Separation is undoubtedly a stressful time, and most people are unprepared even if separation has looked likely for a considerable length of time. Given the emotions involved, this is normal.
There are certain practical things you can do around the time of a separation which can be extremely useful. Some of those things are:
- If you are able, keep open the lines of communication between you and your partner. This will help you deal with the things that arise in the meantime, and may help you be able to resolve the big issues about children and property more easily.
- Get together all relevant financial information. It is common for one partner to remove all paperwork from the house or to change passwords on a computer at the time of separation. Getting the information together sooner rather than later may help having to chase down this information at a later stage.
- Unless you fear for your safety (or that of your children), do not leave the home without getting advice. There is no legal advantage generally in remaining in the home, but there are often very real practical consequences when one partner leaves the home. At the very least it gives the remaining partner a sense of control over the home, and their comfort and familiarity with the home may cause him/her to delay in trying to reach a property settlement.
- Make a list of household items. These items are often the source of very heated (and emotional) disputes. If you have a list completed at the time of separation, then that may help reduce the length or intensity of those disputes.
- Consider whose name all the utilities and other expenses are held in. If it is not you, then your former partner could make themselves a nuisance by cancelling the service on you. If it is in your name, you might reasonably expect your partner to pay the electricity for the property of which s/he is in occupation. If s/he does not then you could end up with an adverse credit rating.
- Consider who is the primary holder of any health insurance. If it is not you, then potentially your former partner could remove you from the health insurance without notice to you. Not only could that lead to obvious problems, but it could then result in you receiving a loading on any future health insurance you take out as a result of the government's incentive scheme to remain covered by health insurance.
- Avoid listing assets, especially the home, for sale and entering into contracts for their sale until you have received legal advice. If you do not have proper arrangements in place then it is possible your partner could take more than that to which s/he is entitled on sale. To then recover that amount could prove much more difficult and expensive than it would have been to have the arrangements put in place from the outset.
- Contact Centrelink if you are likely to be entitled, or are currently receiving, any government benefits.
- Consider changing your postal address, even if you remain living in the home, for important mail. That way, if your former partner wants to be a nuisance on you, s/he will not have access to your mail.
- Update, or prepare, your will. Any existing will is likely to list your former partner as a beneficiary and possibly also give him/her control as an executor.
- Get legal advice as early as possible. We regularly give advice to people who are not yet separated but are considering separation. Not only can we give you advice on practical and immediate issues, but the advice we give you at an early stage might help you and your former partner reach an agreement more quickly and easily once you know where you stand.