Updated: Aug 17, 2022
When you are facing a separation, what lies ahead can seem confusing and very unclear. What should you do first? What are the most important decisions to make early on? Can you sort things out without lawyers? Will lawyers inflame everything, making things worse for you? How do things get sorted out with less angst and conflict?
Sam was facing these questions and feeling lost when he came to an initial consultation with me after his recent separation with Frankie. He told me they were trying to work through their separation amicably and were concerned that involving lawyers could cause tensions to rise. Together, Sam and I were able to help him see the path ahead more clearly and plan a way forward for him.
There is a Joseph Joubert quote that is popular among Collaborative family lawyers: "Never cut what can be untied". Imagine your relationship as a series of entwined ropes, knotted together, with the knot becoming more and more complex and growing with more and more strands as time goes by. If that knot needs to be unravelled and the strands separated out, do we just hack through it or try to gently untie it, leaving the strands as whole as possible? At Family Law Results, we aim to help you do the latter. For Sam and Frankie, their path to a gentler, more amicable separation was as follows:
After our initial consultation Sam felt able to have a discussion with Frankie about how he hoped they could have negotiations that avoided giving rise to extra conflict and stress. Together, they agreed they would come and meet with me for a "Savvy Separation" Consultation.
During their joint consultation together, Sam and Frankie each had the opportunity to tell me about themselves, their family and what was important to them. They wanted to have an amicable divorce. They also knew they needed some help with that. Emotions were raw. They found themselves falling into old communication habits and arguments when they tried to work things out themselves. I shared with them several different processes that didn’t involve Court. These options were in line with their goals around gently and calmly moving their family through this time of change. Together, we weighed up the pros and cons of each process, considering how each aligned with what was important to them about how they work through things.
Frankie was clear they needed some time to emotionally process the separation before they could start on the bigger, longer term decisions about dividing their property and finances. Both agreed they needed some help to put in place an interim “holding pattern” for their children’s care and their immediate living arrangements in the next couple of months. They indicated that they wanted to meet with me again, as their mediator, to help them do this. They headed off to "sleep on things".
A couple of days later, Frankie called me to confirm that they still wanted me to mediate with them. I scheduled individual meetings with each of them to prepare for a joint mediation session. Before meeting with them, I gave each of them a copy of Our Family in Two Homes and invited them to complete some of the exercises in that workbook. This helped them each come to our meetings feeling prepared for the discussions to come.
Our joint mediation session was then held. We met all together for two hours, taking a couple of "breathers" along the way. Frankie and Sam were agreed that their first priority was to decide together what to tell the children and when. They quickly realised it wasn’t going to be easy to address the care arrangements for the children, and give them confident answers to their inevitable questions, unless they had also thought about how they would manage their financial and living arrangements over the next few months. Referring to their Our Family in Two Homes workbooks at various points, we spent our time discussing what each of them felt was important to have present in any arrangement, the options that existed for them and what further information they needed to feel comfortable about making a decision. At the end of the session, they had settled on an option that was a “front runner” for them.
A week later, I met with Sam and Frankie to sign their interim agreement. They had told the children of their separation and had set about starting their new arrangements. They said they felt comfortable that their interim ‘holding pattern’ would allow them to support the children to adjust to the separation, ensure the children got to remain in the home and enabled them to financially manage through a time that could otherwise have been financially damaging for them. We agreed on a communication plan to prevent trouble spots arising and to help them work through challenging moments when they were not seeing things in the same way. They left, agreeing to return in 4 months when they’d each had some ‘emotional breathing space’ and time to pull together the property and financial information set out in a checklist in Our Family in Two Homes.
About three to four weeks from Sam’s first call to me, he and Frankie were set with an interim plan that had them coparenting and in agreement about their interim finances and living arrangements. They told me they felt they could breath now and had a clear plan for how to gather the information they would need to progress towards making the longer term legal, parenting and financial decisions. They knew they would need to get independent legal advice about any future property and financial agreement and were confident we would be able to refer them to Collaborative lawyers who would also be supportive of the respectful way they wanted to get things sorted.
You may think this all sounds very unusually easy for Sam and Frankie. It wasn’t. The discussions had been challenging for them and, at times, emotionally charged. Frankie was particularly struggling with accepting the separation. We were able to work through these moments, shed light on misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions, to clear the way for constructive discussion.
Frankie and Sam both commented they imagined it would be so much worse if they had tried to do this by having lawyers write letters to one another or, worse, in a courtroom. I believe they were right. Most importantly, they said they felt they were, for now, managing their separation in a way that they and their children could be proud of them for in the future.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sam and Frankie’s path to resolution was one that suited them, their preferred timing, and the challenges they faced in communicating with one another. There is no “one size fits all” process and there is certainly no need for “cookie cutter” solutions that are so often offered to families going through a separation. We can customise a path towards an amicable separation for you too!
Names and any identifying information have been altered to protect the privacy of individuals. The information in this blog is current at 1 July 2022. The information in this blog is general, educative information only. As such, it should not be relied on in place of getting your own legal advice. If you'd like to have us assist you to work through your separation as amicably as possible, then book a free consultation now.