Happy contrarian Valentine’s Month! Here is a little divorce trivia to get things started.
In the UK, the first working day of January is dubbed ‘Divorce Day’. Inquiries and filings significantly increase immediately following the rollicking winter holidays giving family lawyers and relationship mediators a salary bump. Closer to home, a recent US study found that women are more likely than men to set things in motion initiating almost 70% of divorces. Food for thought.
Regardless of the reasons for separating, divorce is a real wealth killer. We consulted family law experts* to find out how you can protect yourself financially during a break up.
*Hayley Cairns, Lawyer; Rosanna Breitman, Family mediator; Shanna Rosen, Chartered Accountant.
How to protect your financial interests
Hayley Cairns, who practices family law in Toronto, stresses the importance of seeking legal advice as early as possible. This way, you’ll have a good understanding of your rights, as well as the steps to initiating a separation or divorce.
Marriage grants certain built-in protections regarding division of assets, spousal and child support. For example, the matrimonial home, (and there can be more than one), is considered to be held jointly. Each party is entitled to an equal share in the growth of your joint net worth from the date of marriage to the date of separation. The primary breadwinner will likely need to pay spousal support and child support, if applicable. The amount will be determined by length of cohabitation, ages at separation and income. If you are in a common-law relationship, you need to understand your legal rights within your province.
It’s important to have a good understanding of you and your spouse’s finances before initiating any discussions. “One thing everyone needs to understand is that enough money to live a nice lifestyle in one household is often not enough to maintain the same lifestyle in two households,” says Cairns. “And everyone’s lifestyle is going to change.”
How to Avoid ‘The War of the Roses’
“Mediation is more humane. You get two people talking. The goal is to get the best outcome for the family by preserving overall family wealth and not messing up the kids,” says Rosanna Breitman, a family mediator. “It can be difficult if one party is not ready for the process or is too emotional.” For mediation to be effective, both parties need to be committed to a fair and collaborative process with full financial disclosure.
With divorce and separation comes intense sadness, anger, and pain. Breitman advises if you are planning to initiate a separation, think about doing it as kindly as possible. As much as possible, try to time the beginning of the process so you are both are able to deal with it properly.
If you are unsure whether a traditional divorce or mediation is best course for you, Breitman recommends researching which process is going to protect you the most.
Paper Chase: How to get Started
Shanna Rosen, a chartered accountant, recommends that you gather all your information and documentation before initiating discussions around separation.
Here are your first steps:
- Know your assets and their worth. Assets may include: house(s), RRSP(s), pensions, RESP(s), TFSA(s), investment accounts, pensions, annuities, insurance, family business, business partnerships, art, jewelry, collectibles.
- Know your liabilities which may include: mortgage, lines of credit, an outstanding HELOC, car loans, credit card balances, tuition obligations.
- Estimate your monthly and annual expenses, e.g. mortgage, taxes, utilities, cars, credit cards, school fees, camp fees, extra-curricular activities.
- Locate and obtain copies of insurance policies (annuities, life, disability) and get a copy of your most recent will.
- Get a copy of your spouse’s most recent tax return.
Traditional Divorce: $5,000 at the low end and upwards of $500,000 if you go to trial. Costs are per party.
Mediation: $4,000 at the low end and upwards of $20,000 in high conflict situations. Costs are shared by both parties.