How To Prepare for a Divorce in Alberta

What Should I Do Before Separating From My Spouse?

Just as every family is different, so too is every divorce.  The types of preparations that you should make before discussing divorce with your spouse will largely depend on the type of relationship that you have with your spouse.

That said, there are some general best practices that can help to keep you safe and organized in the early stages of your separation and divorce:

1. Talk to a Lawyer – Many people turn to family and friends who have gone through a divorce for legal advice. This is a bad idea. Only a lawyer is qualified to give you legal advice.  Lawyers understand that law and can tell you how it will likely apply to your specific separation.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, here are some alternatives:

  • Legal Aid Alberta may be able to help you with your divorce if you have limited means.
  • The Edmonton Community Legal Centre may be able to help you speak with a lawyer about your divorce matter for free. In fact, most of Morrison LLP’s divorce lawyers volunteer with the ECLC to do just that.
  • The Law Society’s Lawyer Referral Service lets you speak with a lawyer for free for up to 30 minutes. The lawyers at Morrison LLP are a part of this service, so call us at 587-758-1099 to speak with a divorce lawyer for up to 30 minutes for free.
  • If you and your spouse are on good terms, and would like to try divorce mediation, then you can search for mediators who are registered with the Alberta Family Mediation Society.  As Morrison LLP’s lawyers are Practicing Mediators with the AFMS, you can also call us to schedule a divorce mediation.

2. Prepare Yourself Financially –

Divorce is often expensive.  This is because spouses typically share expenses during the marriages, such as housing and utility costs.  After separation, each spouse will be responsible for their own living expenses.  This raises household expenses—especially if each parent needs a residence large enough to accommodate the children.  On top of this, each spouse will be responsible for their legal fees.

Before separating, you should ensure that you have access to money—ideally you will have set aside savings or investments, you will have monthly income, and access to a credit facility (such as a credit card or a line of credit).  If you do not have money, then you should reach out to friends and family to see if they will be able to help you get back on your feet.  This will put you in the best position possible to deal with the potential consequences of a separation.

You should also make sure that you have separate bank and credit card accounts—not joint accounts—and make sure that your spouse does not have the account PIN or online login information.

In addition to securing access to money, you should think about how you will remain financially independent after separation.  How much are you likely to earn?  How much will it cost to live independently?

3. Arrange for Emergency Housing – No one can guarantee how their spouse will deal with the trauma of a separation.  Accordingly, it makes sense to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

You should have a safe exit strategy in case you need to leave the home: know where you will stay and how long you can stay there.  Do you have any family or friends with whom you (and your children) can stay?  Can you afford interim accommodations at a hotel or Air BNB?  You need to know where you will go if you cannot stay in your home.

It is also important to make sure that you have ready access to clothing, personal hygiene products, and any important personal items (such as your phone or keys) in case it is no longer safe for you to remain in the home.

4. Change Your Passwords – Spouses often share access to their social media accounts or service providers. It is usually a good idea to change your passwords so that an angry-ex cannot share your private information on Facebook, delete your photographs, or—God forbid—cancel your Netflix (or your heat and water).  You also do not want your spouse draining your online bank accounts or selling your cryptocurrency.

Generally, you should limit your use on social media.  You do not need to help your spouse “dig up dirt” on you by going through your old posts.

5. Gather Important Documents – It can be difficult to obtain copies of documents after you separate—especially if your spouse was in control of the finances, or you stored your documents in your house.

We recommend making sure that you obtain physical copies of any important records before you separate—such as your Marriage Certificate, Certificate of Title for your house, or your tax returns.  You should also find a way to access these digitally after your separation.  These will help you communicate your case to your lawyer, and may be required to prove your case in court.

6. Talk to Your Spouse – If you are on speaking terms: speak! Divorces work best when spouses can cooperate to work out their issues. You will save time, money, and emotional energy this way.  At the very least, it is a good idea to talk to your spouse or family members about your post-separation plans.

If you have children, it is important that you consider what their living arrangements will look like before you separate.  The Court will only consider their best interests when making a decision, so it is better if you know what those are before you separate.

Depending upon the children’s age, and if there are any risks to their physical wellbeing during the separation, it may be appropriate to discuss the separation with the children ahead of time.  Unless there is a risk of physical harm, your spouse should be included in this conversation.  Even though you are divorcing, your relationship to the children should not change.

7. Revise your Will – No one plans to die during their divorce, but life (and death) happens. It is good practice to revise your will so that your Estate is disposed of how you would like. Without a will, your ex-spouse could inadvertently wind-up with all of your property.

In addition to making a new will, you should make sure to update your beneficiaries for any RRSP, pension, or insurance policies, because the administrator of the same may not follow the terms of your will, depending upon where they are headquartered.

Call a lawyer at Morrison LLP at 587-758-1099 to discuss any questions you may have regarding your separation and divorce.

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