First Steps After Separation

Where do you start after deciding to separate?

The decision to separate is significant and can be overwhelming.  It can seem like there are a million things to decide and to do, and this can be paralyzing.  Often clients ask us, "What can I do right now?"

Every situation is different.  The first step towards reaching an agreement or going to court may be different from person to person and family to family.  For example, a family with children will have different considerations than one without children.  However, there are some things that almost everyone needs to do.  If you are feeling overwhelmed and don't know where to start, start here.

Twelve Things To Do Now

Find your Will and Powers of Attorney.  If you don't have these documents, start thinking about what you would like to put in them.

Make a list of your current assets and debts, as well as their values/balances.

Make a list of the assets and debts you had on the date you got married, again with the values/balances, as far as you can remember.

Change your passwords on all solely owned accounts (e-mails, phone, bank accounts, etc.).  Do not change any joint passwords, even your Netflix account, without telling your former spouse.

Update the CRA about your marital status.  Your marital status can affect your benefits and credits.  Learn more here.

Prepare a budget for after you physically separate.  Start thinking about how you will support yourself when you are no longer living with your spouse.  The reduction in household income does not always mean a reduction in expenses.  How much will you spend on rent, groceries, utilities?

Open your own bank account and credit card account if you do not have any solely held accounts.  Once again, do not make any major changes to where your money goes if it has been going into a joint bank account.

Make copies or print from online all your bank statements, credit card statements, and other asset/debt statements from date of separation.

Get copies of income tax returns and Notices of Assessment from the last three tax years.  If you don't have copies handy, you can get them from the CRA.

Get a realtor to give you an opinion on your house value.  Regardless of whether you will be selling or one of you will be staying in the house, you will need to know how much it is worth.  The opinion you get now from a realtor will not necessarily be what is used in the final calculations, but it will give you a starting point.

Look at apartment and house listings if you will be moving.  Take a look at rental listings and speak to a real estate agent about getting listings.  This will give you an idea of what you need to budget for your new home, and get you started on finding it.

Talk to a lawyer. You can book a consultation with one of our lawyers if you're ready, or schedule a free telephone call. Your lawyer will provide you with advice about your situation and help you make decisions that best support your long-term goals.

And One Thing Not To Do

If you have joint accounts or credit cards, do not make any significant changes to these accounts without speaking to your spouse.  You should not empty joint accounts, close credit cards, or limit credit available without the other person being aware of your actions in advance.