What happens next when you’ve separated?

So you’ve either made the decision to separate from your partner, agreed this would be best by way of a mutual decision, or have been told by your partner that they feel the relationship is at an end. What the heck do you do next? A quick google search will throw up countless pieces of information, blog posts, articles and general comments – how do you know what’s good advice and what isn’t? Well firstly there isn’t a right way to separate from someone so don’t start thinking that you have to do things in a certain way. The only way that you should try to do things is in a way that works for you and your partner, and any children that you may have.

What is the right way for you? That’s not an easy thing to identify. A number of clients coming in to mediation often say that they’ve not done this before and frankly why would you have. It’s a hugely significant and difficult life event so most people tend not to do this on a regular basis!

The first step is often getting some help from a professional. But which professional should you see? This is a complex question and essentially we would suggest that you have three options (but you can pick one, two, or all three):

1. Think about whether seeing a counsellor would be helpful for you. Divorce and separation are one of the most stressful life events and there is absolutely no shame in saying that you are not OK and you need some help. Sometimes the counselling can be a short term solution to a difficult time. Having someone there to exclusively listen to you can be an invaluable support whilst you come to terms with what has happened. Alternatively, where you feel that you have been affected by issues in the relationship you may wish to embark upon longer term counselling to help you address these and focus more positively on the future. One of the things that we always look at in mediation is whether people are ready to start exploring solutions and next steps. Sometimes more time is needed for one or both parties to enable them to feel that they are in the right place to make decisions about what happens next. This can be frustrating for the other person – especially if they feel ready to move on with their next chapter. But often giving that other person a bit more time means that things are resolved much more amicably and quickly (and therefore cost effectively) rather than trying to force the issue.

2. Making an initial appointment with a lawyer can help you to understand what the next steps might be and what the potential outcomes might look like. A lawyer can give you guidance on what it would be helpful to do and may suggest that you get together financial information and do practical tasks like that. They may not be able to give you comprehensive advice if you are not clear about your financial position. If your situation is particularly complex or there are specific issues then it can be very helpful to be clear about these. There is hardly ever only one outcome following a separation and being flexible about what a successful resolution looks like often makes it easier to compromise.

3. As an initial first step you can also see a mediator for an initial meeting. Mediators will not give you any advice about your situation but they are able to explain processes to you and to make you aware of the different processes that exist for resolving issues that crop up in a separation (a lawyer should explain these to you too). They can also outline steps that it might be helpful to take. In addition to this they can also help you to reflect on what’s happened and how the other person might be feeling, and what you might both want to achieve going forwards. Having an initial meeting is also the starting point to setting up mediation so that you and your partner can come together to talk about what next steps you should take – with the mediator’s help. If your partner is struggling to come to terms with the separation then it may be that they may need more time to feel able to have a meeting with the mediator, but by working at a pace that works for both of you, you increase the changes of finding an acceptable resolution together in mediation.

When you first separate you may also wish to give some thought to interim arrangements. You may not be in a position to immediately find a long term solution and so interim measures may be a helpful way of bridging the gap between being a couple and a final separation. It is not easy to continue to live in the same house as someone whom you’ve separated from and it’s important to bear in mind what the relationship between you is like at this stage. If there are many arguments then you need to consider what effect this will have on your children. For many people separating at this stage may be impossible. But it can be helpful if you can try to work out how you can each have time to yourselves so that you can turn off from the situation. It will help with your well being and make things easier to manage. Where a couple who have taken the decision to separate are sandwiched together in the same house without time to reflect, they end up almost permanently in ‘fight or flight’ mode. This is damaging to both parties as they have continued exposure to stress hormones, and they are unable to have periods of calm. It also means what was a situation where two people were not getting on, can turn into a situation where two people despise each other. Any children caught up in this situation can develop behavioural, emotional and even physical health problems so do be mindful of this.

When you see a professional always treat the initial meeting or contact as a chance to see whether you want to work with that person. Each professional should be able to suggest other professionals that might be able to help you based on your situation – for example if you have complex pensions then a financial adviser may well be able to assist. Or if you are really struggling with managing everything and or particularly with dealing with financial issues then a divorce coach can be a really helpful support.

Louisa Whitney
LKW Family Mediation