The top 10 ways to get over the Christmas disaster
1. Don’t do anything stupid.
No matter how lonely you might feel at this moment, you are loved- by family and friends. Men in particular are at risk. Committing self-harm or suicide will not just impact on you, but those who love you: your parents, children, siblings, cousins, workmates, friends and neighbours. None of them want you to be hurt or die far too early. If you are worried about what you might do, call a loved one or friend. If that doesn’t work, or you don’t have anyone to call, call Lifeline on 131114. This is a free 24/7 number. Or call Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.
2. Stay safe
All of us have a right to be safe. Just because you have split up doesn’t mean that you should now be unsafe. If you were the subject of domestic violence in your relationship, chances are that the risks to you are higher now. Call a domestic violence service such as in Queensland, DV Connect’s womensline 1800 811 811 or mensline 1800 600 636. These are free 24/7 numbers with experienced counsellors. If necessary, obtain a protection order. These can be obtained quickly, and should not be considered in isolation, but as part of a package when assessing your risk, that you are safe. It might sound obvious- but get legal advice. If you can’t afford it, there is free legal advice through community legal services or legal aid. The point is that legal advice is available.
3. Make sure your kids are safe
Your kids also have a right to be protected from abuse, family violence and neglect, and exposure to those. You have a responsibility to ensure that they are safe, but the law also recognises that usually the children have a right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. It is often a balancing act between making sure that the kids are safe and that they have a relationship with the other parent. Until orders are made by a court under the Family Law Act, each parent has the right to make decisions about the children- and therefore to decide if the children stay with them and not the other parent. Often it’s a good idea to get legal advice quickly if you have an ugly situation develop concerning your children.
4. Have somewhere to stay
No one need be homeless. If things are bad at home, ask your ex to move out. If that’s not safe to do so, you too can move out. If you are unsafe then domestic violence hotline workers can help get you crisis accommodation so that you and your children are safe. However, there are limits to this availability. If you don’t have money, then your former partner might be obliged to pay you spousal maintenance to get you through- this is even if you weren’t married but were living in a de facto (even a same sex) relationship.
5. Get advice about money
While it’s nowhere near as important as making sure that you’re kids are OK, in the old words: “He who pays the piper plays the tune.” It is important that you get legal advice about your entitlements to property settlement and spousal maintenance. When your ex told you that you were entitled to nothing, chances are that they were wrong. I have lost count of the number of clients who have told me that, or said that their ex had said that they had got legal advice – and therefore my clients were entitled to nothing. Again, your ex may not be telling the truth. Most people who split up want to resolve matters, and get what is fair, and not rip off their ex. A good divorce lawyer, such as an accredited family law specialist, will be able to give you that advice. You may be entitled to Centrelink benefits and can see a financial counsellor, such as through Lifeline.
6. Consider mediation
I love mediation. It’s not an easy process, and it has its limitations- and it is not an end in itself. Many years ago hardly anyone used it. Now its use is so widespread, many clients raise with me on the first consultation that they should undertake mediation. WHOA! HOLD YOUR HORSES! Generally mediation does not work when there is a power imbalance, such as child abuse or domestic violence cases. Who the mediator is can make all the difference. Often there is little point going to mediation until the ground work has been done. For example in property settlement cases- after the property has been identified, and if necessary disclosure and valuations have been obtained. But the key point I want to make is this: while mediation is very useful, it’s not easy and it is a form of one thing- negotiation. Negotiation can happen by all kinds of ways- directly between you and your ex, through lawyers, a roundtable meeting with lawyers and you and your ex present, or even negotiations that often happen between lawyers outside a courtroom. The point is that it is just one form of negotiation, and there may be others that work better for you. For example, if you and your ex are getting along well enough that you can talk to each other and sort out an amicable arrangement for the kids so that everyone is happy, why do you need to go to mediation?
7. Have a support network
There are few things more important than having a support network- your very own cheer squad who think you’re the greatest. These people, whether friends or family, will listen to you at all hours of day and night. Sometimes, family will be more supportive and less critical than family. Whoever it is, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of having a support network- the people who are on your team. If you don’t have one, get one. This is much easier than you may think. if you are into sport or hobbies, there will almost certainly be a group out there, and even more online, especially through Facebook. If you are faith based, join a Church or faith community.
8. Go and see a counsellor
No matter how well you think your support network is, going to see someone who is independent, trained in the social sciences and can ask you the hard questions that your support network might avoid doing, is essential, Your counsellor can get you to reflect and focus, especially on the needs of your children. Find someone you feel comfortable talking with. Your friends and family will especially appreciate it- because not only will you be more focussed, but you will have someone else to talk to- not just them!
9. Have a positive attitude
It might sound counter-intuitive. Your life has turned to custard, and what seemed sunny now seems gloomy. Having a positive attitude will get your through the hard part quicker than someone who does not have it. This is not having a fantasy about what might be- but being realistic, knowing the lay of the land, but every day waking up and appreciating beauty that surrounds you, whether that beauty is from smells, such as freshly baked bread, or sounds, such as the sounds of your child, or wonderful music, or sights- such as admiring roses or watching clouds scud bye. When you’re in a hole, it is easy to forget these little things. Often these little things can make life joyous- and when you have separated from your ex can make your life a lot easily to cope with. Being able to laugh is wonderful. Readers Digest used to say that laughter is the best medicine. How true that is!
Most of us don’t exercise regularly. Exercise helps after you have separated. Provided you have a pair of shoes, it’s free! Getting that heart pumping and/or a weights regime means that you are feeling stronger, energised, with oxygen in your system and endorphins being released. A side benefit about focussing on exercise is that you will eat less junk food and drink less alcohol- both great benefits in themselves. The best part of exercise for those who have split up is that your worries of the day are blanked out.