Fundamental Advice About Those All Important First Steps 

It’s impossible to describe the emotions involved when you are served with divorce papers. 
You may have already been separated for years or the application may have come as a complete surprise. Either way, divorce papers bring with them a sense of finality. 
What’s important to remember is that no two relationships are the same, and no two break-ups will be the same. Any divorce solicitor will tell you that comparison should be avoided at all costs. 
Whatever you’re feeling, whatever thoughts you have, they are valid. 
Just because someone else might not have experienced exactly the same thing, does not mean that you are doing or feeling anything wrong. 
However, speaking from the experience of helping hundreds if not thousands of couples divorce, there are some guiding principles of divorce law which I’ll explain below. 

Don’t Try and Deal With Everything Alone 

Accepting help is going to be key in helping you get through the coming weeks, months and even years. 
There are so many options out there nowadays. Whatever your personality type or specific needs, you never need to feel that you’re on your own. 

Divorce Counselling 

The obvious first step would be to look into available counselling. The ending of a relationship is loss, whatever the circumstances, and involves an element of grief. 
You don’t have to have suffered trauma to seek counselling. 
Therapy is used to discuss the good as well as the bad. 
Spend the first week looking into carving out some time away from the children, the work colleagues or the millions of other distractions that invade our daily lives to talk about your feelings and digest them. 
During the pandemic, many counsellors offered sessions via video call and continue to do so. 

The Divorce Process 

You may have read that the law changed in April 2022 and it is now possible to get divorced without formally making accusations of fault, or waiting a minimum two years (as was the case under the old rules). 
At this stage, it may be that your spouse has simply indicated that they want a divorce, and but have not yet started the process. In that case, a decision will need to be taken as to who should start ball rolling in terms of applying for a divorce. 
Alternatively, it may be that the first you learn of your spouse’s intention to divorce is when the divorce application lands on your doorstep (or inbox, as the case may be). If that is the case, there are certain practical steps to take in terms of acknowledging the divorce. The steps will be set out in the paperwork you receive along with the notice of the divorce application, and the main thing here now is not to panic. 

Help Online 

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone face to face, turning to the internet is an enlightening option. 
You will find forums on pretty much any topic to do with divorce, to remind you that you’re not alone. 
I have written a step by step guide to the Divorce process (and the financial consequences that arise from separation and divorce). The guide is intended to collate all the information, links and resources you need into to one, easy to digest file so you can find what you need, when you need it, without worrying if the information is accurate or up to date. You can purchase your low cost copy here: Your Divorce Guide 
I also run a free Facebook group. Here, you’ll find posts about divorce procedure, financial advice, coping with a wide range of feelings and a lot of hope and happiness, too. But if you need a little more support you may like to join my Divorce Without Lawyers membership which hosts regular Q&A sessions, live training events, guest experts etc. We bring everything in that you need to help you to manage your legal case and keep fees to a minimum. You can find out more information here: Divorce Without Lawyers Private Members Group 
My one piece of advice though: tread carefully when it comes to legal advice. 
Whilst forums and Facebook groups can be a Godsend in terms of virtually connecting with others and their emotions, you should never (and I mean never!) make decisions regarding the legal side of things without doing your own research or seeking proper advice. No matter how knowledgeable someone may seem, unless they are legally qualified and insured to give advice you should not assume they know what they are talking about, just because they talk a good game! 

Telling Your Children 

You’d be surprised how in-tune children can be to non verbal cues. 
Even if you’ve been trying your best not to let on that anything is wrong. 
Depending on their ages, your children might already be expecting ‘the conversation’ to happen at some point. Don’t beat yourself up that you’ll be dropping a bombshell on them. 
However, it is also worth thinking carefully about the timing of the “divorce announcement”. It’s probably better not to do so right on top of their exams, for example, so if that can be avoided (and of course sometimes it will be completely out of your hands) then perhaps think about how and where to facilitate this conversation. 

Don’t Speak Badly About Your Partner 

Whatever happened between you and your spouse should not spill over into their relationship with the children. 
Children want to please their parents and they can also be very protective. If they think that you have been wronged, even if that is indeed the case, they may alter their behaviour towards their other parent. 
Ultimately children have a right to an equal relationship with both parents and it would be unfair to do anything that could jeopardise that. 

Make It Clear That They Are Loved 

You’re probably thinking that this is so obvious that it doesn’t even need to be said. The truth is, some things seem obvious but often children do need things spelling out. 
A divorce is probably the biggest change that your children will have dealt with in their lives and they won’t have anything to compare it to. 
Be honest with them that the amount of time they spend with each parent will be divided. 
However, also take the time to explain that this doesn’t affect the amount they will be loved by each parent and their extended families. 

Tell Them It’s Not Their Fault 

Again, this is something that can get easily missed because, from our adult point of view, we would never even consider putting any blame on our children. 
Studies have shown, though, that children do wonder whether, if they had behaved better, not thrown that tantrum, done better at school and so on, that their parents' relationships would have lasted. 

Protecting your Interest in Family Assets 

Protecting the Family Home 

If the family home is registered in both parties’ names, there isn’t anything that you need to do straight away. 
In order for the property to be sold, estate agents and solicitors will need signatures from each owner. This means it is impossible for anything to be going on without you being made aware. 
What actually happens to the property will be decided much later on in the divorce proceedings but as far as the first couple of days go, you don’t need to worry. 
The situation is very different if the family home is only registered in your partner’s name. 
In this case, the property could be sold or transferred without your knowledge. 
To prevent this, apply to the Land Registry for a Home Rights Notice
This notice lets the Land Registry know that you have an interest in the property and if anybody else gets in touch with them to try and change the way the property’s owned, they’ll have to notify you. 
This is a standard application and should be made whether you feel there is a risk or not. The application is free and simply involves one form being completed. 
Explain to your spouse that you are not preventing the property being sold or claiming more than your fair share, but you just need to protect your interest. 

Protecting Money and Belongings 

Many people start panicking straight away about their financial situations. 
It can be tempting to create a to-do list and put pressure on yourself to complete everything as quickly as possible. 
To close joint bank accounts, to get mortgage advice, to figure out how your pension works. 
The truth is, there is no immediate rush to sort anything out with your finances. It will all happen in due course and the important thing is that you are looking after your mental health to begin with. 
If you are concerned that your spouse might try and get rid of assets though, then this is something you do need to worry about. 
Examples might be if you notice expensive items going missing or your ex has made comments about transferring assets into a family member or friend’s name. 
If you have any suspicions, you should seek immediate advice about applying for an injunction. 
This type of behaviour is very rare and you only need to be concerned if there have been genuine threats or attempts to hide assets. 
Once you make it through the first week, and I promise you that you will, you’ll need to start looking deeper into what happens during the divorce and how to protect your rights. It may feel scary, overwhelmingly, sad and perhaps a whole other range of emotions will arise. The important thing is to take it all step by step, using the multitude of resources available to you. 
Elaine Foster is a qualified and highly experienced family lawyer who brings a calm and rational approach to family law. As well as running her Divorce Without Lawyers membership group to help those going through divorce and separation to manage their case without incurring unnecessary legal fees, she also offers one to one consultations and representation via MacIntyre Law, a regulated law firm operating with offices in Stony Stratford and Woburn in Buckinghamshire. You can book a consultation with Elaine by clicking HERE 
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