Every first working Monday of the year there is a surge of people contacting family solicitors and visiting websites like Advicenow, which has lots of free online help on family matters.
Tensions often come to a head over Christmas, and this year – with all its added stress and strains from COVID – is likely to see even more families pushed to boiling point.
If you are in this boat, you are not alone (although it may feel like that).
Advicenow, part of legal charity Law For Life, is urging couples who find themselves contemplating a divorce this year of all years, to consider the five tips below.
Advicenow has lots of free online help for people at all stages of separation and divorce. Through Advicenow you can also access a panel of solicitors offering low-cost, fixed fee advice so that you can be clear where you stand from the start.
As family law expert Beth Kirkland explains, you may be able to avoid some of the stress and expense of divorcing if you follow Advicenow’s tips.
“This year, with all the additional difficulties on couples and courts caused by COVID, it is more important than ever to reduce the stress of going through a divorce as much as possible.”
“Understanding how each issue is dealt with, and when, will help both of you.”
“If you can come to agreements about the children, money and property, between you, you won’t have to go to court. We have lots of free help to show you what you need to consider and do at each step”
If you are thinking about divorcing these five tips will help you through the worst of it.
1. Accept it will take a while
If you have decided to separate, you may feel that you want to get everything agreed and sorted out straight away, or you may not feel ready at all.
Often you and your soon-to-be ex will be feeling very differently about this – try to be patient with each other.
You both need to get used to your future looking different.
It won’t come right overnight – but you will get there.
2. Think about when you want to divorce
At the moment, you can’t apply for a divorce jointly, even if you both agree that the marriage or civil partnership is over. One of you has to divorce the other.
But the government is changing this law so that one partner will no longer need to take the blame.
We expect that this option will be available from sometime this autumn.
For many people it may be better to wait and apply for a divorce after the new law has come into force.
3. Avoid court if you can
Going to court leaves the adults involved hurt, stressed, and poorer.
You could spend the money you would spend on going to court making your children’s lives and your own more comfortable.
Children can often be upset too, even if you are careful not to involve them directly.
Following COVID, the courts have a huge backlog so you are likely to have to wait longer than before.
So it is usually best to come to an agreement between yourselves, use a family mediation service, or a solicitor to negotiate on your behalf.
However you do it, you will both need to compromise.
4. Know the basics of the law
The law does not set out hard rules or use a mathematical formula to sort out your finances when you get divorced.
This is because people’s financial situations are so different that it would be very difficult to make rules covering every situation.
Instead, you have to work out what is fair using the legal principles that apply to all cases.
If you and your ex try to agree how to share out what you have between you, or use a family mediation service, the court expects you to take these principles into account.
5. Don’t exclude your pension when dividing your assets
‘Assets’ are everything you have other than income – things worth money, like houses, cars, valuable jewellery, investments, savings, and pensions.
Many couples leave their pensions out when they decide how to divide their money and property – and this can be a huge mistake.
There is no denying it is a bit complicated, but if you don’t include pensions you are very unlikely to come to a fair agreement.
Research shows it often leads to women in particular being in unnecessarily precarious financial positions in later life.
Advicenow will publish a new guide that shows you how to deal with your pensions later this month. As Beth Kirkland from Advicenow explains, “It is really important not to put it off or ignore it. All the uncertainty we face this year makes it even more vital. Your future self will be grateful for it.”