Posts Categorized: Family Law

The House

The HOUSE: Should I stay, or should I go?

Sounds simple enough.

The matrimonial home is the nucleus of negotiations when a marriage crumbles. It is also the heart of the emotional, physical and financial spaces we occupy.

For most of us, the matrimonial home is the biggest asset we own. Yet, it is the place we call home…where you’ve pencil-marked 3’10” on your daughter’s door post.

So what’s the final answer? Should you stay, or should you go?
Not so simple – is it?

The matrimonial home occupies a sacrosanct place in the legislation that governs your entitlements when separating. Part II of the Family Law Act defines the matrimonial home as:

Every property in which a person has an interest and that is or, if the spouses have separated, was at the time of separation ordinarily occupied by the person and his or her spouse as their family residence is their matrimonial home. R.S.O. 1990, c. F.3, s. 18 (1).

To break it down – an interest means ownership; specifically, ownership of the place occupied until separation as a spouse. A portion of that home is an entitlement. But you don’t need a lawyer to explain that part. Most people know that getting half of the house is what you are entitled to.

So, what do you do with the house that you’ve invested much of you hard earned income into?

1. You call realtors to ask what they think you can get for the house – if you decide to leave.
2. You look up housing market trends to see when the best listing date might be.
3. You ask the bank whether they will let you assume the existing mortgage – if you decide to stay.
4. You look around to find a townhouse or a condo nearby.
5. You arm yourself with options.

But what do these options mean for you?

I always thought of my matrimonial house as a “work in progress” – my life’s project. When my ex-husband gave me a sparkling diamond bracelet for a past anniversary, I asked to return it so we could save up for a kitchen renovation. I poured through pages of House and Home and visualized a fancy island where all the kids, and their future boyfriends and girlfriends, would gather before sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner.

When I was searching for answers, I walked around the halls and glimpsed into the past days of love and anguish lived in our home. I sat at the kitchen table and looked out into the backyard where the jungle gym still stood from my little girl’s 7th birthday party (when she was just 3’10”)…

I asked myself: How do I leave this place?

Only one thing was sure: leaving that place, and that very moment in my life, required fortitude. I am not sure how anyone gathers fortitude, but I do know what worked for me. For me, it was to plan and seek support. Planning a step-by-step process with someone there to remind me of my priorities and entitlements was what I needed.

I am a collaborative family lawyer who has explored (and survived)
the perplexing question – ‘should I stay or should I go’.

I can support you and help you move through yours.

Unconscious uncoupling and cleaning up the mess

A friend of mine, Cheryl (not her real name), sent me this note:

Dear Jane,

I am feeling lonely in my relationship and am not sure what to do. My husband is not interested in doing anything with me. I am taking courses and connecting with friends and he is mostly at home on the computer or playing video games. I try to connect and share, and he listens but doesn’t connect around it.

Other than me feeling lonely in my marriage, I have nothing to complain about. We get along fine when we are doing chores around the house and eating meals and stuff like that. He is a nice guy and has a good job; he doesn’t drink or anything like that. Am I expecting too much?

I am interested in your advice, just in case I wake up one day and feel sick and tired of feeling so lonely all the time.

Cheryl’s message made me think of how many people do this “unconscious uncoupling” thing… without even thinking about it. It starts with leading separate lives, punctuated by a few shared moments. Then the confusion and the mess and an overwhelming decision of what to do next.

At least, that’s how it happened to me.

Years ago, all I remember was just trying to get through each day, especially when the kids were little. Those were the days when the kids needed so much: lunches packed, uniforms ironed, laundry two and three times a day, their baths, their strollers, their appointments…

…And the mess, all over the place, all the time. All that work before (sometimes during) and after my own work hours. Most weekends, I was all over the map. From music lessons, birthday parties and soccer clinics, I had to buy a car with a GPS. On some lucky weekends, I had a husband (aka my weekend co-worker) to share the dishwashing, diapering and the driving.

Then one day I woke up and realized that the kids were teenagers. All of a sudden, the craziness came to an abrupt end. My husband started doing stuff on his own and so did I.

Pretty soon…BAM! We were living like Cheryl and her husband. Alone. Separate. Uncoupled, unconsciously.

As a family law lawyer, I know what usually happens next. But in my own story, I was blind sighted. Many others who come to me are also blind sighted when their husbands (as mine did) disclose one day: “I met someone” (or, “This is not working”, or “I am moving out”, or “I can’t do this anymore”). Of course, it could’ve been me saying all of this, but the mess and confusion that follow are the same.

What did I do?

Because I am a Collaborative Lawyer, and I really truly believe in doing what’s best for everyone (me, him, the kids – OMG the kids), my response to him was: “Let’s do this collaboratively.”

My only mistake at the time was to also say: “Let’s just do this without lawyers, ok?” After all, I am a Collaborative family law Lawyer. I know this stuff.

In hindsight though, I could have really used a Collaborative Lawyer who:

A) guided me through the mess and confusion with a caring voice;
B) focused me on my next steps; and
C) helped me clean up the emotional mess, by way of A) and B).

Call me! I will help you with all your ABC’s. I’ve been there. I can become your Collaborative family Lawyer that I wish I had.