First Steps

Before calling a lawyer, seek marriage counseling with a local religious leader, social service agency or professional trained in resolving marital problems. Don’t assume that the problem necessarily means your marriage is “over” before attempting to work things out. Consider if you or your partner have an emotional or medical disability. Sometimes hurdles beyond the control of a spouse interfere in a relationship and medication or other therapy can solve the problem, so call your doctor. It is not unusual for one or both of you to have a substance abuse or addiction problem that has been left unattended. Once dealt with, marriages are often reborn.

If you are beyond Step One, develop a network of friends and family so that you are not alone when deciding to “go it alone.” No one should attempt to make these decisions in isolation, particularly if they have children.

Before approaching a lawyer assemble all of your financial documentation: if available, your past three years tax returns and Notices of Assessment; receipts for a budget that your lawyer will likely wish to plot out with you; a copy of your Will, if any; any Insurance Policies; your Passport; to the extent possible, your credit card statements for the past three years and your bank statements for the past three years. If you have a business: your financial statements for the past three years.

If it’s an emergency and violence is an issue, forget lawyers for now. Just call the police for protection. If you have no safe place to hide from your partner then look in the Yellow Pages or the Internet for a Women’s Shelter in your local area.

Do’s and Don’ts. Do not resort to name calling, especially in front of the children. If there are children in the house do not move out of the matrimonial home unilaterally with or without the children before speaking to a lawyer, no matter how bad the situation, absent violence. If there is a joint account with either spouse being able to remove funds from the account and there is a serious issue of trust, consider removing half the funds from the account immediately, subject to household bills being paid. If you share a joint credit line with either spouse being able to drive-up the line further, then arrange that the institution provide no further credit under that line, especially if it is secured by a mortgage against your home. Make sure that that someone is still paying the fire, theft and life insurance pending the outcome of your dispute.

If your are a dependent spouse, then before announcing that you want to separate, ensure that you have a fund of money or access to your own money or some source of revenue. Do not simply rely on your “rights of support” from your partner, because it takes time and effort to turn those rights into dollars and cents. In the meantime, you will have to fund lawyers with money to realize those rights and to maintain your lifestyle. Ultimately, you may recover much of your legal rights and be reimbursed retroactively for having to support yourself for the first few months of being separated. But initially, be prepared to have friends, family or money reserved to support yourself and your lawyer. Some women cash in their RRSPs or borrow from relatives.