The first working week of the New Year is traditionally busy for family law experts who each year are seeing a rise in the number of couples filing for divorce after spending one last Christmas together.
According to Irwin Mitchell’s divorce and family law team, instructions have been up at least 25% in January in the past few years compared with an average month.
While initiating divorce proceedings may mark the beginning of the end for the marriage, the new year is a time for a fresh start and the first step to finding the ‘new you’.
Divorce expert David Lister, an associate solicitor at Irwin Mitchell gives advice to many of newly separated individuals each year.
From social media to selling your holiday home, David has compiled a list of the New Year’s resolutions that newly separated individuals may want to make while reinventing themselves and thinking about the important next steps in life.
Thinking about and planning your post-divorce life during the early stages will ease the process of separation, and set you up to make 2017 the year for positive change, while laying solid foundations for the future and embarking on a new empowering adventure.
Living together after you’ve separated can be difficult for many reasons, but bear in mind that if you own the property together, you both have a right to stay there.
Whilst selling the property might feel like a matter of urgency, the reality is that if you’ve only just taken steps towards a divorce, it’s unlikely you’ll be ready to put the family home on the market until Spring, when valuations have been carried out and buyers are starting to look around.
Use the time and take advantage of the January sales to buy the items you’ll need to spruce up the house and take care of any DIY or repair jobs that need doing, to increase the profitability of its sale.
You’ll need to assess what you can afford, whether you’ll need to downsize or if one of you’ll be able to afford to stay in the family home. The thought of moving may seem daunting but for many people going through divorce, having a new space to call your own and make new memories, is an important part of moving forward.
Broaden your horizons
If you don’t make a habit of following the news, now could be a good time to start.
Keep an eye on what’s happening with Brexit as changes may affect laws concerning property and businesses you own with your ex-spouse in another country, and once exit deals have been negotiated and ratified, British law might be recognised differently.
Monitor exchange rates as whilst they’re low it could be the right time to sell the holiday home, if you have one. It’s imperative that you do this with the full consent and knowledge of your ex and with sound legal advice relevant to the country in which the property is based. Speak to a property expert about how the post-Brexit position might affect you.
Experts have predicted that up to 80,000 finance jobs could move abroad after Britain leaves the EU. If you’re getting divorced and could be affected by this it is worth considering what you would do if your job was relocated abroad and where any children should live.
It’s time to reinvent yourselves as ‘co-parents’ and that means making the choice to put the children first and putting your personal feelings to one side. Processes like mediation and arbitration can keep the divorce from reaching the courts, leave the control in the hands of the parties and generally take a more holistic approach to the separation which can be a less traumatic process for the whole family. Voices in the Middle are a charity and good source of support for children of divorced parents.
Our recent survey of separated parents showed that 30% didn’t see their children on Christmas Day last year and illustrates the kind of decisions you’ll have to make together about the children’s lives. When agreeing child arrangements the courts are increasingly in favour of shared parenting and preserving, as much as possible, any existing routines, unless it is in the child’s best interests to implement changes. Unless there is a reason not to, your ex will also be entitled to care for the children. If your ex was hands on when it came to looking after the children, expect the child arrangements to reflect this.
It might mean that all of a sudden you have more time to yourself in the evenings or at weekends while the children see their other parent. Although it’s easy to joke that this is the ‘me time’ you’ve been desperate for, when it comes down to it many newly separated parents can find it difficult to have time on their own.
It’s really important to make sure you have a good support network around you to help with loneliness. Gingerbread are a charity which help single parents and it could also be a chance to take up a new hobby, go to night classes or make a new regular date at the gym.
If you are not already, the New Year is time to be on top of the family finances and make a short and long term financial plan.
During the divorce you will be expected to outline all of your assets, income and outgoings so the courts can make decisions on financial settlements and often maintenance. Make the new you someone who is not only aware of, but who can prove ownership of, all of your assets and expenditure, and keep receipts and records of all of your financial transactions. The Court will only become involved if financial agreements can’t be reached.
Before there may have been two people to pay for the house, bills and shopping and now there may be only one, so your lifestyle may have to reflect that during any period of adjustment. Whilst this might be a daunting prospect, empower yourself by working out exactly where this means you will be financially, and how you will fund your new life and plan for your future. Speak to a trusted financial adviser and discuss your options.
Lots of divorce lawyers will advice that it is best to freeze your bank accounts as soon as you split, to protect what is in them, but it may be beneficial to leave joint accounts open if you and your ex are still amicable. Freezing accounts hastily could mean you miss payments, as direct debits might be stopped which could see you default on the mortgage. This means you might struggle to obtain a new one within 12 months, when you come to buy a new home. Money can be a sensitive as well as tricky issue so it’s important to take advice from a lawyer and get agreements about the money going into the account.
There are special rules for married couples when it comes to Capital Gains Tax but there are also time limits which apply, so make sure you don’t miss out. You only have until the end of the tax year in which you split to avoid Capital Gains Tax when transferring properties between spouses. This can save you money if you own additional properties together and you decide your ex should have one of them as part of the divorce settlement.
It sounds crazy but believe it or not, you can have a ‘good divorce’. In recent years celebrity couples like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, or Gary Lineker and Danielle Bux have shown us what that looks like.
Due to changes in the way society views divorce, an aging population unwilling to stay in unhappy marriages and the financial empowerment of women, there are more couples divorcing because they have simply grown apart, hence the call for the law to recognise ‘no fault’ divorces.
Although many people want to wait two years for a ‘no blame’ divorce, if you want a fresh start sooner and are still on good terms with your ex, you might be able to negotiate and compromise between you what the grounds for divorce will be. It may be that you are able to agree on who will ‘take the blame’ on paper, to speed up the process for the greater good of the family and to put the past in the past and focus on your future.
Although it can be hard to put your feelings to one side, make a promise to yourself to try and keep your ex on side as it could help you in the long run. Now the romantic relationship with your ex is over, see your separation as a commercial deal and always apply a cost benefit analysis. You might be able to make legally binding financial arrangements outside of the court arena which could save you money and emotional upheaval.
If the split isn’t on good terms, try to separate your feelings towards the behaviour which occurred during your marriage from the divorce proceedings as unless unlawful or extreme, they will have little or no bearing on financial settlements. Adultery, for example, is unlikely to impact on access to children or financial settlements.
Going through a separation is a wise time to review how you use social media. Decide to post less, update your privacy settings and have a spring clear out of your followers as personal information usually finds its way into the wrong hands.
Whether we like it or not, social media now forms a huge aspect of divorce and it is normal for spouses, mutual friends and relatives, to use screen shots from posts during proceedings to illustrate your lifestyle, where you have been and with whom. These are often then presented to the Judge in evidence.
Divorce can be a lonely time and many use social media as a comfort or to help publicly define their new image as a single person. Whilst it might be tempting to post all the new and exciting changes you are making, consider how they might be interpreted and what problems they might cause. Selfies of you drinking champagne or skiing with your new partner don’t help you when you’re telling the Court you’ll struggle to meet your future needs without support from your ex or if you’re being asked to pay maintenance and suggesting it’s unaffordable.
Embarking on the next chapter of your life can be an exciting time. You might take up new hobbies, socialise in different circles, meet new people and eventually find new love. It’s important to remember not to rush into anything. Think carefully before moving in with a new partner as your ex might try to argue they aren’t liable to pay maintenance anymore.
Creating the ‘new you’ might mean that there are some big changes afoot in your life and it’s important to think ahead. If you’re looking to get a new job in a different city or looking to relocate in time for the kids to start at a new school at the start of the academic year, the process can take six to nine months at least, so start planning now.
Thinking even further ahead, it’s vital to update your Will when you separate. A divorce will affect your Will so you may want to consider a “Will in Contemplation of a divorce”, while it becomes official, in case anything happens to you. It might help your loved ones avoid disputes over your estate.
Published: 30 January 2017
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