The Steps You Need to Take as You Split Up from a Long-Term Partner
Breaking up is hard to do, and it’s not just the emotional trauma. A long-term relationship goes beyond an emotional commitment. Finances and assets are merged. Groups of friends and family have become intermingled. In many cases, children and pets are in the mix.
Chances are, you aren’t going to be in the ideal emotional state for dividing up your life with your ex. The stress of all the decisions from closing a joint Netflix account to agreeing on a child custody arrangement is compounded by a spinning head and a broken heart.
Every relationship is different, so most decisions will be a choose-your-own adventure based on the length of the relationship and severity of the breakup. If the breakup has removed speaking to each other from the equation, for example, you’re probably not going to continue sharing an Amazon Prime account.
To help you through it, we created this breakup guide, including a task list below, followed by detailed discussions of each task. The common theme in this guide is to aim for mutual agreements to avoid a court process that can potentially be painful, lengthy and expensive.
The Most Important Piece: Custody of Your Children
If you have children with your ex, determining child custody is the single most important item to get right. Doing what is best for your children, whether it be sole custody, joint custody, or something in between, is going to vary from couple to couple.
Von Fisher, exit strategist and the author of The Goodbye Guide for people who are thinking of leaving a relationship, offered the following recommendations for parents to focus on outside of the custody arrangement:
- Ensure both parents and possibly grandparents are listed in school records for pickups and emergencies
- Discuss who will have the children on holidays and school breaks
- Keep your commitments and agreements; for example, on days and locations to meet for pick-ups and drop-offs
- Spend extra time with your children
- Reassure your children that the breakup is not their fault
- Come to an agreement with your ex on how you will introduce new relationships to the children
What to Do About the Pets
For some couples, the hardest decision they will have to make is what to do with the dog. According to David Reischer, Esq., family law expert at LegalAdvice.com, pets can fall into two categories:
- Personal (separate) property that was acquired by an individual before the relationship or gifted to the individual during the relationship
- In the event of a custody battle, that individual will be granted custody
- Community property when the dog is acquired during the relationship
- In these cases, judges in states with community property rules (Louisiana, Arizona, California, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin) can determine custody of the pet, according to Reischer
Big Budget Items (Mortgage, Lease)
Matthew F. Dolan, founder and attorney at Dolan Divorce Lawyers, PLLC, says that couples who own a home together have the following options:
- “Sell the property and split the proceeds in proportion to each person’s contribution to the home”
- “If one party wants to keep the house, they should pay a lump sum to their significant other in order to buy them out of the house, after which the significant other should transfer the property to them.”
In the event of a lease, couples can try to get out of it early, but if the landlord is unwilling to negotiate then both are on the hook for rent payments. At that point, the couple should equally divide the payments, Dolan says.
“Of course, the former couple is free to come up with another arrangement that they feel is fair,” he says.
Bank Accounts and Credit Cards
Your mortgage or lease isn’t going to be the only financial web you need to untangle.
Joint bank account: If a couple has a joint bank account, “the funds in an account can be transferred equally into the sole accounts of each partner, after which the joint accounts can be closed,” Dolan says. You should also update any direct deposits you have set up to go into the joint account, Fisher says.
Personal bank accounts: With personal bank accounts, both individuals should be as upfront as possible with issues like secret savings accounts to avoid breaking down trust, Fisher says. This especially holds true when children and alimony are involved.
Credit Cards: Joint credit card bills can get a little tricky, especially if you are both named holders of the card and one member of the couple isn’t just an authorized user. Joint account holders are both on the hook for the bill, so you will need to work through any credit card charges to determine who owes what, get the balance down to zero and cancel the card.
Once a divorce is finalized, you can no longer remain on your ex’s insurance policy. Fortunately, getting divorced is a qualifying life event for eligibility to enroll in a new insurance policy, according to healthcare.gov. You should talk to the HR representative at your company, if applicable to your situation, to determine how to go about updating your policy or enrolling in a new health insurance plan.
- Fisher provided these additional accounts you should review post-breakup:
- Change beneficiary on life insurance policy and 401K
- Update health care directive/power of attorney for healthcare
- Update power of attorney for finances
- Update will/trust
With shared accounts that don’t involve saved or already spent money, couples can continue sharing the account (not recommended) or split the final bill and move on. If the decision is the latter, the person who remains the owner on any accounts should update the password.
- Possible accounts you may have shared with your ex include:
- Monthly subscriptions like Netflix, Amazon Prime, cable bill
- Car insurance
- Utility bills
- Cell phone plan
Splitting Up Your Stuff
The longer you and your ex were together, the more physical items you are likely to share. You’re not going to argue over personal items like underwear and toothbrushes, but you may need to compromise on who gets the couch or the flat-screen TV.
Dolan says couples should try to reach a mutual agreement on divvying up their shared items, but if you can’t agree there’s always small claims court.
“This process, however, can be tedious and expensive,” Dolan says, “so it is always best to reach an agreement.”
Tell Your Friends
If you have been in a relationship long enough, even your oldest friends become shared friends with your ex. You’ll have to break the news to them when your breakup begins.
If the separation is mutual, Fisher recommends sending an email rather than talking about the breakup “10 different times with 10 different friends.” The conversation might not be so simple if the breakup is more contentious, but you should still have it nonetheless.
“It’s OK to let them know you are going your separate ways and make them feel they don’t need to choose sides,” Fisher says.
You should also avoid bad mouthing your ex to any friends.
“Choose 1-2 close friends you can trust if you absolutely need to vent occasionally (so that you don’t drain your friends),” Fisher says, “but your primary source to vent should be an objective third party like a counselor/therapist/coach.”
A clean break should include a few unfollows, blocks, or mutes on social media, not only from your ex but also from any friends who might be posting pictures with the ex.
“It’s a reasonable thing to do to protect yourself,” says Fisher, who suggests letting your friends know they might not see you in their follows for a while.
Contact with Your Ex
If you do not have any children or business together with your ex, you should try to avoid contact for at least 30 days, Fisher says. “Unless it’s a text that says, ‘Hey, this is the last Verizon bill,” Fisher says any contact with your ex just keeps you living in the past.
“You can’t go from being lovers to friends at the drop of a hat,” she says. “The reason you are breaking up is not gone just because you miss the person.”
Instead of sending an “I miss you” text, try to stay busy by signing up for a new class or put together a new workout regimen. “Try to do something new to keep you busy and fulfilled in other ways,” Fisher says.
To minimize interactions, you should also switch up your routine if you go to the same church or gym as your ex. Also in the spirit of minimizing interactions, in that first, inevitable post-breakup surprise interaction with your ex and their new partner, a simple hello will suffice, Fisher says.
Take Care of Yourself
After your breakup, Fisher says to stick with good habits like working out, drinking water, and eating well. “The most important rules are: take care of yourself and protect yourself,” Fisher says. If your ex did the cooking, take the breakup as an opportunity to take a cooking class, Fisher suggests.
Fisher recommends that you don’t try to date right away after your breakup. There’s no time frame for when you should get back on the market, but look for some indicators before you start seeking out a new relationship:
- You can talk about your old relationship without emotions coming to the surface
- You see your ex dating someone new and it doesn’t elicit anger or sadness
- You feel like you are whole by yourself
Create New Traditions
Any long-term relationship is going to include traditions being formed that will inevitably dissolve after you break up. Instead of dwelling on the past, start some new traditions that excite you. Fisher recommends trying something new around the holidays like volunteering to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving or taking a trip around Christmas time.
Retaining a Lawyer or Mediator
In the event that you can’t find a way to compromise on any of these decisions, Fisher recommends that couples first try to work with a neutral divorce mediator before taking any disagreements to an attorney.
“Consider using a mediator, someone who is going to be objective and not going for the jugular,” she says. “Attorneys are trying to win.”
For some insight into how contentious separations can get, Fisher suggests watching a movie on Netflix called Marriage Story. In the movie, a couple’s plan for a peaceful breakup turns into a long, drawn-out process.
“People’s competitive natures kicks in,” she says. “That comes at the expense of an amicable situation.”
Making room for middle ground can help make a sad situation have a somewhat happy ending for both parties.
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