10 Things You Need to Do Now
- Mark Your Calendar
It is important to confirm with your spouse in writing that you really have separated, and the date on which that officially occurred. The date of separation is an important detail in determining property division, spousal support and child support; and if not confirmed may be disputed in court (which will take time and cost money).
- Make Arrangements for Your Children
If you have children, you should seek the advice of a qualified professional on how to explain to your children that you and your spouse are separating. Many parents enroll their children in counselling or peer support groups, such as Rainbows. In addition to this, you need to create an interim parenting schedule for your children, and make arrangements for their financial support. Before you commit to a parenting schedule, you should be fully aware of the future financial implications of that arrangement.
- Protect Your Assets
It’s important that you protect any asset that your spouse could potentially sell after separation. You can register a certificate of pending litigation against a family home to prevent it from being sold, which is particularly important if the home is not in your name. You can also obtain an order from the court preventing your spouse from disposing of or transferring other assets (such as cashing out RRSPs, selling vehicles, or transferring company shares) without your consent.
- Notify Your Financial Institutions of Your Separation
You should contact your banks, credit card companies, and loan companies to advise of your separation; and request that all joint liability accounts, including credit cards, lines of credit and loans either be cancelled or frozen to prevent your spouse from maxing out these accounts.
- Start to Collect Your Documents
Once you start a divorce, litigation or mediation, you will be required to produce a number of financial documents to your lawyer and your spouse. You can speed up the process by starting to collect these right away. These documents include your marriage certificate (which you can order from Vital Statistics if you were married in Canada); your income tax returns and notices of assessment for the past three years; your property tax assessment for any family-owned property; and statements from your financial accounts, including bank accounts, RRSPs, TFSAs, and other investments.
- Take care of Yourself
It is essential that during the separation process that you take care of yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually. The separation process can be a challenging road, and it is important that you are able to make legal decisions with a rational mind, not an emotional reaction. Seeing a counsellor, signing up for a fitness class, and staying connected with your religious and cultural background can often be overlooked lifesavers.
- Notify the Canada Revenue Agency of your Separation
This is particularly important if you or your spouse are receiving monthly benefits (such as the Universal Child Care Benefit or Family Tax Credit). If you continue to receive the full benefit when the children are shared between separated spouses, you could be asked to return the overpayment. You will also need to advise your accountant when filing your taxes that you are now single (for tax purposes, not to date them).
- Update your Will, Power of Attorney, and Beneficiary Designations
Your will and power of attorney are not automatically revoked when you separate, nor are your RRSP, life insurance, or disability beneficiaries. It is important to review your estate plan and beneficiaries as soon as you separate, as obtaining a divorce can take years.
- Change your Passwords
Change the passwords to your email accounts, social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.), financial accounts, utility accounts, and any other online accounts right away. You should also change the PIN number on all your credit cards and bank cards.
- Get Legal Advice
This is a must. Each separation has its own unique set of facts, and it is important that you are well aware of your legal rights and responsibilities. By seeking legal advice you will ensure that you have personalized information pertaining to your specific situation, ensuring that all decisions you make relating to your separation are in the best interests of your children, yourself and your financial future.
Caution: This is not legal advice, and you should not rely on it as such. To ensure your interests are protected, formally seek advice from a lawyer.