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Family Lawyers Tips for when you first separate

Watkins Tapsell - Family Lawyer Sutherland

What to do when you first separate.

Separation can be a difficult and stressful time.  We have put together a helpful checklist, setting out some of the things you should do immediately after separating:

Are you safe?

Firstly, before you do anything, consider whether it is safe to stay in the home. Your safety and the safety of your children should be your first priority. If you have serious concerns for your safety or the safety of your children, contact your local Police Station.

Financial

When you separate you are often required to fund 2 households from the same income that previously only had to fund one household. This can create considerable stress in already difficult circumstances.

It is likely there will be some immediate financial matters you will need to address. You should consider:

1. Who will stay in the home?

  • Agree whether you will both stay in the home or if one of you will move out.

2. If you move out, you should take with you:

  • Your personal effects, jewelry, important photographs, family heirlooms, etc;
  • Any medication, prescriptions and health records;
  • All of your personal documents, including but not limited to your birth certificate, passport, tax returns, bank statements, superannuation statements, accounting information and historical financial material; and
  • Furniture and contents which you require to re-house (wherever possible you should reach agreement with your spouse before removing items, however, if that is not possible you should take what you need, ensuring that your spouse is left with, at the very least, all of the basic essentials).

3. If neither party moves out then make an agreement with your spouse regarding the “House Rules” while you are separated under the one roof, for example:

  • Where will you each sleep?
  • What household tasks will you each be responsible for?
  • How will you fund joint expenses pending settlement?

4. Wherever possible reduce expenses. For example:

  •  Is there a mortgage? Who will be responsible for the mortgage repayments? Consider reducing the mortgage payments to the minimum amount payable.
  • Are there any personal loans (eg car loans)? Who will be responsible for paying them? Consider reducing the repayment amounts to the minimum amount payable.
  • Is one party making additional contributions towards Superannuation? Can these be put on hold until your family law matter is resolved?
  • Are there any other regular payments being made that can be reduced?

5. How will each party support themselves and any children, while settlement negotiations take place?

  • If possible prepare a Budget with your spouse and reach agreement as to who will meet each expense and the source of the funds used to meet that expenses (i.e. will this be savings or income?)

6. Is there a risk that one of the parties will remove joint assets? If so, how can you minimise that risk? Consider:

  • Is there a re-draw option on the mortgage? Does this need to be changed so that redraws can only be made if both parties approve them in writing?
  • Are there any joint credit cards? Should the limit be reduced? Consider whether it is appropriate to cancel any cards held by the secondary card holder (if you do this you should notify your spouse).
  • Are there joint Accounts? Can any accounts be altered so that no withdrawals can be made without both parties approving the withdrawals in writing?
  • Consider how income is to be received? Is it being paid into a joint account? Is this still appropriate in light of the separation? (NOTE if you make changes to any income arrangements, you should ensure that both parties still have access to sufficient funds to support themselves and any children).
  • How is Real Estate held? If Real Estate is held in the name of one party only, then you should seek legal advice to ascertain whether any Caveats need to be lodged.

7. Make enquiries with Centrelink to see if either party is eligible to receive payments, as a result of the separation.

8. If there are children, log on to the Child Support Estimator and work out whether child support is payable, if so, by whom and how much.

9. Consider whether your spouse has access to any of your personal information and whether you need to change any pin numbers, passwords, etc.

10. Seek legal advice. Family law can be complex and stressful, a good lawyer can navigate you through the process and provide you with considered advice at every step.

For more tips on navigating your property matter, including a comprehensive list of the documents and information your Family Lawyer will need, see our blog A Family Lawyer’s Property Division Checklist, by Matthew Coates.

Parenting

If you have children and are separated or thinking about separating from your spouse, then your children will be at the forefront of your mind. It is likely that there will be some immediate issues to consider while you and your spouse work to create a long term parenting arrangement that is in the best interests of your children. Some of the immediate matters you should consider are:

1. How will you tell your children you are separating? Who will tell them? If possible reach an agreement with your spouse before talking to your children.

2. If one party is moving out of the home, try to reach a temporary agreement about who the children will live with and how often they will see the other parent. If you are having difficulty doing this, you should contact a lawyer for advice and meet with a counsellor/mediator to help you work out a temporary parenting plan.

3. Discuss the children’s activities and agree who will be responsible for taking the children to and from their activities.

4. Contact the children’s school and let them know you have separated. Provide the school with any new contact information.

5. Let the children’s teachers know about your separation and ask them to report any behavioral issues.

6. If you are worried the other parent may take the children out of the country then safeguard the children’s passport. If this is a concern you should immediately obtain legal advice and consider providing the passports to your lawyer for safe keeping.

7. Seek legal advice. A good lawyer will provide you with clear advice based on your specific circumstances and you can apply that advice when negotiating a long term parenting arrangement.

For more tips on navigating your parenting matter, see our blog  A Parenting Checklist if you are Separating, by Matthew Coates