Today’s the day most workers clock in for the new year.
As many head back to their desks, you can almost feel the collective groaning.
But it isn’t universal. Amongst those sharing office space this week, at least a few are feeling immensely relieved.
In houses around the suburbs there are parents feeling relaxed for the first time in weeks.
For couples waging silent war against each other, today is their first day off.
Amongst family lawyers, today – the first Monday of the new year back in the office – is known as Divorce Monday.
It’s no secret that alongside the joviality and festive spirit of December and New Year, there is considerable financial and emotional stress.
There are all the presents and feasting that wreak havoc on tight budgets and trigger familiar arguments, there’s all the crazy in-laws that you just can’t stand for one more minute, there’s more drinking. Everything is exaggerated and if things aren’t that great the sniping can reach breaking point.
Anyone who had decided to hang on for the kids until after Christmas has made it past that deadline.
All they have to do now is organise new uniforms, get the book lists sorted and find a divorce lawyer.
It’s not the sexiest new year’s resolution but for many it’s the clearest option.
A recent UK survey of 500 divorcing couples found that a quarter of them had made the decision earlier but held off until the new year to follow through on the breakup.
If you are one of those, this can be a liberating time, but it is important to remain as clear headed as possible. Hectic Christmas is done but any actions you take now can affect how your relationship breakdown unfolds, how it will effect your kids and how much money it will cost you.
Letting off misplaced grenades can make the stress of Christmas feel like a walk in the park.
Suddenly the decision to leave could seem like the easy part. The Family Court is at a crisis point with long lists, cases that take years to resolve and hideous legal bills to match.
You may have never been to court in your life, let alone had to call a lawyer. Even the thought of it can take the wind out of your sails. Nasty letters or emails to your ex – from a lawyer – can be interpreted as an act of war.
One way or another there are legal aspects of your relationship breakdown that a lawyer can help you resolve and perhaps the most important decision you can make is to get sensible and realistic advice about your rights and responsibilities under family law early on.
Lawyers usually work on a time-costing basis and for good advice will usually charge for your first consultation.
Be alert not alarmed.
Lots of lawyers love a fight – they look for the differences, the points of dispute and think of the arguments they can offer to get a better deal. Lawyers and the courts are at their essence adversarial.
But family law is different and not all family lawyers are the same. Look for someone who will work with you to come up with a solution, someone who talks about resolving your issues rather than winners and losers. Find someone prepared to listen to your whole story – sometimes the things most important to you are not legal issues but will have a big impact on your family.
Ask for a quote or a fixed price. It can be done.
And do whatever you can to stay out of court.
Even the Family Court doesn’t want you there and there are processes built into family law that require family mediation.
You can pre-empt that by talking to a mediator – just like lawyers there are lots of different types, but a solutions-focussed mediator will talk to you and your ex independently before sitting down with both of you to nut through the issues. It’s short and sharp and sometimes painful but its private, it’s a fixed price and it’s short and sharp. Effective mediation will resolve your issues in weeks rather the months and years you will face in court.
The people you talk to – both professional and personal – can have a big impact on how your matter unfolds and the consequences months down the track.
It is important to have some good listeners around, friends and family who will let you unload, but your family law matter is unique. What happened to your next-door neighbour or cousin isn’t necessarily what will happen to you. Even the most well-intentioned advice over the fence should be balanced with independent, realistic legal advice.
And just as with a go-for-the-jugular lawyers, Be wary of friends who take a position, who talk about rights and wrongs done, who agitate for confrontation and advise you to fight for everything. Rushing to your defence makes them a loyal friend but heeding their advice, could be encouraging you into a corner that has you fighting and scratching to get out. You are the one living through this and the more conflict you can avoid the smoother the transition will be for everyone.
This is going to be a big change and it’s going to have an impact on your extended family and friends.
Your children still have two parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. Plan how you are going to interact with all of them – including your ex. You can’t control how other people react but you can control what you do now. In almost every case, it’s better not to send THAT text message. You can think it, but don’t send it.
Try to think of your New Year’s resolution as not just splitting up, but doing it in a way that maintains your dignity, keeps your kids and you emotionally healthy and sets you up for a positive, conflict-free future. Arguing over five or 10 per cent now will quickly get gobbled up in fees the longer your principles take precedence over common sense.
People break up all the time. Lives don’t have to be destroyed, lawyer’s pockets don’t have to be lined with silver. And next year your resolutions can be all the usual stuff – diet, booze, exercise.