January and February are the busiest times of the year for relationship counsellors. Funny that! After people often spend Christmas with the entire family and have the whole of the holiday period to think about new year resolutions it seems that many people decide to make the break early in the year.
Whenever it happens divorce is often so hard to deal with emotionally, that people can get caught out not paying attention to the important practicalities – like who moves out, what do you get, and what about the kids?. With a Bachelor in Economics a Bachelor in Law and a Post Graduate Diploma of Financial Planning, Penelope Joye knows more than most. She writes
1 in 3 marriages in Australia end in divorce. 1 in 3. I’m not trying to rain on your parade but let’s just suppose it happened to you. Hypothetically speaking of course. Here are the 4 questions that you really need to ask
1. What should I do first?
If you are considering divorce, and have time to make this decision (not always the case), ensure your ducks are in order first. Make sure you understand your family’s finances. At a minimum: who earns what, where and what are the assets and what is the debt associated with those assets. And don’t forget super which, since the end of 2002, has been considered a splittable asset. Thank goodness for that. Obtain excellent advice from a financial adviser who is highly experienced in family breakdowns. They will be able to project your cash flows going forward so that you understand what you will need to achieve in the settlement to cover your expenses and lifestyle. Very importantly this will help you to understand what you are entitled to and whether any proposals made by your spouse are fair. You will also need legal representation and again someone who specialises in family law is imperative. Experience in this area counts big time. Your lawyer will work in conjunction with your adviser to determine an equitable split. Be prepared for negotiation and always try to settle the matter before it goes to court. This will save you time, money and emotional angst. Oh yes and then you can move on.
2. Who gets what?
How the “pie” is split will depend on a multitude of factors like the length of your relationship. Anything under 10 years is considered a short marriage- try telling that to some of my girlfriends! A long term marriage trumps a quickie marriage when divvying up the pie. Other factors include, but are not limited to: whether or not there are dependant children (known as “issue”), if there is a disparity of earning ability (for example the husband has a high paying job and wife is a stay at home mum), whether assets were brought into the marriage and who contributed financially and non financially during the marriage. For example if you already owned a debt free house at the commencement of the marriage this would be taken into consideration when calculating the asset split.
3. What about the kids?
This is such an emotional issue for clients and it really is heartbreaking when one party tries to use the children as pawns in the negotiation game. Don’t think this happens much? Think again. Years ago I heard of a couple who decided that, as it was their problem that they were getting divorced, they should be the ones to make lifestyle adjustments and not the kids. They decided to leave the kids in the family home and they were required to split their time between the family home and a new one. Separately of course. Do I sound like the bitter child of divorced parents who lugged her belongings from one house to another and lost most of them on the way? Opps sorry that’s for another post! Suffice it to say I have personal experience as to what happens to the children in divorce. Every effort made to minimise their distress will be gratefully remembered in adulthood. That’s a promise.
4. How long does it take?
Great question but unfortunately there is no satisfactory answer. Ultimately this depends on whether you settle the matter with your soon to be ex or go to court. Just as you should always obtain independent advice in determining what is a fair split, you should always try to arbitrate, in preference to litigate, due to the time and cost involved going to court. Divorces via the court system can take years and I really mean years. If you determine to take this route, to get your fair share of what we call the “marital pool” , then be prepared to dig in for the long haul. There will be many moments when you may feel like giving up and that is exactly what the ex wants. You will suffer emotional and physical anguish taking this route but sometimes when dealing with an unreasonable spouse, a jealous spouse or a spouse who is hurt, bitter and twisted (often all of these things at the same time) you simply have no other option. Remember there is life after divorce and it heralds the start of an exciting new chapter.
Are you divorced? Split from a long-term relationship? What do you wish you’d known back then? Anything you wish you’d done differently? And what warnings/advice would you have for others going through it?