Separation between spouses, whether married, de facto, or same sex can be an emotionally challenging time. Trying to focus on what you should do to get your finances in order and make appropriate arrangements for the children (if you have children) can be very difficult in itself, without having the added burden of emotional baggage associated with the separation.
If you are newly separated or considering separating, here’s a list of 10 important things you should attend to, in no particular order, as each are equally important.
Consider getting counselling. This will be beneficial on two levels. One, to ascertain whether the relationship has irretrievably broken down, or whether couples counselling may assist to resolve your differences and help you both to work at keeping the relationship together. Two, if the relationship is not likely to resume, then you may want some counselling to put coping mechanisms in place on how to cope with the separation.
- Who will leave the home?
Sometimes the partner staying in the home will change the locks and you will not be allowed to re-enter the property. This means you may not be able to re-enter the property to retrieve any personal items, try to take everything you would like to take with you when you leave. Keep in mind that all assets of a relationship are considered as joint assets of the relationship, so whilst a monetary value will be placed on all the items, this can be accounted for when you divide the entire asset pool.
- Taking personal items and furniture with you
If you are the partner moving out of the matrimonial home, make sure you take everything that you want to retain with you when you move out, such as: all your clothing, personal items, any photographs you wish to keep, family heirlooms, any items of furniture, etc. as noted at point 2 above, you may not be allowed back in the property once you have moved out.
- Financial documents
It is very important to ensure that you take (if you move out) all important documents, such as a copy of your marriage certificate, children’s birth certificates, your own identification documents such as passport, driver’s licence, tax documents, bank statements (including credit cards, mortgage and savings), vehicle registration papers, insurance and superannuation documents. There is no limit to this list of personal documents, it is best to take everything you want at the time, particularly if you are moving out.
- Contact Centrelink & the CSA
If you are not working, contact Centrelink immediately and register for the appropriate benefit. If you have children, contact the child support agency to register for child support payments from your spouse. If you are the higher income earner you may wish to seek to negotiate a child support agreement. This will allow some of your child support contributions to be made by direct purchases for your children.
- Where will the children live?
If you have children in your care, you should initiate mediation to assist you both to set a parenting plan in place for the arrangements of the children. That is, who the children will live with and how much time will they spend with the other parent. If you are able to discuss these arrangements amicably you may decide to formalise that agreement by filing an application for consent orders.
- Bank accounts
Open a bank account in your sole name, make sure you notify your employer (if you employed) of the new account details for your wages to go into, and the child support agency or Centrelink if you are on benefits. Close any joint bank accounts and divide the funds between you as early as practicable. This will ensure a smoother process later on when dividing the major assets during property settlement.
- Superannuation, life insurance and other death policies
If you have nominated your spouse as a beneficiary of any of these, you will need to change this immediately. Where possible we suggest that you take all necessary estate planning steps to ensure any such benefits pass to your estate or your children in the event of your death.
- Wills & EPA
If you have a will please note that separation does not change gifts in a will. So if your will says “I appoint my spouse as my executor and give all my estate to my spouse” then, in the event that you die your spouse will make decisions regarding your estate and as main beneficiary receive the entire estate, which is probably not what you would want to happen having just separated from your spouse. We strongly recommend that you have a new Will drawn up. It also a good idea to have a power of attorney drawn up. If you separate, then become legally incapacitated, your attorney can manage your legal and financial affairs and you can have peace of mind knowing that your finances will be managed according to your wishes.
- Legal advice
There’s no substitute for proper legal advice. When it comes to your family and your property you should seek your own independent legal advice. Many people rely on hearsay advice from their friends and families. Everyone’s situation is different and should not be compared to another’s situation.
Here at Lynn & Brown Lawyers we have experienced family lawyers that can provide you with the proper legal advice for your personal situation.
About the author
Pauline German is an Associate at Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Pauline is an expert in marriage and de facto disputes, property matters, divorce proceedings, traffic offences, violence restraining orders and children’s matters.