We’ve all heard horror stories about how difficult or emotionally-charged situations can become during separation or divorce. If you are going through separation or divorce right now you may have people in your life who have been down this path before that may be offering insights and advice about what you should and shouldn’t do.
Your family and friends are an important support system and have your best interests at heart but their experiences, however similar they seem, are not necessarily the same as yours. Making decisions based on others’ experiences can result in additional and unnecessary stress or create confusion and uncertainty. I encourage people going through separation and divorce to surround themselves with a support network but to be mindful about actioning advice from well-meaning friends and family before obtaining advice.
Separation and divorce is different for everyone
In our work with clients we hear people say a friend or family member has been through the same experience. While this may seem accurate from the outside looking in, often there will be different relationship dynamics and experiences that led to their separation or divorce.
What one person has experienced upon separation or divorce, even though it appears similar in nature, is highly unlikely to be the same or have the same outcomes. Here’s why…
People often have differing perspectives about the issues that led to the breakdown of the relationship. Perhaps you are on the receiving end of the decision to separate, maybe you instigated the separation, or it maybe it is a mutual decision. Your experience, the ongoing relationship you have with your former partner and subsequent outcomes may vary based on this.
When it comes to planning your lives post-separation, you may start out with similar perspectives on what the future will look like, only to change those perspectives as the process progresses. Methods applied by others that resulted in positive or negative outcomes are not necessarily reflective of what will occur in your separation or divorce.
Communication styles differ
The way in which you and your former partner communicate versus how other couples will have communicated during their relationship (including during the separation and divorce process) will also vary. Personalities and relationship dynamics are a clear example of how different your relationship is or was, to those who have been before you and are providing their well-meaning advice. How things will eventuate for you could be vastly different based on your communication styles alone.
Past and present financial position
When it comes to planning how assets will be settled and other financial arrangements, the asset pool that currently exists between you will be different to other couples’. This includes super and assets you or your former partner had prior to the start of the relationship, which is relevant to considering your respective contributions.
Setting an expectation based on a friend or family member who, for example received 70% in their settlement, is not necessarily what will eventuate for you. For these reasons it is unhelpful to have expectations about possible outcomes without an objective and comprehensive assessment of your own situation.
If you have children, there is often a misconception that there must be a 50:50 agreement where children live equally between two homes. Additionally, it is common for separating parents to decide upon specific parenting arrangements because they know of an approach that is working well for other separated families. What differs in this situation is the age and needs of the children, taking into account any considerations of potential risk to the children, different living or work arrangements for the parents or even a large distance between the two homes – all of which impact the effectiveness of these well-intentioned plans. What works for one family may not be what works when in place for another family.
As humans it feels natural to make decisions based on the experiences of others, particularly when you are seeking clarity about ‘how things will end up’ when all is said and done. The problem however is that what is hoped, feared or predicted may not reflect your own reality.
As discussed in ‘Why you may need to be cautious even in an amicable separation’, it is wise to seek early advice from a professional to learn what you should do now to proactively address your situation and avoid additional complications or stress that could have been avoided.
Seeing a lawyer early in the piece is typically overlooked or avoided because people believe it to be ‘something for later’, or that is only necessary if conflict arises. An important part of a lawyers work is as a problem solver – helping you to anticipate issues and minimise conflict. Getting this advice early helps you to proactively try minimise conflict and adopt a sensible and realistic approach on an informed basis.
Know that if you see a lawyer, you are by no means ‘in the cycle’ of engaging a lawyer to act on your behalf or that you are indicating that you plan to head to court. The process is tailored to your individual needs and goals depending on where you are at – including prior to or following a separation.
If you imagine engaging a family lawyer as indicative of the start of a court battle, instead think of specialist family lawyers as the expert in this area – the person well-equipped to alert you of possible short- and long-term implications, to help you anticipate potential issues and as a problem solver.
Ultimately you need to approach this in a manner that is consistent with you. You should feel comfortable about the actions taken and be confident that they are aligned with your goals.
While your friends and family have a very important place in being a sounding board and in supporting you through following separation or divorce, having their support doesn’t replace the need to speak to a professional that is able to listen effectively, answer the questions that keep you up at night and provide advice about your next steps, based on your unique situation.
If someone you know is facing separation and divorce, share this article with them so they are aware of these considerations.
Phillips Family Law is an award winning Family Law practice serving clients across Australia and abroad. Regardless of where you are in your decision making process, we can make you aware of your options. To discuss your situation confidentially phone +61730079898 or secure a time by clicking here.