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Image / Self / Advice / Relationships

How to navigate the first tentative steps towards separation and divorce


by Amanda Cassidy
13th Jun 2021
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We speak to Ireland’s only professionally certified Divorce Coach and Separation Mentor about taking the first huge step to ending your marriage and the seven stages of relationship breakdown.

There has been a lot of discussion about the impact of the last lockdowns on relationships, the
related rise in separations and court requests for divorce.

In fact, it usually takes someone 2-5 years of being unhappy in a relationship before they will finally make any move towards separation, explains Mel Murphy, the country’s only professionally certified Divorce Coach.

During this time the relationship goes through the seven stages of relationship breakdown- Disconnection, Disinterest, Disregard, Disrespect, Disappointment, Dislike, and finally Disdain.

Mel Murphy, Ireland’s only professionally certified Divorce Coach, and Separation Mentor says that those who are contacting are mostly overwhelmed, and unsure of the next steps to take as they go through the grief process of losing their dream of happily ever after.

Do Your Free Legal Homework first

Often people are given incorrect legal information from their partner, family or friends. This allows someone to think they are more stuck in their unhappy relationship than they actually.

Educate yourself first about the different types of Separation or Divorce Options and your legal
rights. The Citizens Information Bureau website provides some great information on the different
types of separation procedures that might suit you, from a mediated agreement to a separation
agreement or judicial separation, and even a DIY divorce.

You can also get some good initial information about your legal separation and divorce questions answered by the FLAC dial-in service which is provided by the Legal Aid Board.

Having a decent understanding of your separation and divorce options helps to feel more empowered before you even see a solicitor.

Understand the Current State of Your Finances

Before you go to see a lawyer, Mel recommends you do a quick financial health check on the family finances.

“When it comes to finances, many people prefer to bury their head in the sand than face reality, and most couples don’t have a budget or spending plan. When you decide to separate, you
will need to send into the courts a ‘Statement of Means’, which is essentially your expected budget, or list of expected earnings and monthly expenses.

Without having an idea of these, you won’t know what direction you need to go in. Putting a quick ‘spending plan’ together does not have to be scary, and there are plenty of simple templates online.

Just look back over the past few months’ bank statements to get an idea of where your money is going. Do up a simple page showing your must-pay expenses (mortgage/rent, electricity/gas, car/transport/petrol, food) and other expenses showing up on your statements to get an idea of how much you need or could cut back on each month.

This might give you a better understanding of where you stand vis-à-vis debt and any debts you
want to start to clear, as it is more difficult to get financing when you are separated or divorced.

Get Your Own Finances in Order

After you separate or divorce, it is much more difficult to get a bank loan or sort out your credit. If you don’t already, start to build your own credit credentials.

Begin simple activities such as opening your own bank account, getting your own credit card and avoiding shared credit cards, reviewing and paying off debts, especially any shared debts.

Order a copy of your credit report and work to improve your credit score, and to get any shared
credit scores removed if possible if your partner has had a negative effect on your own credit score.

Start to think about how to increase your own income- where can you work on your career, go back to further education, or work to get a promotion- what else can you do to start to earn your own income or increase your level of income.

Prepare Your ‘Elevator Pitch’ before you meet a solicitor

You want to maximise your time when do you finally go to meet a lawyer. It’s important to see a
solicitor as, though you might have done your homework beforehand, every couple’s situation is
unique.

It is important to go through details with a lawyer to have a better understanding of your personal options. Below are key questions they will ask you that you can prepare for in advance.

You might want to email them some of these details, along with a short summary of why you are thinking of separating, ahead of your initial meeting.

Please note that lawyers are not counselors, coaches, or mentors. Though they will be sympathetic to your situation, it is best to use the valuable time you get with them to close out on key legal questions you have and progress your case.

Have the following details ready:

Are you married or Cohabiting? How long have you been separated (living apart or no
longer in an intimate and committed relationship)/ when did the marriage/relationship end?
Do you have Children?- How many children you have and their ages/ schools they attend
(private/public) Income/Finances- Do you work and does your partner/spouse work?

What are both of your net incomes after tax? Are there any major debts/share of the debts? Property/ Investments- Do you own a property? Do you own investment property or any
other investments and in whose name are they in?

Pensions/Insurance- Do you / your partner each have a Pension?/ Value of Pensions?
Insurance? What do you want?- What kind of child custody do you want? What living arrangement and financial arrangement do you want? (live in the house, share house, sell house, etc.)

Prepare for the Conversation with your Spouse/Partner

For the sake of your conscience and to deal with conversations with children either now or when
they are older, Mel Murphy always recommends asking your partner to go to couples counselling
first before going for separation (unless it is a mentally or physically abusive relationship).

It’s very helpful for both of you to have a clearer understanding of why things have not worked for closure, and to know whether there is any potential for rekindling the relationship.

If possible, before you broach the subject of separation/ relationship counseling with your partner ask family or friends to take the children so you can have a more private conversation.

Try to stay away from the blame game, no matter how difficult, and keep it short and simple as they may be too shocked to hear past the first two sentences. Explain how you feel, why you believe you both need help or need to move towards separation, and try to keep the conversation logical and calm.

It will take a year or more to finalise the separation, and two years after that before you can divorce, so it is in both your interests to try and keep things as amicable as possible to help with the mediation or court negotiation, to keep costs down, and to keep children calmer.

Give your partner space to come to terms with what you have said, and look at revisiting the
conversation a few days or weeks later to decide the next steps to take. If they continue to remain in denial you might need to move things along through your lawyer. If you feel you are in a mentally or physically abusive relationship please reach out to Womensaid/Mensaid first to learn how to leave a relationship safely.

If healing the relationship is not possible, and you need to start taking steps towards separating,
then it is suggested you take time to go to mediation and try to come to a mediated agreement. You can also use the help of cooperative lawyers, many of whom are also skilled as mediators, who will work towards finding a more amicable separation and avoid the costs of high conflict divorce.

Preparing for any Impact on the Children

Start to think about what you will say to the children. The best thing for children is to keep change to a minimum- keep the current routine and discipline the same as much as possible.

Start to think of a routine and discipline the way you plan it to be after you separate and begin to slowly implement that so the shock is not too much on them, spend extra 1:1 time to bond with them now where possible.

Children can be remarkably resilient and will usually bounce back within the first year after
separation- the older they are (up to their 20’s) the more difficult it will be for them to adjust. If the current situation at home is having a very negative effect on the children, the impact of separation may be a more positive change for them.

Prepare how you are going to break the news to the children together in advance, as much as you
can, and present a united front together. Make plans to talk with your children before any changes in the living arrangements occur.

If you can anticipate tough questions, deal with your own anxieties ahead of time, and plan carefully what you will both be telling them- you will be better equipped to help your children handle the news. Sit down with your child together and explain that you are getting a divorce and what that means.

Speak honestly and simply but skip the details, like “We can’t get along anymore.” You may need to remind your children that while sometimes parents don’t always get along, parents and kids don’t stop loving each other or get divorced from each other.

Be careful to explain this is not temporary- use the right words (separation/divorce) instead of trying to water it down with words like ‘spend time apart’, as this will only get children’s hopes up of a reunion. Admit that the experience will be sad, and change might be difficult. Show restraint and be respectful of your partner when giving the reasons for the separation.

Put your children at the centre, not in the middle of the divorce process, the marriage ends but the family continues, even after they turn 18 you will continue to be their parents. There is
unfortunately no magic bullet- no matter how much you want to protect or shield your children,
divorce is going to be hard, and it is going to hurt everyone, you will all build resilience.

How hard it is, is up to you and how well your spouse/partner can be mature throughout the difficult process. You are your child’s best chance for making it to the other side of this happy, healthy, and secure. Take very good care of yourself too, so you can be there to support your children emotionally along the way.

Setting up Your Own Support Network

Whether you are the one instigating the separation or not, you will need to cope with a lot of
change- change in family dynamics, change in financial situation, change in relationships with family and friends, even a change in relationship with your children. Anyone change in these is difficult enough, for them to be happening at the same time is often overwhelming. The whole family unit will go through the Grief Cycle which comes from the grief of losing the Forever After Dream/Perfect Family Dream- Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.

Each spouse and child will be at different stages of the grief cycle which can aggravate communication and it will be important to be very patient with each other.

Mel Murphy recommends writing out a list of family, friends, and other support services such as
Barnardo’s, Rainbows, the Samaritans, MABS or other excellent services that you can call on to
support you, your partner or the children as you go through the marathon of separation and divorce.

Knowing who you plan to go to for help is one thing less to do when you are going through these changes. Make a list of your ‘favourite things’ that keep you happy- from walk’n’talks in nature with friends, to tag rugby, bubble baths to fishing, baking bread to your favourite takeout, whatever helps you unwind and stay calm, and plan to fit thee into your weekly schedule to stay positive during this turbulent time.

Finally, whether you find a way to salvage your relationship, or choose to separate, taking time to
understand your legal options, get your finances in order, work on your relationship with your
partner and your children, and generally taking those first tentative steps to put your life in order
will help make the process easier whichever direction you choose.

Just know there is light at the end of the tunnel, ‘this too shall pass’, and life will go on for all of you in your ‘new normal’.

You can find Mel Murphy at Divorce Coaching Ireland 

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