Marriage breakdown can be tough. Even when separating parties are more than pleased to wave their erstwhile better half goodbye, they are still faced not only with the job of carving up their previously-joint property, but also the jolt of severing their attachment to the physical accoutrements of the relationship. Where children are involved, of course the stress goes up exponentially, as the children’s physical and emotional needs, and the disruptive impact of the separation on their daily lives, become the paramount consideration.

A clever television advertising campaign by Swedish flatpack giant, IKEA, taps brilliantly into this psyche of stress and disruption, offering up a tangible solution in the form of a duplicate and interchangeable IKEA home, designed to ease the burden of emotional detachment. In the ad, a child closes a bedroom door in one household, only to open another in an identically-matching bedroom in a lookalike alternate household, all courtesy of IKEA.

No matter how amicable the process may seem, the challenges when separating are literally life-changing. IKEA will only get you so far. In today’s world, where separation and divorce are at an all-time high, the modern family needs to work on the solution smarter and harder than ever.

Lawyers are often at the coalface of relationship breakdown, and we generally find that there are five key steps that can help ease the pain for separating couples and their families.

  1. Be kind. Kindness costs nothing and trusted friends and family will respond better to requests for help. Be mindful of how important this network of support can be to help you through a time of emotional strain and overwhelming circumstances. Keep communication with your children honest, and answer the questions that they ask without belittling the other parent. It’s important to maintain a state of calm in front of children where ever possible when you need to see or speak to your estranged partner.
  2. Review your joint accounts. Check the permissions and access to joint bank accounts. It’s important that neither person can clear out all the joint funds shared in a relationship, and thereby leave the other partner with no money. You should think about establishing a personal account if you don’t have one already and start to redirect your personal wages and payments to your own account. It is crucial that you protect your personal finances until your property settlement is finalised.
  3. Communicate and agree on the care of children. Determining who is the primary carer or how to share care of children can be a highly emotional task. Clear communication will ensure that proper arrangements are in place early and children’s needs can be met emotionally, physically and financially as much as possible. Seek professional help from a counselor or psychologist to help with these negotiations to minimise the toll of separating on everyone. Consider if and how you can involve your children in decisions that directly impact on their day to day living.
  4. Prepare a financial audit. Reviewing your financial situation early in a separation can make a significant difference to the level of stress you will face as you work through the process. You may need to adjust to a smaller income or tighter budget. If you are not the one who normally handles the finances, it’s imperative that you find out how the money comes in and what it pays for. Collect copies of bank statements, government benefit statements, tax returns, pay slips, superannuation statements, investment documents, insurance policies, utility bills, mortgage and credit card details. Make a list of all your assets and liabilities, held as a couple and individually, and allocate an estimated value to each. This includes any business operations, so you have a clear picture of your estranged partner’s financial affairs and each person’s contribution to the household.
  5. Create a relationship journal. It is important to document the history of a relationship and note key dates and facts. A timeline is the easiest way to do this and should include dates of first meeting, anniversaries, when children arrived, moving in together, getting pets together, marriage, time apart and date of separation. You should also note key dates for when you purchased property and other joint assets. A journal of the roles within the relationship and who did what on a day to day basis can also prove useful as a history of each person’s contribution to the relationship over the years.

The financial and emotional burden that family disputes can inflict on all involved is significant. Whilst there are many practical things that can be done to ease the pain of a separation, it’s important that you seek clear, honest, and reliable advice that will give you the ability to make informed and confident decisions on your future. Don’t delay in getting your legal team in place early. It can mean the difference between a protracted, acrimonious settlement and a relatively simple and painless road out.

As for the IKEA solution? All the brochures assure us it’s cool, it’s quality, and it’s very affordable. If it also provides a calming and familiar environment during a difficult time, then that’s no bad thing.

First published in Gold Coast Magazine, Oct – Nov 2017 edition

Gisele Reid, Family Lawyer and Migration Agent

Gisele Reid - Family Lawyer