The decision to end your marriage is not an easy one, and the process of getting divorced isn’t a cakewalk either. However, you can make it considerably easier by learning exactly what you need to do at each stage of the divorce procedure. If, like most people, this is your first time going through a divorce, you’d most likely have no reason to know what it entails. Arm yourself with as much information as possible to avoid any nasty surprises.
There are several actions you can take now to save trouble, effort, and expense down the road. A bit of preparation now will make it much easier to make the final decisions about the terms of your divorce. Follow these steps to get started on the divorce process.
1. Find a Lawyer
“Lawyer up” may be a distasteful phrase, but it’s an essential first step when it comes to ending a marriage. It’s true that you don’t absolutely need a lawyer to get divorced in Ontario; however, you won’t regret hiring a family law attorney, while you very well might regret going it alone. For example, a separation agreement that you and your spouse agreed to privately is not enforceable in court. This means that if your ex violates the agreement in any way, you won’t have any legal recourse. Additionally, dissolving a marriage means completing and filing a number of forms with the court. A lawyer will not only know which forms are necessary for your specific situation, but will also be able to complete them thoroughly and accurately.
If you’re unable to pay for a lawyer, contact Legal Aid Ontario at 1-800-668-8258 to see if you qualify for assistance. You can also qualify for Legal Aid if you are being abused. Don’t let finances get in the way of proper legal assistance.
2. Decide Who Gets the House (For Now)
Figuring out what to do with the marital home can be tricky, but this is not a decision you have to make right away. The only thing you need to do now is decide who is going to live where during the separation and divorce process. In Ontario, unless you can prove adultery or abuse, you must be able to show the court that the two of you have lived apart for at least one year before a divorce will be granted. Often, one spouse will stay in the home with the children, while the other will make other housing arrangements. This does not have to be a permanent arrangement; all you have to decide on right now is what you’ll do to get through the separation and divorce proceedings, during which a long-term plan will be made.
3. Calculate Your Assets and Liabilities
In order to divide property equitably, you first have to know exactly what you have. Start by making a list of all property that belonged to you and your spouse on the date you separated. This includes jointly-owned property as well as things that belong to either of you individually. Include items such as houses, cars, businesses, jewelry, bank accounts, and RSPs.
An important part of this process is getting expert opinions on the value of your largest assets, including the marital home. This is often the single largest asset in the marriage, so asking a qualified appraiser to determine the precise market value is very important. If you’ve been separated for more than a year, your lawyer might advise you to get the current value of the house as well as a retrospective value as of the date of separation. Additionally, if either party has an Ontario pension, you should contact the pension administrator to get a current valuation of that person’s interest in the pension fund.
Once that’s done, it’s time to do the same for your liabilities. This means things like car loans, mortgages, and student debt. Any debt that you incurred before you were married is yours alone, but loans taken out during the marriage are considered marital debt and should be deducted from your total assets. If you can, try to pay down as much debt as possible before dividing everything up; this makes the process much simpler.
4. Think About a Custody Arrangement
Like your living situation, custody of your children is not something you have to make a final decision on right now, but it’s a good idea to think about what type of arrangement you’d like to have and arrange something on a temporary basis. If you can, talk the possibilities over with your spouse and draw up an agreement. If that’s not possible, it might be a good idea to call in a mediator. Keep in mind that an informal arrangement is difficult to enforce if any problems arise, so it’s best to come up with a formal agreement. This can be amended later on if you should change your minds about custody terms.
A common option is to have your children stay in the marital home with one spouse, with regular visits with their other parent. They can stay in the original home the majority of the time, or split their time equally between both parents. Whatever you decide, always keep your children’s well-being at the top of your priority list.
5. Develop a Support System
Ending a marriage is a difficult, scary, and painful process, even when you know it’s the right choice for you and your family. It’s very important to have other people you can lean on while you’re going through it. Confide in your friends and family, and ask loved ones who have been divorced for emotional support, since they know just what you’re going through. Taking care of your emotional health and well-being will not only ease the pain of going through a divorce, but will also help you make hard decisions calmly and with a clear head.
You might also want to consider talking to a counselor. There are many therapists in the area who specialize in issues relating to family and divorce. Talking to someone who isn’t a friend or relative can be extremely helpful when it comes to managing your emotions and finding a way to see the situation more clearly. Finding a counselor for your children is also a good idea and can reduce the emotional difficulty of their parents’ divorce.
Plan Now to Ease the Process Later
If you’re overwhelmed by the number of choices you have to make and how to navigate the difficult divorce process, make things easier on yourself and contact Galbraith Family Law at (705) 302-1102 (Barrie) or (289) 802-2433 (Newmarket) for a one-hour consultation. From the initial separation agreement until the divorce is finalized, we’ll help you get through the dissolution of your marriage with skill and compassion.