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My partner just asked for a divorce now what?

When your partner asks for a separation or divorce, the question can hit like a ton of bricks. Even if you saw it coming for months, or even years, the finality of the decision can turn your entire life upside down. If you had no warning signs at all, then the surprise of such an extreme change can be downright traumatic.

Most couples in this situation are experiencing it for the first time, and often have no idea of what the next steps look like. Emotions can quickly overtake reason, and emotionally-driven advice from friends and family can even do more harm than good. While those in your corner have your best interests at heart, you are ultimately the one who must navigate the process.

Thankfully you don’t need to go it alone, and you can have professional advisors offering guidance on what to do next. Our family lawyers regularly help clients in these situations, and they understand the road map through separation and divorce and what measures you can take to protect your interests in the process.

While the situation is complicated, and each case is unique, here are a few pointers if you find yourself at the start of this journey.

Separation vs. Divorce

Separation and divorce are sometimes used interchangeably, but the two are actually different, and one typically comes before the other. With limited exceptions, you must be separated from your partner for one full year before you can obtain a divorce judgment, which is where a court will legally end a marriage. 

Separation can be a legal status in that you can draft a separation agreement with your former partner – that you may then choose to file with the Court – which can include decisions made about child custody and access (now known as decision-making responsibility and parenting time), child support, spousal support, and division of property. If an agreement cannot be reached, separated couples can apply to the court to have the court set out what decision-making and parenting for the children, support, and division of property will look like.

Often, separating couples remain living in the same residence while going through the separation process. There are many possible reasons for the continued shared living arrangements. For instance, the separating partners may not be able to afford to move out before a settlement is reached, or separated partners may choose to continue to reside together while parenting children. In these situations, partners who are later looking to divorce will need to prove that they were living ‘separate and apart’ during this time, even if they were sharing the same roof. Some of the many factors that will be weighed in determining this separation date may include whether the separating parties:

  • Continued to have an intimate relationship;
  • Continued to discuss family issues and have similar expectations around daily activities;
  • Spent special occasions, holidays, and vacations together;
  • Had ongoing participation in family or joint activities;
  • Participated in daily routines as they did in the past, such as sharing meals and household chores together;
  • Supported each other with respect to extended family obligations, through difficult times and with each other’s personal issues

Parties cannot obtain an order for Divorce until one year after the separation. If a party has applied for a divorce based on a one-year separation, the parties can attempt a reconciliation for up to 90 days. If things don’t work out, you can continue your action for a divorce as if you had never spent that time together. On the other hand, if the 90 days are exceeded but the reconciliation is unsuccessful, then the one-year clock resets and begins to run again.

Lastly, it is important to note that the process can be different for common-law couples. The key differences are in relation to property rights including, but not limited to, the fact that common-law couples do not have the same right to equalization of their respective properties, or the same rights surrounding a ‘matrimonial home’ upon separation. Common-law couples do not need to seek a divorce. However, these couples often experience the same issues as married couples around the breakdown of their relationship, including parenting, support issues and division of property, and there are family law processes which can assist common law couples with their individual circumstances. 

Drafting a Separation Agreement

Making the decision to separate is never easy, and understandably emotions can run heavy, especially if there are hurt feelings at play. When emotions are driving the decision-making process, separated spouses may want to inflict as much damage as possible – especially if they feel that they are the ones who have been wronged.

While these feelings are perfectly understandable, unfortunately they can serve to make the separation and divorce process longer and more expensive. When two people decide to fight over the smallest details, it means that lawyers need to be involved at every stage of the process. While lawyers are a crucial (and often necessary) step, remember that the approach you take to the entire process can ultimately determine the outcome. 

Once you’ve retained a lawyer (and your ex likely has as well), you can begin preparing a separation agreement. The separation agreement will become the legally binding document that outlines issues involving your children, support payments, and how you are going to divide your property. It may also include language about how disputes will be settled in the future over smaller matters, so that both parties don’t have to involve their lawyers every time there’s a small disagreement. 

Next Steps 

The journey through separation and divorce may seem daunting, but there are key points to remember as you move through the process. For example, as angry as you may be with your former partner, avoid fighting in front of your children at all costs. Maintaining a child-focused approach to your separation is a crucial aspect to how a child can adjust to the changes. Moreover, it can not only benefit your case moving forward, but it can make it easier to co-parent once the legal matters have been resolved. 

The next step is working with a family lawyer to discuss the logistics of your particular case. An experienced family lawyer can offer you advice on key decisions, such as the potential impact of leaving your matrimonial home, or how to respond when your former partner becomes difficult or even threatening. 

While the process is difficult, remember that you do have rights and obligations in a separation, and that even though it feels like your world has been turned upside down, the law may still be on your side. Our experienced family lawyers helped with separations and divorces for couples throughout the Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo region, and we’re here to help you, too. Contact our office today to set up a consultation.