This is the first thing you should do when your marriage ends

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

When my marriage ended a few years ago, I knew it was coming - it had been coming for a long time. But that didn't prepare me for the overwhelm I felt on the day it finally ended. What should I do? Where do I start? How will I cope?

That's a common feeling, according to family lawyer Jennifer Franklin. Franklin has helped hundreds of people navigate through their own divorces, as well as going through a divorce herself.

She says feeling a range of emotions and not knowing what to do is perfectly natural.

"When time is called on a marriage, no matter who has made that final decision, it can be emotional and overwhelming," she says. "That's why you need a solid support network around you."

Franklin says that when her marriage ended several years ago, a friend gave her some valuable advice.

"She said the first thing I needed to do was take the time to work out who my support circle was going to be, and then to tell them all what has happened," she says.

"That includes personal and professional contacts, such as close friends and family, your employer (if appropriate), your kids' school so they can keep an eye on your children for signs they need support, your accountant and/or financial planner, your GP (and getting a mental health plan is also an excellent idea because everyone could do with the support of some counselling), and your lawyer if you have one."

Franklin says it's also important to get legal advice early, no matter how amicable your split is. "You don't know what you don't know," she says.

"Separation and divorce is a long path with an ever-changing landscape, so maintaining legal advice as you navigate that process is crucial."

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Franklin says the stronger you are in other areas of your life, the more likely you are to be okay getting through your separation.

"Think of your life as a stool," she says. "It needs three legs to hold it up and stay solid, but if you make sure your other legs are strong, you won't feel the loss of that one leg quite so much."

Franklin says having this support team around you and knowing who you can call on at critical decision times can be incredibly valuable.

When her own marriage ended, Franklin says she told her staff, her accountant, her friends and family, and her GP.

"It helped me to stay grounded and to hear other perspectives at a time when I wasn't sure I was thinking clearly," she says.

"It also helped to have the emotional and practical support of someone to call if I needed to chat, or someone to pick the kids up from school if I had to work late. Suddenly I was a single parent, but I found there were networks I could tap into so I wasn't alone."

Franklin says that support made a massive difference to her in those early weeks.

"On those days I was feeling frayed and fragile, I had a team I could draw on," she says. "Girlfriends turned up with casseroles and cakes when I had a lot going on, and it was wonderful to feel like I wasn't alone."

Franklin also says that it's important to acknowledge your need for support and ask for help, whether the split is amicable and foreseen, or sudden and unexpected.

"Either way, it's a transition for you and the kids, and you need to find a way through," she says. "It's not that you want to burden anyone, but you do need to know who the key people are who will guide you through."

To those who find it difficult to accept help, Franklin says divorce is one of the most stressful times in your life, and it's important to understand and acknowledge that.

"You can't anticipate that you will do this alone," she says, "both for your sake and that of your children. You will all come out the other side healthier and happier if you tap into the services that are available – whether that's friends and family, or lawyers, police and other support services.

"Put your hand up and the outcome will be better for you and your kids."