Timeline of a Separation Agreement

lorisa stein timelineThe timeline of a separation agreement can vary depending on several factors. It is important to understand this going into the development of the separation agreement and remain patient as you work with your family law lawyer. The goal of this blog post is to give separation agreement clients a glimpse into what to expect from start to finish.

Initial Steps

Reflect on whether you are emotionally ready to receive new information, answer questions about many aspects of the relationship, complex financial issues, and the children’s needs?  If you are not feeling comfortable consider connecting with your support network, a family counselor, or your family doctor. A calm mind allows for clear decision making.

Before you can develop a parenting plan, calculate financial support amounts or property division, your lawyer briefs on your legal rights and obligations. This foundational knowledge helps you understand the scope of options available to you. There is no benefit to making a long list of demands when those requests are not enforceable or have no basis in law.

While appreciating the broad scope of legal rights, you will be developing a complete picture of your financial circumstances as at the date of marriage and date of separation, which is a mandatory preliminary step. Your lawyer will assist you in completing a sworn statement and organizing all supporting documents to demonstrate your net worth at each date.  This data will be fundamental to negotiating financial support and property division.

An untimely new home purchase

The Matrimonial Home has explicit legislated provisions echoing the sanctity of marriage in Canada. For many families, their highest-valued asset is their home. When one spouse unilaterally decides to purchase a new home before the terms of the separation agreement have been finalized, this action may precipitate a financial family crisis, particularly when there is a short-term closing. This action causes a ripple effect on cash flow: funds that are needed to cover childcare expenses and basic living expenses compete with one spouse’s urgent demand for their share of the matrimonial home equity. Destabilizing economic pressures impact the emotional well-being of the primary caregiver of the children. The timeline to negotiate a balanced, reasonable agreement has been significantly shortened.

A code of conduct is agreed upon to restore respect and communication flow during negotiations. The equalization payment and spousal support are advanced from the vacating spouse to restore economic stability. Matters that can be set aside for the short interim to allow for urgent matters to deal with as agreed to by the parties. In disparate circumstances, immediate court intervention may be necessary.

Unreasonable child expenses

Shared child expenses are, by their nature, an agreed-upon protocol of full disclosure to the other parent of the cost, necessity, and benefit to the child, among other criteria, before the expense is incurred.  A breach of this protocol in any manner can alienate a child against the hesitant parent and create a distrustful environment, delaying separation agreement negotiations.  Representative (“Rep”) sports commitment or an extravagant oversees graduation trip can cripple a family’s budget and interfere with the parenting arrangement.  Diversion from the negotiations will be needed to deal with several new issues:

  1. handling the child’s distress with the involvement of a family specialist or family counselor;
  2. understanding the underlying beliefs and assumptions which led to the unilateral action is necessary to step to settle and realign the family dynamic;
  3. relieving the uninformed parent of any financial responsibility through reimbursement or indemnification;
  4. a mutual recommitment to abiding by the terms of the separation agreement; and
  5. any requisite edits to the terms sheet for separation agreement should be handled at that time.

Failure or refusal to provide complete financial disclosure

A parent involved in the family business will receive competing advice on the extent of financial disclosure to a spouse during separation negotiations to protect corporate interests.  Advice from the internal accountant, tax specialist, and advisors on the expansion project into new markets may assess such disclosure as harmful to business interests.

Parties will turn their attention to negotiate a balance between sufficient disclosure and securing written non-disclosure agreements and limited access to the financial health of the company. Document retention, restricted use, and destruction will be part of the discussion.  Involving information specialists to offer professional advice will extend the duration of the negotiations which building trust and relationship capital.

Unilateral events hampering cash flow, unexpected future capital outlays, and handling competing interests can delay or frustrate separation agreement negotiations. Focusing on the underlying intentions and assumptions involving professional advisors may slow the pace of negotiations and perhaps add a layer of unanticipated expense. The reparation of breached trust, the understanding of and acknowledging the changing family dynamics under stress – domestic and associate family businesses –  will benefit the family for the long term.

For assistance or legal advice regarding the drafting of a separation agreement, contact Lorisa Stein today.