Paula Phelan is a Family Lawyer with Specialist Accreditation in this area from the Queensland Law Society. She has been a lawyer for 23 years and is the director of Phelan Family Law, a Rockhampton legal firm specialising in Family Law only.
So you’re separating: now what?
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.
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.
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 money will you need to make sure you are able to manage your household income to cover day to day living expenses.
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:
All banking and other financial institutions;
All social media accounts;
Your email accounts & your mobile phone and computer;
Change the password to something your ex-partner will not guess.
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.