A stranger approaches your home and knocks on your door. You are politely handed a parcel of documents and advised that you have ‘been served’. You examine the documents and realise that you have been served with an Application for Divorce. This is the last thing you ever thought would happen. You had no indication things were bad, let alone bad enough to end the marriage. Your heart beats, your mind races. What will happen with the kids? What will happen with the house? How will you live on a reduced household income? You have more questions than answers. What do you do?
Firstly, take a deep breath. You are not the first person that this has happened to and you will most certainly not be the last. Your partner has indicated they want to end the marriage so now is the time to start thinking strategically, not emotionally.
Secondly, you should begin consultation with a solicitor specialising in Family Law. Their advice will be vital in assisting you to get through this period of your life. Prior to any consultation with a solicitor, you should be prepared with information to educate them as to your situation. Here is a checklist of things to prepare and consider in the event that this unfortunate occurrence happens to you:
1. Gather financial information – Find out where all of the money in your relationship is. Retrieve all relevant information regarding banking, superannuation, investment accounts and insurance policies held by you and your partner. Find your personal tax returns and tax returns for any family businesses, trusts or entities. Obtain a valuation or market appraisal for real estate owned by you and/or your partner. This information will be critical to aid your solicitor in assessing your case.
2. Tell your story – Prepare a written narrative of the history of the financial contributions of yourself and your partner to the marriage. Be as detailed as possible. Include a history of all real estate transactions which may have led to the purchasing of the matrimonial home and how those transactions were funded. If the care and custody of children is going to be an issue, provide a narrative of your respective roles as parents.
3. Prepare your children – They are going to quickly know what is going on between their parents. It is best to discuss what is going on with them on an age-appropriate level and without involving them in the conflict.
4. No violence in the household – Often in situations where service of divorce papers is unexpected, the parties are still living together. Notwithstanding the feelings of betrayal, hurt and anger that unexpected receipt of divorce documents creates, it is critical that these understandably emotional feelings do not manifest themselves in violence or aggression. There is no quicker way to an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) than to commit or threaten violence. An AVO can adversely affect a guilty party’s ability to remain in the home and to see their children. Also, the effects of such behaviour on children should be considered – remember that their world is changing as well. Witnessing violence/anger between their parents will be detrimental to children in their transition.
5. Take care of yourself – You are about to go through a stressful period of your life. It is vitally important that you remember to take care of yourself emotionally and physically. Many of our clients have found it helpful to utilise a counsellor with appropriate expertise whilst going through the divorce process. Similarly, divorce is a time in which you should be drawing on the love and support of friends and family to help you through.
These tips are not meant to be exhaustive, but merely to serve as a guideline on how to approach a situation when you are the recipient of an unexpected divorce action. For a more detailed explanation or for legal advice, contact our
Family Law Team.