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Should you see a lawyer before you separate?

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The decision to separate from your partner isn’t easy. It’s likely you have to deal with emotional upheaval and the loss of the relationship. At the same time, there are also lots of matters to consider as you navigate the actual separation.

Separation can be a lengthy process and it helps to speak to a lawyer early on to fully understand what you might need to consider, along with the steps you can take to protect your interests.

Even if you believe your separation will be amicable and that you and your partner can come to an agreement yourselves, your lawyer can give you valuable advice about what you both need to consider, the legal process, and anyone else you may need to speak to. Expert family lawyers have good networks of other professionals to support you during this time, including counsellors, financial advisors, accountants and property valuers.

What’s involved in separation?

The legal process of separation applies to both married couples and people in a defacto relationship. Separation can involve a property settlement and parenting arrangements, along with divorce. Family law is complex and it’s important to see a specialist family lawyer, or ideally an Accredited Specialist, to get the right advice.

However, just because you speak with a lawyer doesn’t mean you have to use one throughout the process or go to court to resolve your separation. Many couples use mediation (with or without legal representation ) to negotiate and then engage lawyers to formalise their agreement with the court.

Separation and property settlement

When it comes to a property settlement, you are dealing with important decisions about your current financial circumstances and your future retirement income.

Early on, it is important to get advice about managing risk. For example, you will usually want to close your joint bank accounts and credit cards to establish your own pool of money and avoid any debt being accrued by your partner in your name. You should also obtain copies of any financial statements, property titles and statements so you have a clear idea of what assets you have together. This may be easier to do when you’re both still living under the same roof.

A property settlement can be complex involving: tax consequences; commercial law if you and your spouse have a business; property law; and superannuation compliance law if you have a self-managed super fund. Getting legal advice can help you prepare for what’s involved and ensure you’re getting the right advice at the same time.

In addition, a lawyer can help you understand the timeline for your property settlement. There are specific deadlines involved in seeking a property settlement related to the date of separation or divorce. And there are serious risks delaying a formal property settlement. You may risk assets acquired after separation, such as a new house, or you may miss an important deadline that makes it difficult to seek a property settlement later on.

Children and separation

If you have children, then their wellbeing during this time is of utmost importance. In most cases, your children can continue to have a close and significant relationship with both parents after separation. A specialist family lawyer will advise you about the options for the children’s living arrangements and the resources available to you and your former spouse to reach an agreement.

However, if you have concerns about your spouse’s reaction or you fear for your safety, seeing a lawyer before you separate means you can take steps to protect yourself and your children while making plans for the next stage. If you anticipate that your spouse will restrict your access to money or the children, then getting advice is vital to ensure you have put protections in place.

DDCS Lawyers specialise in all aspects of family law and estate planning and can help guide you through the difficult process of separation so you can move on positively with your life. If you need assistance, contact our team on (02) 6212 7600 to book a consultation.