How to simplify the process of divorce

woman deciding how to move forward in divorce

Don’t let the title of this article mislead you. Divorce can be very complicated emotionally and technically depending on your assets and family dynamics. Many of us tend to overcomplicate things. Because there are so many unknowns stepping into the uncharted waters of divorce your mind starts reeling through a million questions when a spouse says they want a divorce. Who will take custody of the kids? What happens to my pension? Who keeps the house? To help answer your questions, and to calm your racing mind we’ve outlined below a simplified version of how divorce works. So you can make an informed decision about your next steps if you’re separating from your spouse.

The first thing is first – Asking the question does my spouse really want a divorce?

During a fight with your partner, sometimes things are said in the heat of the moment that you may regret later. If your spouse or yourself are thinking divorce is the answer, that’s something you’re really going to want to think over before making the final decision to get divorced. Some couples look to marriage therapy to try and sort out the issues they are going through. With the onset of the pandemic on top of a few bad arguments, many couples at the moment are contemplating divorce. But, it’s not the only option. Walking away from the conversation, cooling off, and then having a really honest conversation is your first step to deciding if separation or divorce is what you really want. In other cases where domestic violence, abuse, or infidelity occur you might not need to think about whether getting a divorce is your final answer, and that’s ok. Take your time making your decision. Seek the help of a professional counsellor. Making the decision to divorce will have a profound impact on your life and family.

Once you’ve decided to move forward with separating from your spouse you need to take a hard look at your assets and family situation. What will your family life look like after divorce? 

This step isn’t a technical one in the process but, it’s an important mental step. Setting aside the issue that has caused you to take this direction, put pen to paper to make a list of the assets you both have. Detail everything from your house, vehicles, or investments to other assets right down to the furniture in the living room and the tools in the garage. This will help create a bigger picture for you as to what will need to be divided between the two of you. Then you have to think about family. Actually, you likely will think about your family first. That’s a very natural reaction as family is everything. Thinking about where your children will live after divorce, what holidays will look like, who will stay with which parent, and for how long, can overwhelm you, unexpectedly. This is why making a list of physical things first will help settle your mind. After you can think about options for your family a little at a time which will help alleviate the overwhelm…slightly.

When you think about the physical assets, to put them into perspective, consider how you will feel about an item 10 years from now. Will it really matter? We have had clients who have had nasty court battles over “things” who later realized they spent more on legal fees that the “thing” was worth financially and emotionally.

You’ll also need to take a look at what life after divorce will look like on one income instead of two. 

If you’ve been a stay at home mom, or a dad working part-time so that you can be home with the kids most of the time to help them grow, that may or may not be possible after divorce without extra help. Or, if you’ve owned your own business for the last 25 years and you both work in that business, that might have to come to an end in order to move past your divorce in life. Whatever your personal situation might be, you’ll need to take a look at your past income as a couple versus your new income as a single individual. Then make a plan as to how you’ll adjust your lifestyle to suit your new life. Although alimony is the term used in the United States, in Canada we call it spousal support. And, when determining one’s entitlement to spousal support many numbers are involved. It can be a tricky thing to navigate. It’s important to be fair when making these decisions. Fair to both your spouse and you. Seeking outside help with a divorce professional is essential before coming to a final conclusion as to what to include in your separation agreement. This article can help you learn more about spousal support and how it works in Ontario. You might also need to discuss child support, which can also be a complicated calculation, so you’ll want to take a look at this article to better understand how child support is decided upon.

Don’t forget to take a mental break when needed throughout your divorce process. 

As experienced divorce lawyers, we’ve seen nearly every response possible when it comes to individuals dealing with their separation or divorce. And, your mental health is no joke. This is especially true during this pandemic. You need to pause when needed, let the emotions out, and then refocus your energy to moving forward again. It’s ok and normal. If you don’t know what decision is best at the moment. It’s ok and normal. If you can’t quite accept that this is happening to you at the moment. Talk to a trusted family member, friend, or a counsellor to help you process this difficult time you’re going through. This is a tough time. Be kind to yourself.

Next, you’re going to have to compare notes with your ex, if you are amicable. If it is too tough, we can do the negotiating for you.  

Whether you can divide your assets yourselves by making a list and agreeing on it or you need outside help from a mediator, counsellor, or divorce lawyer, these decisions are crucial to moving ahead with your divorce. Indecisive couples who aren’t able to come to an agreement about fair child custody arrangements or how to divide assets, for example, are often the reasons divorce issues end up in family court. Our goal as your divorce lawyer is to take a collaborative approach to settling your divorce, keeping you out of court whenever possible, and working through issues with the heart. If your spouse is being unreasonable, we will help protect your rights in court.

Drafting the separation agreement

Once you’ve made your best effort to dot your i’s and cross your t’s outlining every item, the value of that item, and who will keep which asset, your divorce lawyer will draft a final version of your separation agreement to finalize your decisions in writing. Done properly a separation agreement is legally binding and enforceable in court if need be later in life.

A big mistake we see clients make is to try and create their own separation agreement without a divorce lawyer. This leads to the couple thinking that they have a legally binding agreement, later finding out that what they drafted up themselves isn’t enforceable. This may cause them to end up in family court in some cases after they thought they had resolved their issues. Asking a few questions in a paid consultation with a credible divorce lawyer could be the best investment you make, even if you do decide to take the route of what we call a DIY divorce.

Before signing off, you’ll want your divorce lawyer to review your separation agreement

Even if you’ve had another divorce professional draft your separation agreement, it’s important for you to get your own lawyer to review the details to ensure you are well protected, and that it includes everything it should. It’s easy to get wrapped up in child support and forget about that RRSP or investment account that your parents set up for you 20 years ago. Or to be so concerned about making sure you get the old fashioned truck that was your dad’s, who has since passed and overlook a few other crucial details such as how post-secondary education costs for your children will be shared. Once each lawyer has reviewed and given you their advice on the agreement it is signed. It does not need to be filed at court. It is a legally binding agreement and you are done, except for the divorce.

Applying for divorce is the final step.

You’ve outlined your agreements. You’ve decided upon child custody, spousal support, division of assets and who will keep the house. You’ve gone ahead with all the paperwork, but you’re not legally divorced quite yet. And, some couples never even apply for divorce in Ontario, unless they want to finalize it in writing for peace of mind, or they want to eventually get remarried. A legal separation doesn’t end the marriage. A divorce does. After you’ve been separated for a period of one year in Ontario, you can submit your application for an uncontested divorce if your sole reason for the divorce is that you no longer love each other, or you’re simply not getting along. However, if there are grounds of adultery or abuse the court could grant your divorce immediately. Almost every divorce is done on the basis of a one year separation.

If you have further questions about divorce, separation or you’re wondering how this process will impact you specifically, we can help you at Galbraith Family Law. Our team of experienced family lawyers and divorce professionals have ample experience in various situations, and we understand your perspectives and concerns. Our confidential client care team is ready to help you through this unprecedented time. Give us a call at our Toronto divorce law offices at 647-370-8965, for our Newmarket office call 289-210-4692 or you can reach us at our Barrie office at 705-230-2734. We’re here to help you as much or as little as you need throughout your divorce process and are committed to resolving your family conflict with heart.

Brian Galbraith

Brian Galbraith is the owner and founder of Galbraith Family Law Professional Corporation. Brian is known in the legal community for his commitment to efficiently practicing family law using technology and streamlining the divorce processes.

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