1.1 The Big Picture


The Families Change website has information and resources designed to help children, teens and adults understand separation and divorce.

If you come across a legal word you’re unsure of check out the legal dictionary.

The process of separating or getting a divorce may seem overwhelming. It’s like you’re about to climb Mount Everest in a pair of flip flops. But don`t worry. Lots of couples break up and each spouse moves on with their life. You can too. This course will help you.

Separation and divorce are not easy. It will take some time to work all of the details out. Dealing with the emotional, financial and legal changes will take patience and strength. In fact, ending a long term relationship is one of the most stressful things in life.

This course is designed to equip you with the tools and information needed for you to make good decisions as you move forward with your separation or divorce. 


The Changes Ahead

For most people, going through a separation or divorce is new. It’s something that has not been done before. You may not know what to expect, what to do, or how you are going to get through it.

It’s important to understand the road ahead, before you begin the journey. Things are changing. You need to consider how these changes will impact you.

Some of the changes you may face are:

  • Living arrangements: You may need to move or sell the family home.
  • Finances:  You may switch from a two income household to a one income household. Managing your personal finances may be new to you.
  • Parenting: You will need to parent across two homes. How will you share the responsibilities of caring for your children?  
  • Lifestyle: It may take some time to adjust to the end of your relationship. The things you do and the people you see may change.


Key Issues

You are going to need to make a lot of decisions in the coming months. These decisions are important since they affect how you move past your separation or divorce. They will affect your future.

The key issues you might face include:

  • The Children – Who and how will they be cared for? How will parenting be shared? What child support will be paid? How will unexpected expenses be handled?
  • Spousal Support – You may be entitled to receive support. Or, you may be responsible for paying spousal support. What is the right amount? 
  • Property Division – How will you separate what you own and what you owe? What happens to the family home, the car and other assets? What about debt and credit cards?  

These are big decisions. The idea of reaching agreement about these things may seem impossible, but it can be done. Most couples manage to separate without ever going to trial. Through this course, you will learn about your legal rights and responsibilities, as well as how the courts make decisions in family law cases.

This course provides information and coaching to help you work things out with your former spouse. That is the theme of Part 1 of this course. If you both can’t work things out, this course provides detailed information about how you can use the justice system to help settle the conflict. This is examined in Part 2 of the course.


Establishing Expectations

If you go to a restaurant and order an ice cream, but they bring you a hamburger, you’re going to feel disappointed. Even if you really like hamburgers, it’s not what you were expecting. When your expectations don’t match reality, it is natural to feel unhappy. 

You didn’t start your relationship expecting it to end, and now it has. That is disappointing. And, it is going to take some time to work things out. It’s important for you to understand that separating is not a sprint – it’s more like a long distance run.

The separation or divorce process is a long journey. If you are expecting the process to be easy or quick, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. People are often surprised to find out how time consuming the process can be. These are important life decisions you are going to be dealing with, so expect them to take some time to settle. It is going to take a lot of patience, flexibility, and hard work to reach an agreement on all of the elements of separation.

Self-Rep's Tip:

Talk to other people who have gone through a separation or divorce to get an idea of what the process is like.

It’s going to be emotional. Feeling angry, frustrated, sad, and resentful are normal. Try to be aware of your emotions and if you are feeling like you are drowning, take steps to get help. Do not be afraid of reaching out to those closest to you for support. You do not have to go through the process alone.

You can do it, but understand that it will take time and energy. You will need to prepare. You will need to think long term. And you will need to be emotionally strong.


Setting Goals

Mediator's Tip:

It is helpful to check in with yourself throughout the separation process. Are you on target? Do you need to adjust your goals?

While navigating through all the changes of separating, it is helpful to have clear goals about the terms of an agreement that would be in the best interests of the children, and be positive for both spouses.

There are a lot of emotions involved in working things out. Having clear goals can help you and your former spouse to stay on track.

Your ultimate goal should be to reach an agreement on the key issues involved in your separation. Chapter 2 deals with the Key Issues of separation and divorce.

Right now, it is worthwhile to consider some big picture goals. Think about:

  • How you want to act while you are working things out
  • How much conflict there is
  • Your future relationship
  • Your children
  • How long you are prepared to take to reach an agreement
  • How much money you’re prepared to spend
  • Your willingness to settle

In the next section, you will have the chance to complete a Goal Setting Worksheet. Because it is so easy to get lost in conflict and the emotions of separation, it is worthwhile to take the time to set some goals. Setting goals at the start will help you approach your separation with more clarity and purpose. Remember to stay open minded and assess whether your goals are realistic.

Take a moment to fill in the Goal Setting Worksheet to help you focus on your goals.