5 Tips for Separating Couples

1. Don’t think that your kids don’t know what’s going on – they do.

Whether they are 1 or 21, don’t underestimate the impact of separation and divorce on children. You may think you are keeping the tension and hostility away by protecting your children from it, but they will still pick up on the changes and know something is wrong. Each child needs to know that you understand their feelings and concerns about the separation. They need to feel that they can talk to you and that you will be honest with them.

For kids, not knowing what’s going on in their world can lead to feelings of insecurity and instability. Their imaginations are vivid. By not talking to them and making sure the channels of communication are open, you may have some unpleasant and unexpected reactions and behaviours. During a separation or divorce this is very difficult to do, especially as you are also going through some very difficult emotional times. Be aware and mindful of where your kids are at emotionally - talk to them, ask questions and most importantly, listen to what they have to say.

2. Don’t think that separation and divorce will change the way your spouse does things.

Behaviours don’t change just because you’ve separated. Don’t expect a spouse who was always late when you were together to bring the kids home after a visit exactly on time. A spouse who was a procrastinator isn’t all of a sudden going to become efficient and proactive with their time; getting all the legal disclosure and financial information to their lawyer in a timely fashion. A spouse who took forever to make decisions isn’t going to respond quickly to offers of settlement.

Separating spouses often have unrealistic expectations about what the other spouse will do, whether it’s in a family law negotiation with lawyers or in mediation. They don’t change – in fact, behaviours often get worse. The sooner you understand this the easier the process will be for you. If you couldn’t get them to do certain things during your marriage, what makes you think things will be any different after separation?

3. If you are the one who wants out of a marriage and have just told your spouse, don’t expect that they will follow your timelines.

You may have made up your mind that you wanted to separate a long time ago. You’ve had time to deal with the emotions that arise with separation, the anger, the hurt and the sadness of a failed relationship. You’re ready to move on and deal with the practical matters, i.e. division of property, support, custody etc. You’ve had time to plan and think things through. Don’t forget, you spouse hasn’t. They need time to deal with the emotional fallout of the marriage breakdown.

Don’t expect logical, practical and reasonable responses to your logical, practical and reasonable suggestions for settlement and resolution. Slow down. You need to give your spouse time to move through the necessary emotional stages. Trying to force negotiations and proposals for settlement, however fair and reasonable, on a hurt or angry spouse can be a fruitless exercise and may land you in court.

4. Remember – What people say isn’t necessarily what they really mean, so try to understand where they are coming from before you counterattack!

You hear this: But maybe what she really means is:
"I’m going to take him for every penny he’s got!" "I’m so hurt and betrayed by what you’ve done, that I’ll do whatever I can to hurt you just as much as you’ve hurt me."
You hear this: But maybe what he really means is:
"If she wants that much support and half my pension, I’ll go for custody of the kids." "I am so hurt and insecure and afraid of the future, that I’ll use the best weapon I have against her – the kids."


Don’t automatically become defensive and battle ready. Try to understand the reason for the battle cry. Statements such as these are often declarations of war and take you into an adversarial litigation process that is often difficult to get out of, even after you have grown tired of the fight.

You will be able to find a divorce lawyer who will take up arms for you and fight your battle. Anger, hurt and bitterness fuel the adversarial court process. There can be irreparable harm done to couples and their children and the battle can leave permanent scarring on everyone, kids included. Take time and try to understand your spouse’s perspective. This is often VERY difficult to do, but if you can, you may be able to avoid the legal battlefield.

5. "I want my day in court." "If the judge just hears my side and what I have to say, he’s sure to agree and give me what I want."

Although we’d all like to think that this is how it works, don't count on it!  It doesn’t happen that way.  Don’t forget that your spouse will be saying the same thing!  The judge will hear facts that support your "legal case" – which is not necessarily reflective of your real needs and interests. Your "case" is developed with pleadings, affidavits and transcripts of examinations and made to fit within a legal mold, a framework created by the law. The story that you may have told your lawyer when you first met has been transformed into a legal case that may in reality have little resemblance to your original story. The judge will hear your legal case and will make a decision based on the law. Your "day in court" may not necessarily get you what may really want, i.e. someone to hear that you have been hurt and disappointed by your spouse, devastated by your losses and afraid of what the future may bring. Finally, you may not necessarily get the closure that you are seeking.

© 2008 Milka Vujnovic

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