- Gather the right people
First port of call should be a family lawyer; as the experience that a lawyer brings is invaluable. A lawyer will be able to fully advise on individual situations and what the next steps should be. Obtaining legal advice as soon as possible will put you in the strongest position for a positive outcome and will help avoid unnecessary argument and conflict.
- Consider staying in the family home
There are a number of consequences that moving out can have. These range from emotional damage, to potential legal issues further down the track. These should be weighed against the possibility of staying in the family home until matters relating to the divorce or separation can be settled.
- Potential consequences of moving out
- Emotional – Couples often feel that one of them moving out of the family home is the first step toward officially separating. While this may be the norm, it does not necessarily make things easier as it can create new and different points of conflict. You should consider very carefully whether the issues you are having with your partner can be put aside in the interests of living together until custody and property arrangements can be finalised.
- Financial – Something that parties often realise too late is the dramatically increased cost of running two households in comparison to running one. When one spouse moves out of the family home, basic costs will usually double; there will be two electricity bills, two internet bills and two food bills. This is clearly an inefficient way to live if there is still the possibility that both partners could live under the same roof, until all divorce/separation matters are settled.
- Legal – There are a number of legal issues created by leaving the family home. Some of these may not arise if the parties are able to continue to live together until matters relating to the divorce or separation are settled.
- The main problem is that temporary situations have a habit of becoming permanent arrangements and this can affect matters such as child custody, possession of the family home and control of relationship property.
- Once you leave the family home, you lose a certain amount of control over what happens to relationship property in which you may have an interes . This creates a risk of damage to, or removal of particular property to which you are entitled. It may be difficult to have any input in what goes on in the home once you have left.
- Gaining re-possession of the family home once the divorce/separation process is complete may prove problematic and if you leave, you run the risk of losing your exclusive rights to it. This again comes down to the reality that temporary arrangements can become permanent once a separation process is complete.
Summary – remember that leaving without due consideration and planning will not make life any easier – it will in fact usually make it a lot more difficult.
- Carefully consider how your children will cope
Set up workable custody arrangement from the beginning.
It is advisable for parties to set up custody arrangements which both parties can live with long term, from the very beginning. As mentioned earlier, temporary situations have a tendency to become permanent arrangements and this is particularly relevant for child custody. It is often considered damaging to children’s welfare to disrupt existing arrangements which are working well. This is not to suggest that existing arrangements will never be altered; bur realise that creating a custody arrangement which will not work long-term may create more turmoil for your family.
Carefully select your new location
Disruptions to your children’s routine should be minimised, and so try to keep consistency in your living arrangements. It is not always realistic to find a permanent location right away but bear this in mind when you are selecting a new place to live. Take into account proximity to school or day-care and the other parent’s house when making this decision. If you want custody arrangements to work, you need to be close enough that transporting the children doesn’t cause any problems.
- Proof of income
It is vital you have a good grasp on the family’s financial situation before moving out of the home. This requires a relatively detailed analysis of income including obtaining copies of all important documents. This process is made a lot more difficult if partners are no longer living together as access to the relevant documents is likely to be limited.
- Obtain copies of all relevant documents in relation to the income of both parties. This might include pay-slips, tax returns, bank account and credit card statements, loan applications and business details (if your partner is self-employed). This will allow you to determine the total yearly income for both you and your partner.
- Use all relevant documents to create a detailed budget outlining your income and expenses after moving out of the family home. While this can be a time consuming and detailed process, it will be well worth the effort in preventing further conflict between partners.
- All the information you obtain during this process will very useful and save time when child support and spousal maintenance questions arise.
- List property and debt
The process of dividing property is often one of the most contentious areas of a divorce/separation and it is helpful if the leaving partner holds as much information as possible about what assets and debts exist along with any supporting documents. It is possible for lawyers to obtain this information after the partner has moved out; however, the process will be more time consuming and costly. Therefore, it is preferable that the leaving partner obtains the relevant information before leaving the family home.
Gather supporting documents
- The leaving partner should photocopy as many supporting documents for the lists above as possible, including receipts, credit card and bank statements. It would also be wise to take photographs of various physical assets such as jewellery, china, furniture and artwork.
- Moving out of the family home can limit your access to assets, sometimes removing that access entirely. Having lists and records supporting the existence of assets and debts can be useful in saving time if there is a dispute over property later on.
Some important debts to remember:
- Credit cards;
- Student loans;
- Third party debts (i.e. to family members or friends).
Some important assets to remember:
- The family home;
- Any tangible (physical) assets such as furniture and vehicles;
- Other assets such as KiwiSaver, shares and trusts.