/ / So you’re separating: now what?

So you’re separating: now what?

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By Kiah Hanson

The decision to separate is never an easy one. Whether separation has been discussed previously or the announcement has come out of the blue, there are a lot of emotions involved.

Along with dealing with the emotional turmoil, the actual process of separation can feel overwhelming at the outset. While many things can feel out of your control, there are practical steps you can take to ease the confusion and secure your future during the early stages of separation.

Record your actual date of separation

This is an important date as there are some time limitations for applying to the court for a property settlement. Also, if you were married you are required to be separated for 12 months before you are able to apply for a divorce.

Mark the date in a diary, calendar or notebook, along with any key details about how the separation was communicated.

Secure your bank accounts and credit cards

As soon as possible, ideally prior to separation, ensure that you have access to money that cannot be cut off. This might include opening an account in your sole name and having any wages or payments directed to that account.

After separation, consider the risks or benefits of continuing joint accounts including credit cards. If you are the primary account holder on a credit card, consider cancelling any secondary cards to avoid debt being run up in your name.

For joint accounts that have significant amounts of money, or mortgages with re-draw facilities, it may be these cannot (or should not) be closed or quickly placed into a single name. If this is the case, ensure that your financial institution is aware of your situation and take steps to ensure one person can’t remove money without the other person’s signature.

Understand your financial situation

Have a good understanding of your financial situation – what you will need to make sure you are able to manage your household income and liabilities (for example loans, credit cards, mortgages, etc.). You will continue to be jointly liable for anything that is in joint name until resolved by way of agreement (which usually includes who will do what to be responsible for debt).

Make copies of important documents

This is especially important if you think there might be a dispute about property or if you have concerns that there may be attempts to ‘hide’ or dispose of income or property.

It may become important at a later stage to be in a position to prove something like the existence of particular bank accounts. Having copies of all tax records and bank account statements and other documentation at the time of separation can be useful in the event of a dispute.

Change passwords and consider your privacy

In some instances, the separation process can trigger a desire by one person to try to remain ‘connected’ to the other person. In rare circumstances, this can escalate to stalking, theft, and other criminal behaviours.

It’s important that you change your passwords and PIN numbers for everything. This should include, at a minimum:

  • banking and other financial institutions; all social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn etc.),
  • your email accounts; your mobile phone and computer, and
  • online shopping platforms (EBay, Amazon, iTunes, Paypal etc).

Change the password to something that your ex-partner will not guess (so do not use an old password or a combination of the kids/ dogs names) or use a random password generator.

Also, consider setting up a mail redirection to a post-box for a period of time to ensure that your private details remain that way.

Be polite and avoid confrontation

While it might be difficult on occasion, do your best not to engage in any ‘slanging’ matches – either verbally or via text, email, Facebook or similar. Not only is it counterproductive to achieving as smooth a separation as possible, but these exchanges can sometimes turn up as evidence in later family law proceedings.

Get legal advice

This does not mean that you need to ‘lawyer up’. Many people wisely seek early advice on matters to do with property and children prior to entering into discussions with their ex-partner. You wouldn’t go and buy a car without having done some research into what you might expect to pay, nor should you enter into conversations about property settlement prior to having at least a general idea of what your entitlement might be.

For more on this, read: Should you see a lawyer before separation?

Seek out support

You may feel sad, guilty, or angry about your separation but how you conduct yourself in the early days after separation may set the framework for future discussions. Respectful engagement is especially effective, and where children are involved, it should be a priority. Things you say and do during this stressful time may end up as evidence a bit later on.

Don’t underestimate the value of counselling at this stage. While friends and family are willing to listen and provide support, an outside person can allow you to talk through your feelings without fear of judgement.

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.

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