What to do when separating
Ugh! You’ve separated so now what? The BEST thing you can do is make a plan. Without a plan, you risk running around in circles. So here is what you need to do to protect yourself (even if you are in an amicable separation)
- Start a diary and keep everything that happens written down.
- Change your passwords, right now, stop reading this and change your passwords.
- Open a separate bank account.
- Put your valuable stuff somewhere safe.
- Update your Will.
- Revoke any power of attorney.
- Consider changing locks or work out who should move out.
- Consider stopping any automatic payments.
- Let the school know.
- Update Centrelink.
- Remove name from any utilities.
- Start negotiating with the other side (if safe to do so).
- Record negotiations with your former spouse.
- Formalise negotiations by way of consent orders or financial agreements.
- Move on with your life.
Download this checklist at the end (no email required)
Detailed Separation Checklist
1. Keep a diary
You may need to recount events and conversations to your lawyer at a later date. Keeping a diary will make it easier for you to recall when events and conversations occurred and what was said.
2. Put your sentimental or valuable things somewhere safe
If you have items of value, including of sentimental value, to you may want to consider collecting these items and putting them somewhere safe, this may include at a relatives house or ask a trusted friend to look after them for you. Circumstances have occurred where items of value have gone missing or have been broken. Consider whether you need to take steps to avoid this from happening. This may include important documents including passports, birth certificates and other relevant financial documents.
3. Change your Will
Separation alone does not revoke a will, this means your partner may still be your primary beneficiary should you pass away, in spite of your separation. You may also want to consider whether you need to change the listed beneficiaries on any life insurance policies and for your superannuation fund.
4. Revoke any Power of Attorney
Separation alone does not revoke a Power of Attorney, or Enduring Power of Attorney. It also does affect any advanced health directives you may have made and any appointments of enduring guardians (if relevant to your circumstances). Consider seeking legal advice to update your estate planning.
5. Change all your passwords
It is important to consider, post-separation, changing all your passwords to ensure your ex-partner cannot access any important and personal information. Passwords you may want to consider changing include internet and telephone banking passwords, credit and debit card PINs, email and internet passwords and social media passwords. In particular, it is important to ensure that your ex-partner does not have access to your email account as your lawyer will use email to communicate with you confidentially.
6. Consider whether you need to change your postal address
If you have concerns that you may not receive mail addressed to you or that sensitive mail (including privileged correspondence between you and your lawyer) may be read by your ex-partner, consider changing your postal address and setting up a mail forwarding service with Australia Post to ensure you receive all correspondence. If you have remained in the matrimonial home, consider forwarding your mail to a trusted friend or family member, or obtaining a PO Box.
7. Change the locks
If you remain in the former matrimonial home, you may want to consider changing the locks. There have been circumstances where an ex-partner has returned to the home while the resident partner was away, and removed items from the home without consent. In extreme circumstances, all household contents have been removed.
8. If you move out, you should consider taking:
You should consider taking your personal items (including clothes, toiletries and items of importance), medication and personal prescriptions, and any other items you may require. You may not have another opportunity for some time to return to the home to collect these items.
9. If you are renting
You may want to consider contacting your landlord to update them on your circumstances including removing your name, or your partner’s name, from the lease so the landlord knows who to contact in the future.
10. Make a note of your separation date
The date of your separation is the date you have formed the intention to separate, communicated that intention with your partner and acted on that intention (for example moving into a different bedroom, or moving out of the home). This date is important when it comes to filing for divorce (if you are married) and may become an issue when negotiating or litigating a property settlement.
11. Social Media
You may want to carefully consider what you post to social media post-separation. There have been circumstances that social media posts have been attached to affidavits and read by the Judge. Consider changing your security settings for your social media accounts and consider whether you should be posting to social media at all.
Now to the financial stuff
1. Consider whether you need to open a separate bank account
If you only have joint bank accounts, you may want to consider opening a bank account in your sole name and arrange for all post-separation income including your wage/salary and Centrelink payments to be paid into this account.
2. Check bank accounts regularly
To make sure no unauthorised payments are being deducted and to make sure no money is being withdrawn without your consent. If you are concerned that your partner will make withdrawals without your consent, you may want to consider attending your local branch and changing the joint accounts to “two to sign”. However, be aware that, if you do make this change, you will not be able to access these accounts without the written consent of your partner.
3. Credit Card automatic payments
Consider if your credit card has an automatic payment set up for an expense that your partner should now be covering, for example, Toll Road Tags, Netflix, phone bills, or other memberships including gym memberships. If there are automatic payments set up, consider whether you want to cancel these. In the interest of an amicable separation, you may wish to give your partner notice that you are cancelling these automatic payments so they can make the relevant arrangements.
4. Consider whether you need to sever any joint tenancies.
If you and your partner own any real estate as joint tenants, you may wish to consider severing this tenancy such that you and your partner are tenants in common. If you are considering severing the joint tenancy seek legal advice before doing so as there can be consequences to you.
Don’t forget the kids
1. If you are concerned your partner may take the children overseas:
You may want to consider retaining the children’s passport so your partner cannot remove the children from Australia without consulting you. If the children do not have passports, you may want to consider completing a Child Alert form with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade so you are notified if passport applications are submitted for your children. If your children already have passports that are in the possession of the other parent and you have a real concern that the children may be departing Australia imminently contact a lawyer immediately.
2. Let the school and the teacher know of your separation
You may want to consider informing your children’s school and their individual teachers of your separation. You can update the contact information for both parents and ask the teacher to make you aware if they notice any concerning changes in your child’s behaviour.
3. Contact the Child Support Agency
The Child Support Agency is unable to backdate your child support payments. You may want to consider contacting the Child Support Agency (and any other government organisation including Centrelink) to update them on your current circumstances. If you are liable for Child Support Payments, you may want to consider contacting the Child Support Agency and advising them of any private agreement you have come to with your partner as although the Child Support Agency cannot “backdate” they can calculate a child support debt from the date they were informed of your separation.
4. Contact Relationships Australia to organise a Family Dispute Resolution Mediation.
Once you and your partner have separated, you should consider contacting an organisation like Relationships Australia to organise a Family Dispute Resolution mediation. Mediation provides a constructive environment for you and your partner to discuss post-separation parenting arrangements. If you and your partner reach an agreement during mediation this agreement can be formalised by way of Consent Orders or a Parenting Plan. If you and your partner are unable to reach an agreement a s60I Certificate will be issued, it is a requirement (unless the circumstances are urgent) that you obtain a s60I Certificate prior to commencing parenting proceedings in Court.