Morrison Reist’s Do’s and Don’ts for Separating Spouses

Aug 07, 2015

By Charles Morrison, Lawyer

1.           DO keep your financial documents organized.

Whether you wind up in court or in a negotiated separation agreement, the exchange of financial documentation is very important. If you keep tax returns, real estate documents, bank statements, RRSP statements, charge account statements etc. accessible, organized and in some sort of order, it will make it much easier to retrieve them when you or your lawyer needs them.

2.           DON’T rely on friends or relatives for legal advice.

Even if they are well-meaning, their advice about custody, time-sharing of children, support or property can get you into a worse situation than when you started out. Also remember that each case is different and unique. You can’t rely on another person’s separation experience to predict your own.

3.           DO see a lawyer for advice.

Few people predict that their happy relationship will one day turn into a separation however separation can be one of the most important events in your life. Spending an hour at the outset with your lawyer to learn about your rights and obligations will help you avoid many difficulties down the road.

4.           DON’T expect your court case to proceed like a Judge Judy show.

The court process is a slow, step-by-step experience. You don’t spend ten minutes before a mouthy judge and then it’s all over.

5.           DO speak politely and constructively to your spouse if going through a separation.

It is easy to lapse into history and finger-pointing. If the conversation is doing more harm than good, don’t continue it.

6.           DON’T draft your own separation agreement or borrow one from the internet.

The separation agreement should be the final product, after ongoing legal advice, financial disclosure, negotiation and review of options. People who rush into an internet-made separation agreement and either fill in the blanks or try to craft their own provisions, often wind up with a confusing, contradictory, unfair and sometimes unenforceable document.

7.           DO keep the children out of your separation discussions and legal affairs.

They didn’t ask for their parents to separate. They should not be enlisted or exposed to the issues that their parents are dealing with, whether custody, time sharing, support or property matters. Consider counseling to help them deal with the separation. There is nothing worse than a child who becomes a ‘player’ in the dispute between their parents.

8.           DON’T ignore court documents or avoid dealing with them until the last minute.

Read them thoroughly and get advice promptly. Sketch out a rough response which should emphasize facts with which you agree, those with which you don’t agree and your own version.

9.           DO your income tax returns yearly and on time.

Income tax returns and Notices of Assessment are required for both court proceedings and negotiations. Those who have, for whatever reason, not prepared or filed their tax returns will find that their legal matters will become delayed as a result.

10.         DON’T line up new financial obligations until you have settled your old ones.

If for example, you sign up to purchase a new house in the belief that you will have settled money and property issues by the time that the deal closes, you may find yourself unable to close the deal.

11.         Consider counseling.

12.         Consider collaborative family law.

13.         Get legal advice before making unilateral moves such as moving with a child, withdrawing money from a joint bank account or debiting a joint line of credit or charge card.

I could add many other do’s and don’ts to the list but ….. it’s summer. Have a happy one.