with children. Trying to ensure that their lives remain as stable as possible should be a priority and planning and agreeing who the children will stay with and when is likely to help avoid contested and expensive court proceedings to resolve such issues down the line.
If you are experiencing marriage difficulties, it may be that there are issues which you can discuss and resolve that could prevent the marriage breakdown becoming a permanent separation. Consider contacting a reputable marriage guidance counsellor, such as Relate NI, to assist you in talking through the issues that you are having. Your solicitor is not a counsellor and using them as such will take up valuable time that would be better spent focussing on the legal issues. This will save you time and money in the long run and may assist in a more amicable separation. You may also want to consider whether Mediation may be appropriate to help you resolve practical and legal issues as a means of keeping costs and acrimony to a minimum.
Get in touch with a specialist family lawyer and set up a face to face meeting to discuss the various implications of your situation as soon as you feel ready to do so. Many matrimonial solicitors will offer a free time limited initial consultation to give you general advices on the issues that you need to think about and talk you through the various options open to you and the associated costs of what may lie ahead.
When a marriage breaks down, often there are financial issues which need to be addressed, including property ownership, pension division, spousal and child maintenance and division of other assets, such as inherited assets or personal injury claims. In order to be able to fully advise on a financial settlement, your solicitor will need to know the value of the assets and extent of any debt. You do not normally need to have all of this documentation with you for an initial consultation, but it is certainly helpful for you to have a clear idea of what the financial issues are. To resolve a financial settlement, you will both be asked to provide proofs of your own financial interests to your respective solicitors, as a key component of a financial settlement is full and proper financial disclosure. Therefore keeping your documentation, such as mortgage and bank statements, payslips and pension statements, in good order will assist in speeding up this part of the process. You will also be asked to provide your original marriage certificate and children’s birth certificates in the event of a divorce being sought.
Unfortunately some separations are far from amicable and can involve issues of domestic violence. If this is the case, you should take advice straight away about how best to keep yourself and your children safe. Where appropriate contact the Police to report any incidents and get in touch with a specialist family solicitor as soon as possible to see what steps can be taken to help you. In certain situations, you may be entitled to seek the assistance of the court to obtain emergency injunctions and/ or other orders that can help to prevent ongoing violence or harassment and deal with the occupation of your home, where the behaviour of one party may be sufficient to merit exclusion from a property to keep you and your family safe.
Clare Curran is a partner with Worthingtons Solicitors and is head of the Family and Matrimonial Department. Worthingtons Solicitors have offices in Belfast and Newtownards. For further information email Clare at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 028 91811538 for a consultation with one of our family law specialists.