Legal separation: how to make it as easy as possible for you and your children
When you get married, you don’t consider the prospect of separation or divorce. No one does. But, sadly, some marriages result in this.
According to the latest figures reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 42% of marriages are expected to end in divorce.
Divorce rates have fallen in recent years, but this is largely due to the current economic situation rather than a surge in happy marriages. The simple fact is that lots of people can’t afford to separate.
For many couples, no matter how hard they try, separation is the only option. In legal terms, a separation allows you to live apart without getting a divorce. To be granted legal separation, you don’t need to show that your marriage has broken down irretrievably as you do for a divorce. However, you can file for a separation for the same reasons as you would a divorce (if either of you committed adultery or showed unreasonable behaviour, for example).
For any relationship, it can be very hard to admit that you need to go your separate ways. But, as a parent, there’s added pressure because you’re making the decision to change your children’s lives too. A separation can, in some instances, be more distressing for your children than it is for you and your partner.
The latest figures from the ONS also found that almost half (49%) of all couples who separated in 2011 had at least one child who was under the age of 16. For these couples in particular, knowing how to approach the issue in the most harmless and caring way as possible is of the upmost importance.
How can you make it easier for you and your children?
The main thing is to ensure that your children know what’s happening. This doesn’t mean that they have to be aware of all the little and often messy details involved, but they do need to be informed of what you have decided to do. Your children are more conscious of what’s going on around them than you probably think, so you shouldn’t assume that they don’t understand that there is a problem between you and your partner.
It’s often advised to protect your children from any conflict which could damage their perception of you as parents or harm their own view of relationships. With that in mind, keep heated discussions and legal conversations between only the two of you and avoid placing blame on your partner in front of them. It’s also advised to minimise disruption to your children’s daily lives, so maintain a routine as best you can.
While your children are, of course, your top priority, it’s also important to consider yourself during a separation. Ending your relationship with your partner can be an extremely hard decision to make, but once you’ve made the decision, you need to know how to proceed while looking after your own interests. To apply for a separation you need to fill out a petition and send it to the court, but the actual process of separating means dividing the life you’ve built with your partner into two. You both need to agree on a number of factors, the most important being the arrangements for your children. Once this is decided, you’ll need to reach a financial agreement and decide on new living arrangements (who will move out of the family home). In fact, you’ll have to decide how to split everything down to your furniture and photo albums.
While it’s possible to verbally agree on these elements, it’s a good idea to get a separation agreement drawn up. This outlines things like the date of the separation, where your children will live, and financial decisions reached between you. Therefore, if one of you renege on these agreements, you have a solid piece of evidence to clear up any conflict. In terms of making a separation as easy as possible, using a solicitor is often the best option. Seeking expert legal advice can take the stress away from wondering what will happen to your home, who will get custody of your children and how your assets will be divided. A solicitor acts as a sort of safety net, ensuring you, your partner and your children are all looked after and treated fairly.
If you’ve found yourself at the point of separation, or even just want to know your options, you can check out our advice pages on family law.