How Do I Prepare for Separation?

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

It may seem a bit morbid and ghoulish to "prepare" for your separation, but a little bit of planning on your part can help you avoid problems down the road. These tips are intended to help ensure that you know exactly who has what, who owes what, and to whom the debts are owed.

Family property, family debts and excluded property

Take a careful, but not too obvious, tally of what each of you owns. This might be difficult if you and your spouse keep separate bank accounts and maintain your own investments, but make your best efforts. A list of your spouse's RRSPs, stocks, investments, bonds, GICs, cars, motorcycles, boats, ATVs, insurance policies, properties, and bank accounts may prove to be extremely useful.

One less obvious tip is to keep a record of the names of the financial institutions that are sending your spouse mail. You don't even need to open the envelope, just record the name and address. If your family has a safety deposit box, you should go to it and make a list of the contents. Make a list of the more valuable items in the family home.

Next, you should make your best efforts to find out what property you owned and what debts you were responsible for when you and your spouse began to live together or got married, whichever was earlier. The online statements most banks provide don't go back more than two or three years, so you may have to dig into your paper files or think about ordering old statements from your banks and other financial institutions.

While you are preparing this tally, do not ever open any mail or other correspondence that belongs to your spouse only unless you have their permission to do so. Recording the addresses and information on the outside of any envelope you receive is fine, as anybody can see that. But intruding on your spouse's privacy is not a good idea, even if you are thinking of separating.

New debts

Once you've decided that you're going to separate, stop involving yourself in shared debts. Don't sign any new credit card or loan applications, and especially don't sign any blank documents!

New property

Keep track of the money and property coming into the household. Make sure you know who bought it, why it was bought and with what money it was bought! If you have recently or are about to receive a personal gift, like an inheritance, keep it separate from the family finances.

Personal matters

Open a new bank account, in your own name, at a new bank, preferably a different one than your family uses. It's also a good idea for you to arrange for your personal mail to be sent elsewhere, like to a friend or a post-office box. You can file a notice of change of address with the post office and they will automatically redirect your mail for you. Finally, no matter how stressful your home situation is, don't quit work. You will, in all likelihood, need the income in the near future.

Leaving home

One word: don't ― at least not just yet. Your situation may be difficult, perhaps even intolerable, but don't leave the family home until you've seen a lawyer, especially if you have children. You might find that living on your own is unmanageable; once you've left the family home it can be very difficult to get back in. Remember that you can be separated from your spouse and still live in the same home.

See a lawyer

Even before you've separated, it's usually a good idea to talk to a lawyer to get an idea of what your rights and duties are. Many lawyers will offer an initial interview at a flat or a lower rate. Use this opportunity to get the lawyer's opinion of your situation and an idea of what your options are.

Saving money for a lawyer

If you're worried about your spouse noticing from your credit card or bank statements that you've seen a lawyer, there's an easy way to save up enough for a small retainer fee or the cost of an initial interview with a lawyer. Each time you take out money to buy groceries or clothing, keep a small amount aside, in cash, and save it in a place your spouse won't easily find. If a store lets you take extra cash when you pay with your debit card, take out as much as you can each time you go to that store. Safeway and most provincial liquor stores will let you take extra cash out when you buy things.

It may take a while to save up enough money this way, but at least your spouse is less likely to find out.

For more information

You can find out more about separation in the chapter Separation & Divorce within the section Separation.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Vanessa Van Sickle, June 26, 2017.

Creativecommonssmall.png JP Boyd on Family Law © John-Paul Boyd and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.

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