An American woman was charged this week after tasering her husband repeatedly when he told her he wanted a divorce. "Shock and distress" fail to adequately capture her response to the announcement. This is a brief and basic guide about what to do in those first terrible moments, days and weeks, for those taken by surprise by their spouse's pronouncement.
Being human, it will be very difficult to execute this plan to perfectlion, so try to focus on doing what you manage.
- Remember you have control over many aspects of the separation – just not the other person.
Many people find it hard to accept that separation can be a unilateral decision and react with overwhelming grief and rage. This is entirely normal but do not reach for the taser.
Withdraw from the situation instead and say that you will discuss the matter further when you feel more collected and have had time to think.
Those seeking to leave a marriage or relationship can be very keen to extract themselves and move on quickly to settlement and their new life after they have made their announcement; having been planning well in advance.
Keep to your own time-frame, not the initiator's. Unless there are considerations of safety or urgency (for example:, pressing debts or concerns about children), there is no need to do anything immediately.
If you have children, it is your paramount duty to shield them from the adult conflict.
- When you are up to it, calmly discuss practical things such as the children's living arrangements, where will you all live during the first phase of separation, who will take the pets and how the bills will be paid.
If you can strike a temporary deal that is obviously workable, terrific. However, if you have any reservations, try not to commit to anything until you take advice. Being careful to only withdraw from accounts to which you properly have access, set aside some funds for yourself.
- Take advice.
In a legal context, most people hope for an amicable settlement and knowing what is expected of you and what a reasonable outcome would be in family law terms, is the first step towards that end.
Personally, see your GP and get a recommendation for a counsellor if you think that would help you. See your accountant and financial planner if you have them.
Talk to your family and friends for support but do bear in mind that not everyone who loves you is capable of giving you balanced and helpful advice. Lots of couples separate and reconcile more than once, which is helpful to recall when confiding all the secrets of your marriage when just asked for a divorce.
- If possible, try to obtain copies of all the financial records you both hold and either with you or retain the objects that are most precious to you.
It is never conducive to settlement to completely clean the house out or refuse to allow the departing person to take any furniture or contents with them, but it is very frustrating for people to have to engage lawyers to write letters about retrieving china, glassware and family heirlooms.
- Remind yourself that things will get better and that you are not defined by the other person's decision to leave you. Separation is the start of a sad and arduous process, even when sensibly handled but, given time and effort, people recover.
Cooper Grace Ward is a leading Australian law firm based in Brisbane.
This publication is for information only and is not legal advice. You should obtain advice that is specific to your circumstances and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If there are any issues you would like us to advise you on arising from this publication, please contact Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers.