If there is one life event we don’t pre-plan for, it’s divorce. The instructions got lost along-side the “how to parent” manual, leaving us flailing blindly through one of the most significant times of our lives.
With my separation done and dusted many moons ago and my experience working full time with single mums for the last five years, I have some advice for you. In fact, I have heaps!
In this article, I’ve pinpointed the top six things I wish I’d done differently during this difficult period, in the hope of helping others to gain insight and learn from my mistakes.
6 Things I wish I’d done differently when I divorced
I WISH I TOOK IT SLOWER
Like many single mums, when my marriage finally ran its course, I couldn’t wait to get out. I had been living under a black cloud for years and was desperate to see the sunshine.
However, once you actually split up, whether still living together or separately … take a breather. Getting to this point will have left you tired and emotionally drained, which is not a good headspace to start property settlements and parenting plans.
We rushed our financial settlement through so we could “draw a line under it”. In doing this we weren’t fully aware of the different options available to us for splitting assets and financial considerations moving forward.
Here are the timelines you need to be aware of, as stated on FamilyCourt.gov.au:
If you were married, applications for property adjustment must be made within 12 months of your divorce becoming final.
If you were in a de facto relationship, your applications for property adjustment must be made within 2 years of the breakdown of your de facto relationship.
So, if you are married, do your property settlement first in your own time, then divorce later. Even if you are de facto, you have a whole two years in which to finalise your financials.
I am not saying you should wait that long, but don’t rush it. Allow yourself time to clear your head so you can work through the process with clarity and composure.
I WISH I GOT BETTER EDUCATED
Another reason to take your time is so that you can properly educate yourself before making any big, significant moves or decisions.
I did not do this.
Our separation was reasonably amicable, and we were able to find middle ground because we had the same views as to how we wanted to move forward, separately. While this is a good thing, it also meant we didn’t reach out for support and guidance, and ultimately weren’t properly informed about the options available to us.
I will admit that the words “consent orders” never even came up in conversation. We each picked a lawyer who was recommended to us by mates and arranged a Financially Binding Agreement (FBA). Although that has worked for us, we could have hit a number of issues had things turned sour later. I shudder at the thought of how little we knew.
My advice to you is to get yourself educated through a genuine source. This could be the afore-mentioned FamilyCourt.gov.au website, a separation accountant, a family lawyer or a mediator.
For further support you can chat for free to either our Expert Advisors on this website:
Family law advice: New Way Lawyers
Financial separation advice: Divide – Simple Financial Separation
I WISH I UNDERSTOOD THE IMPLICATIONS OF CHILD SUPPORT
If you are yet to get involved with Child Support, take a moment to be grateful for your life without it.
Yes, Child Support holds an important place in our society and helps to balance the cost of raising children for many separated couples. However, my advice to you is: Before you “sign up”, first stop and think about the implications.
Without sharing too much of my personal story, I will tell you that my ex and I have been registered to for child support for 9 years. In that time, it has caused me a world of worry and I have never given or received a cent.
It is not compulsory to register for child support when you separate. It is a myth that comes alongside the one about having to have your day in court. It is not for every separated couple and may cause you more hinderance than help.
Before registering for child support ask yourself these questions:
- What actually is child support?
- How would it work for us as a separated family?
- What could happen as and when our circumstances change in the future?
- Is dealing with child support going to put pressure on us as co-parents?
For more thoughts around this see: 8 Reasons why receiving child support might not be for me.
Things I wish I’d done differently when I divorced (cont.)
I WISH I WAS HONEST WITH OUR KIDS
I cringe when I look back on the moment when we told our girls we were breaking up. It is not a moment I am proud of.
We explained that we were separating, that it wasn’t their fault and that we both still loved them very much. So, we got some of it right anyway. But, we also gave them the impression it was kinda temporary and we might get back together.
Why did we do this? Because it was just too hard to be honest and we were desperate not to upset them.
Now in their teens, our eldest daughter has explained how confused she was at the time and how shocked she felt when we got divorced. I have apologised for the mess we made of telling them and that I regret not having the guts to give them the whole truth.
All I would say here is to be a better person than me. Be honest. They will thank you for it in the long run.
For more advice around telling your children you are separating (because clearly, I am not the person to do this) see: How do we tell our kids we are getting divorced?
I WISH I PUT MORE THOUGHT INTO THE FUTURE FOR OUR KIDS
As I say, we were amicable and completely uneducated around separation. Parenting plan? What’s that?
For the most part we managed without a parenting plan or consent orders but there have been a few issues where having some pre-agreed guidelines would have been a godsend. As much as I love to brag about our good-natured breakup, we hit horrid conflict further into our co-parenting relationship around issues such as schooling and orthodontic work.
My advice is that even if you are civil at the time of separation, make some form of parenting plan for your children’s future. Consider what may lay ahead for them in terms of schooling, college, moving home/area, medical issues and dentistry.
If you can make decisions now that you document and stick to in the future, you are in for a smoother ride.
There is a handy check list detailing what to include in a parenting plan in this free ebook: OMG I’m a single mum, now what?
I WISH I TOOK BETTER CARE OF MY MENTAL HEALTH
This may sound cliché and although this point is last on my list it is super important.
A family breakdown is incredibly stressful. Mine was relatively easy in comparison to most but I came out of it drained and suffering from clinical depression, anxiety and addiction.
More on coping with depression here: How I manage my depression as a single mother.
I was your typical single mum holding everything together, putting on a brave face and watching my kids every second to make sure they were coping. On top of this, I was struggling financially, looking for work and dealing with a sense of failure and heartbreak. I had little support as my family live on the other side of the world … but I fixed on a smile and kept going.
And I made it through, but at great risk to my health.
When your world feels as though it is falling apart, the last thing you feel like doing is heading to a yoga class and holding the downward dog position for three minutes. BUT it is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself during separation.
If you take care of your mental health, you will be much better placed to make sensible decisions based on clarity and reality. And most importantly, you will be a better mum at a time when your kid’s really need you.
Life doesn’t stop when you separate. It is the beginning of a new way of life. Make sure you are strong and healthy so you can make the very most of it.