SEPARATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
January 17, 2017
When a relationship breaks down, it’s tough on everyone. Separation from a partner is always difficult, but especially at this time of year when the kids are on school holidays, everyone else seems to be enjoying quality family time and there are celebrations and festivities all around.
If you’re separating from your partner, it’s worth remembering that you’re not alone. Family and friends can support you and a good lawyer can guide you through the legalities. There are also some things that you can do to make the process easier.
The easier the better
There are some very good reasons for doing all that you can to make the separation as smooth as possible. They include:
- Limiting the involvement of lawyers and keeping legal costs to a minimum.
- Reducing the emotional stress on you and your kids.
- Encouraging better long-term communication with your ex-partner, especially if there are kids involved.
- Quicker division of the property of the relationship.
- Making it easier to move on.
Before you separate
If you know that you and your partner are about to separate, there’s some things you should think about before it happens.
Consider the practicalities – will you stay in the family home or move out? How will you tell your kids? What will be the kids’ living arrangements? Who gets the pets? Who will be responsible for paying the bills? How will you pay your living expenses?
If there has been domestic violence, you may also need to consider whether the police should be involved when you (or your partner) move out.
You also need to decide on the date of separation. Record this and keep it safe because it may become important later on. You should also record the date that you and your partner agreed to separate (if relevant). If there’s any evidence to support the separation date, you also need to have a record of that. Evidence may include witnesses who can say that they helped you or your partner move out, a property rental agreement, utilities connection or disconnection notices, or notes of any conversation that you had with your partner about the date of separation.
It is also important to know as much as you can of your financial situation at the date of separation. Gather any documents that show:
- Bank account balances
- Mortgage balance and repayments
- Liability for credit cards and other debts
- Financial commitments, for example school fees, club memberships.
- Tax returns for both you and your partner
- Superannuation account balances for you and your partner
- Information about shareholdings
- Valuations of any other assets.
Creating an inventory of all the furniture and other property that was in the house prior to separation is also a really good idea. When one of you moves out, you can also record who took what.
If you and/or your partner own a business you will also need to gather documents including:
- Details of directorships.
- Profit and loss statements.
- Valuations of any property owned by the business as well as plant and equipment valuations.
If you can’t get hold of this information, your lawyer can request it from accountants or other agencies.
After you separate
After you separate you will have to adjust to a different life and you may also need to help your kids make the adjustment with you. The support of family and friends is crucial during this time and counselling can also be a great idea, especially if the separation has been difficult.
You and your ex-partner may be having relationship counselling to see if there’s a chance of reconciliation, so it’s important that you give this process as much time and attention as is necessary.
If there’s no chance of reconciliation, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible, especially if you weren’t able to gather financial information before the separation, or if you left the home without being able to take any belongings. You should urgently seek advice if your ex-partner is preventing you from seeing your children.
Initially, a lawyer will be able to help you:
- Get access to financial documents.
- Sort out a temporary agreement for parenting.
- Sort out custody and care of any pets.
- Get belongings from the home or negotiate a return of your belongings.
It’s very important that during this time you continue to keep a record of key dates, which may include
- The date that items were returned to you or when you gave your ex-partner access to items.
- The dates and times that your children spend time with your ex-partner, and the dates and times that they are with you.
- Dates of any key financial events, for example the settlement of a property purchase, payment of a significant dividend, the date a credit card was paid off, the date of a tax refund, the date of a pay rise or pay cut.
The more of this information that is recorded, the easier it will be for your lawyer to agree dates with your ex-partner or to prove the dates if it becomes necessary later on. This will end up saving you time and money.
What do you want?
You should also spend some time thinking about what you want. For example:
- When the property is finally divided, what share of the assets are you seeking?
- What belongings to you want to keep?
- What parenting arrangements do you want to have in place?
You should also think about the extent to which you would be prepared to negotiate over these things. For example, you may have wanted to keep the new car, but perhaps you’d be willing to accept the older car if it means that you can keep your beloved dog.
Knowing what you want is the starting point for your lawyer to negotiate a settlement that is in your best interests.
As the separation proceeds, some things will become clearer, especially whether you can both agree on property and children issues, or whether you will need to apply to the Family Court for orders to resolve any conflict.
As a general rule of thumb, the more you are able to communicate and negotiate with your ex-partner, the more easily these issues will resolve and the less you will need to rely on lawyers.
However, when this is not possible, make notes about the conversations that you have had with your ex-partner, or what they have done and when, as evidence that you can provide to your lawyer.
You should also stay in close contact with your lawyer and make sure you tell them everything (even if you’ve done or said something that you shouldn’t have). It’s the best way for your lawyer to assess the situation and to advise you properly, which, in the long run, will be better for you.
Separation is never easy, but there are some steps that you can take to relieve the emotional impact on you and your loved ones. Often a lawyer can make all the difference when negotiating over property and children, which is a great way to ensure your long-term wellbeing.