Experts weigh in on what to keep and what to let go after the relationship has ended

Couples accumulate much more than years spent together. There are the children. The furniture. The cat.

All is fair in love and war, but does divvying up the assets and straightening out the custody always have to mean war?

Calgary professionals agree that it is possible to end a relationship without all the drama.

Registered family mediator Jane Warren says that planning matters when kids are involved.

1. “It is important to talk about the details in advance,” advises Warren. “Knowing upfront who gets the kids on holidays, birthdays, and long weekends can prevent tension that might come up in the future.”

2. “Understand that the best interests of the children and your best interest are not always the same thing,” she says.

3. “And always remember that awful couples can make wonderful co-parents.” Just because the two of you didn’t make it, doesn’t mean the kids don’t still have two incredible parents, she says.

Mediation might not always work. When tensions are very high during the dissolution of a union, there are plenty of legal options for help.Family Lawyer Debbie Johnson recommends getting independent legal advice befroe divvying up the assets to avoid rash decisions during a divorce.
Illustration by: Jordan Simpson.

Debbie Johnson, a lawyer with the firm Campbell O’Hara, emphasizes doing things by the book to help keep things civil.

4. Opening a child-support file with Alberta’s Maintenance Enforcement Plan, or MEP, can help take off some of the stress post-split, Johnson says. Parent-to-parent support payment arrangements can often become emotional.

With MEP, Johnson says, “at least you don’t have to have that fight.”

5. In terms of custody orders, Johnson says that this often-stressful issue should be done with the future in mind. “Maybe the custody schedule that works now will not work when the kids are in grade school.”

6. Johnson adds that parents should always stay diligent in keeping one rule of conduct: Do not talk negatively about the other parent to the children.

7. Getting a legal advisor for the division of assets can be helpful too. “Handwritten documents do not hold up in court,” Johnson says. A lot of people write something up and have a witness, but if the agreement was not done with independent legal advice, the agreement can be contested any time during the following two years.”

People can make rash decisions immediately after a split and divide things in a way they will regret down the road. Johnson advises that sometimes it’s just easier to do it with a legal advisor the first time around.

Family life educator Geri Marentette, has mediated a lot of break-ups over her career. She also has accumulated a lot of great tips for couples in the midst of a split.

8. When it comes to splitting up the assets, Marentette says, “Remember they’re just things. It’s just stuff.”

But when it comes to deciding who gets what, “parents need to be asking, ‘What do we need in both homes to support the children?’

9. If you are not yet feeling up to the task of going through the belongings just yet, Marentette says it is important to ask for some time.

“Any good counselor can help someone who is not ready for the relationship to end. If you need another week or two to just get grounded, you have the right to ask for that.”

10. She says there is one thing she asks every one of her clients: “How are you going to feel about this in a month? In five years? 10 years? Do you want to be proud of how you did it?”

“The couch isn’t going to matter in 10 years,” she says. “What the kids are going to remember is what the spirit in the household was like between the two adults.”

 mmolloy@cjournal.ca