Here are some of the things you should do and think about before you separate from your husband or wife.
It is important to take the right steps once you have decided to separate from your spouse. You may be feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin, given that your personal and financial lives are so intensely intertwined.
First Steps to Separate from Your Spouse
Here is a list of things to consider when preparing for your separation:
1. Collect financial documents. Gather copies of up-to-date property and financial records as well as documents relating to property and assets you brought into the marriage. You should also secure copies of income tax returns for the last three years and statements for investment accounts, RRSPs, pensions, mortgages, lines of credit and other debt instruments. Take photographs of important documents if needed or of valuable assets in the home.
2. Prepare a list of assets and debts. It is very helpful to divide the list into three separate time periods:
What are the assets and debts each of you brought into the marriage? And what was the value of the asset or debt at the time your relationship commenced?
What are the current assets and debts and what are the balances and values of each?
Make a note as to whether these are owned separately or in joint names with your spouse and what assets or debts have been acquired after your separation?
3. Consider your credit rating. If you do not have credit in your own name, consider opening credit cards in your sole name to establish your credit rating before you separate. While you should not unilaterally freeze or cancel anything that is in your joint names, you should consider ways to limit your credit risk for shared credit cards or lines of credit.
4. Watch joint bank accounts closely. Keep a close eye on account balances. Do not hide money or do anything unusual such as transferring large sums of money out of your bank accounts. Talk to a family lawyer ASAP if your spouse does anything financially unusual such as dissipating assets, buying expensive items or incurring unusually large amounts of debt. Jointly held accounts will need to be closed by agreement. In the meantime, it is often a good idea to set up a separate bank account for yourself.
5. Make a plan for post-separation living arrangements. Do you want to move out? Can you afford to do so now? Where is the best place to live from your children's perspective in light of their schools, schedules, friends and your existing parenting arrangements? Know that moving with or without the children may establish a new status quo that is difficult to later change. Be aware that both spouses have an equal right to possession of the matrimonial home.
See here for our discussion of whether you should leave home after separation.
It is also important to understand that in BC, spouses can be "legally separated" even though they still live under the same roof. This area of the law is complex. Get legal advice before deciding on your plan.
6. Ensure you and your children are safe. There is often a higher risk of family violence during or immediately after a separation. If your spouse is abusive or family violence has been threatened, talk to a family lawyer about how to protect yourself and your children during the initial separation period. Read more about violence here.
You may be able to apply for a Protection Order, interim (temporary) parenting order, interim child and spousal support order and/or an order for exclusive possession of the family home.
7. Hire an experienced family lawyer. The process of separation can be extremely daunting. Emotions run high and many issues will arise. Take control of the process from the outset. Having a skilled family lawyer by your side from the early stages will ease the burden and reduce your stress. Knowing that your legal rights are being protected will leave you better able to focus on the emotional and personal aspects of your separation and divorce.
Do You Want to Know More About How to Separate or How to Divorce in BC?
Going through the process of separation can be very difficult. To get legal advice in making the best decisions given your unique circumstances, contact Valerie M. Little Law Corporation. Ms. Little's practice is exclusively devoted to issues of family law in the Lower Mainland. She serves clients from Pemberton, West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, New Westminster, Maple Ridge, Surrey, Langley and beyond.
No matter what family law questions or issues you might be facing, she is able to help you resolve your family law problem. She can guide you from the very first steps to separate from your spouse all the way to obtaining a Final Order, including a Divorce Order.
You will receive attentive care, knowledgeable advice and understanding at the office of Valerie M. Little.