As I wrote in my last post, going through a divorce often makes people doubt themselves and their decisions.
One consequence of this can be a blizzard of questions flying around your mind, building drifts of anxiety, stress and worry.
A method I’ve found that can help lessen the damage from this blizzard is to narrow the field of questions you deal with – because it helps you to ignore the rest of the noise.
Focusing on a limited set of questions lets you put your tremendous, but limited, mental and emotional power towards what really matters.
And ignoring the rest of the noise helps you keep the rest of your energy dedicated to (re)building your best life.
Now, the questions will change, depending on which stage you’re at in the process.
For many people, once they’ve decided to separate, the first disorienting stage will be the Separation.
Some key questions you might want to get answered are:
A. ARE YOU SAFE?
This is the question you will want answered, as soon and as securely as possible.
Each set of circumstances are unique, but the tragic reality of domestic violence makes this critical. Until the answer to this question is ‘yes’, everything else is secondary.
When you’re safe you can find the time and space to start addressing these other questions.
But until then, none of the rest matters.
This isn’t the place for a proper discussion of how to deal with this question that, in a just world, wouldn’t need to be asked.
So I encourage you to visit this site – www.safesteps.org.au. It’s for Victoria’s 24/7 family violence support service.
I hope you don’t need it – but if you do, the very best of luck for you and your family.
B. WHERE WILL YOU LIVE?
Now that you’ve decided to separate, one big question you’ll need answered early on is where you’ll actually live.
Will you stay in the family home? Or will you move out to another property?
Will you be renting, or will you move to another property you own?
How will you cover the costs of where you live, be it a mortgage or rent?
Will you and your ex split the costs, or will it be up to each individual?
Regardless of where you’re living, you may want to:
– Document any agreement the two of you have come to for future reference
– Update the names on any utility bills for the house you’re not living in
– Change the locks on the family home
– Let your lender or real estate agent know about the changes
C. WHERE WILL THE KIDS LIVE?
Discussions around custody are, naturally, fraught and emotional. Of course, most parents will structure any agreement around the best interests of the kids.
But it’s worth considering how often the kids will need to pack up their stuff to travel between houses. The location of their school/s is another obvious consideration.
This is a big, and ongoing, conversation.
So you might want to contact the Family Relationship Advice line for information and advice around Parenting Arrangements.
D. HOW MUCH INCOME DO YOU NEED?
This is, in reality, the key financial consideration for you now – and in the future stages of your divorce as well.
You need to identify this figure, this amount you need each and every week, fortnight, month or year, as quickly as you can.
Complete a budget and work out how much you need to cover:
– Housing costs (rent or mortgage)
– Kids requirements
– Motor vehicle costs (petrol of course, but also services and maintenance).
Without knowing this figure, you have no way of knowing if you have ‘enough’ (or not).
You’re now responsible for your financial circumstances.
So work out the answer to this questions as quickly as you can because putting your head in the sand is of absolutely no benefit at all.
E. WHERE WILL THIS COME FROM?
The next big question – where will this money actually come from?
Say, for example, that you calculate you need $5,000 per month to live.
Will you return to/continue to work?
If so, full time or part time? What kind of limitations will this impose on your schedule?
Does this flow in to your answer for question c.?
Or will you rely on spousal maintenance to meet these ongoing expenses?
What dynamic does this impose on your relationship with your ex? Does this involve compromising on some other answers?
Perhaps you’re in the position of relying on income from investments.
In this case, how are you recording the flow of funds? Because this will likely be relevant during the property settlement negotiations, so it’s important it’s all recorded.
Finally – where will this money come from after the divorce is finalised? (I cover this in the next article in this series).
I know it seems like this is just another bunch of questions on top of questions. But these all methodically link back to the primary question – where will your money come from.
Checking off this list will help you find your answer.
F. WHO DO YOU HAVE TO TELL?
The decision of who to tell about the separation – and when – can be a source of real stress and anxiety.
There are often big emotions tied up in this decision – feelings of failure, or embarrassment, or elation, or surprise all combine to make it a big topic.
There are, however, some people and groups you should really consider telling:
– Your lawyer;
– Your mortgage lender;
– Your real estate agent (if your name is on the lease);
– Your utility providers (for the house you don’t live in anymore);
– Your kids school. Also let them know of any parenting arrangement you’ve put in place;
– Your bank (change joint accounts to require two signatures for withdrawals, that sort of thing).
Finally, of course, there’s the huge topic of telling your kids you’re separating.
G. WHO DO YOU WANT TO TELL?
Then we’re into the group of people you will want to tell – and the ones you won’t want to tell.
I’m a big believer in confiding in close friends because the support they’ll provide you over the period of your divorce (often, years) will be invaluable.
But I’m also a fairly private person, so I can really appreciate that you may not want to tell everyone / anyone.
All I can say is that you’re not obligated to tell any friends or acquaintances anything at all.
You’re in control of what you tell people, and when. So by all means be careful about who you bring ‘into the loop’.
H. WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE?
If your separation is a trial to see if your relationship can improve, then it’s important that you and your partner discuss the problems and what would need to change.
An experienced counselor will be invaluable in this process and if you’re genuinely unsure about how this separation will play out, then it’s a worthy investment of your time, money and effort.
I. DID IT CHANGE?
Of course, the next element of this conversation is deciding whether things have changed enough to adjust the path you’re on.
This is a question that can only be answered after a significant period has passed and will often have different answers for different couples.
But when you have the final answer to this question, the answer to the next question is simple – though not often easy.
J. IS THIS GOING TO BE PERMANENT?
Self-explanatory really – will this separation be permanent, or will you reconcile and try again?
A huge discussion, this question is normally answered from an emotional and personal perspective.
However, there are sometimes financial considerations that play a part as well unfortunately.
Your answer to this question will, of course, dictate whether you’re moving into the next phase of the divorce process – or stepping back into the relationship.
As you can see, these are not, generally, small questions. These are substantial issues with real consequences.
Which is why I believe focusing on these questions lets you direct your emotional and mental power to where it’s needed, instead of getting distracted by some of the other questions floating around your head, questions like:
– What will people think?
– Am I a failure?
– Can I even do this?
– What did I do wrong?
Answering these ten questions will help you take control of your life during The Separation.
My next post will be all about some questions you’ll want answered during The Settlement phase of your divorce.