Q: My partner and I decided to separate a few months ago. We have been together for 16 years and have three young children. The last Covid-19 lockdown was the "straw that broke the camel's back". I want the separation to be as quick and painless as possible for the sake of the kids. However, my partner refuses to communicate with me effectively. The latest lockdown has made it even more difficult and put a halt to any progress we had made. I don't want to involve lawyers but it's looking as though I might have to. What can I do to keep things moving and get this sorted as soon as possible?
A: Covid-19 has altered many aspects of our lives. The separation process for couples has not been immune to these changes. Separations have been more complicated and taken longer. However, there are steps that you can take to simplify the process.
First try to resolve matters between you and your partner without involving lawyers. If you cannot decide on every issue between the two of you, mediation may be a good option.
The mediation can be formal or informal. You could ask a trusted friend or family member to help you narrow down what you agree on and what you do not. A formal mediation can be run through a family dispute resolution provider (such as Fairway or FDR Centre). This can be especially helpful when you cannot agree on a care arrangement for the children.
Engaging other professionals
When separating, most people consider whether to engage a lawyer or not. However, other professionals can guide you through the separation process and reduce the stress involved.
Psychologist or counsellor
A psychologist or counsellor can also help with the emotional burden of separation. When you are going through a separation, it can be difficult to understand why your partner is making certain demands or refusing to budge on their position. Speaking with a therapist can help you process your own feelings and also understand things from your partner's perspective.
You may choose to attend counselling together with your partner. Again, this can be helpful to understand each other's perspectives. When the underlying motivations are addressed, it may be easier to reach a compromise.
A separation can be overwhelming. A divorce coach can offer emotional support through the process. They are knowledgeable about how separation works from a practical perspective, but also know the range of emotions that are part of the experience.
A divorce coach will work with you to become clear about your goals. They will then develop a plan to meet those goals. They can work with other professionals, such as your lawyer, to ensure everyone is on the same page. A coach can also attend some meetings with you for support if necessary.
It may be useful to engage an accountant if you or your partner own a business or have a complex financial situation. If you employ an accountant as part of your business, they can assist by calculating an approximate value of the business.
An accountant can also advise on any tax liability you may face. For example, if you recently purchased a holiday home and are now wanting to sell it, you may be liable for a capital gains tax.
Mortgage broker or financial advisor
Dividing property and assets can be a significant challenge for separating couples. The family home is often the largest asset to be divided. If this is the case, you will have to decide whether one person remains in the family home or whether it will have to be sold.
As you have young children, it is often best to provide them with stability by remaining in the home. However, this will probably require you buying out your partner's share in the property. If you decide to do this, you should speak with a financial advisor to find out whether you can afford the mortgage by yourself. A mortgage broker can then help you in refinancing any mortgage over the property.
Engaging non-legal professionals can help you progress to a resolution faster and save on legal costs. However, if your partner is not co-operating or you simply cannot reach an agreement by yourselves, you may decide to use a lawyer.
A lawyer can guide you through the process of separation. They will try to settle the matter out of court first. Once these options have been exhausted, you can apply to the Family Court to resolve your matter. This will be a lengthy process, especially given the delays caused by the Covid-19 lockdowns.
To achieve a quick and relatively painless separation, the best path is to resolve matters privately. You can engage a range of non-legal professionals to help you do this. These professionals are particularly helpful if the pool of assets is large or the division of property will be complex. If your partner is not co-operating, you can engage a lawyer. However, keep in mind this will probably add time and significant cost to the process.
- Jeremy Sutton is a senior family lawyer, specialising in divorce cases where there are significant assets, including family trusts and complex business structures. www.sutton.co.nz