When going through a separation, it’s tough to know exactly what you should and should not do. Friends and family will happily offer unsolicited tips and advice. Although they are trying to help, they often do not know the legal consequences of their advice. In this article, I want to help you avoid the top legal and financial mistakes that can occur during separation. Here are five tips for going through a separation:
1. Stay Off Social Media.
We live in the age of instant gratification. We post pictures and status updates to see how many “likes” we can generate. Because of this culture we have created, people naturally take to social media when life-changing events occur. Don’t fall into this trap with your separation.
As soon as you post on social media that you and your spouse are parting ways, everyone will have an opinion (as well as that unsolicited advice I referenced above). The more people that comment, the more the rumor mill begins to churn. If the rumors make their way back to you, you can be sure your spouse has heard them too. This will ultimately hurt you when attempting to negotiate a separation agreement. And remember, whatever you post on social media can be used against you in court.
2. Don’t Immediately Start Dating Around.
Once you are separated from your spouse, you are legally allowed to date other people without legal ramifications. However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If your spouse suspected you of cheating during the marriage, then immediately jumping back into the dating pool will only fuel those suspicions. This will ultimately make separation agreement negotiations a lot more difficult.
Waiting to date not only benefits you at the negotiation table, but it can also provide personal benefits on a psychological level. A separation is a time for self-assessment. It allows you to rediscover who you are and who you want to become. It also gives you time to heal emotionally from your previous relationship. If you start dating without allowing yourself time to regroup, you will eventually bring that same emotional baggage into a new relationship.
3. Don’t Believe Your Spouse Will Be Cooperative.
One of the most common lines I hear when a new client walks through the door is: “This will be easy and amicable. We have already agreed to all of the terms of the separation agreement.” When couples first separate, most have high hopes that they can come to an agreement and avoid a drawn-out court battle with astronomical legal fees. While this may be possible, it is rarely that simple.
After the separation, set your expectations low for fairness and cooperation. It is important to remember that both spouses have a lot to lose in this situation and will ultimately be looking out for themselves, so requests during negotiations might not always seem fair. Just be prepared for the likelihood that there will be bumps in the road during the negotiation process.
4. Only Pay Your Share.
Often when couples separate, the spouse that moves out will continue paying the bills for the spouse that remains at the marital residence. While you certainly do not want to leave your spouse high and dry, you also do not want to set yourself up for a court to decide that you have the means to support your spouse indefinitely.
If your spouse is unemployed, continuing to pay the bills and expenses gives your spouse no incentive to get a job. By doing this, you are showing the court you are not only capable of paying the rent and bills at your new residence, but also capable of fully supporting your spouse financially, even if you are truly struggling to make ends meet.
5. Don’t Constantly Call and E-mail Your Lawyer.
Technically, the title for lawyers is “Attorneys and Counselors at Law.” However, we are not licensed therapists. Don’t get me wrong, lawyers will listen to everything you have to say, down to the last detail, for as long as you want to talk. But there’s a reason for that.
When you sign your client representation agreement, it states that phone calls and e-mails will be billed at the lawyer’s hourly rate. Most lawyers bill every tenth of an hour. This means for every phone call made and e-mail sent, your lawyer is billing you for a tenth of an hour each time. In the end, the client becomes upset with their lawyer because of their massive legal bill.
To prevent this from happening, you should consult a professionally licensed therapist. Lawyers are here to help you and do what is in your best interest to guide you through one of the most difficult challenges you will face in your lifetime. But don’t pay your lawyer to listen to your uncertainties about the future or the details of your emotional state. There are much more qualified professionals to assist you with those matters.