Separating can be a very daunting time. Emotions are high and you may be worried about your financial security. Apart from seeking legal advice, there are some practical steps you can take to ensure you are not overwhelmed by the separation process.
• Keep track of all incoming mail – If you are concerned your ex-partner may access your mail you may need to redirect it to a new post office box or to your new address if you have moved out. Further, you may wish to change your pin or password on your email and social media accounts. Remember devices such as laptops, ipad and iphones may be linked so check these are not automatically synced when connected to the internet otherwise your ex-partner may have access to any messages or mail you receive.
• If you change address details, be sure to advise all relevant authorities. These may include your child’s school, banks, your accountant, superannuation funds, insurance companies, medical practitioners, government departments such as Centrelink, Medicare, the ATO, the Electoral Commission and the Department of Transport.
• If you don’t already have an account in your name, you should consider setting one up so any money you earn after separation does not continue to be paid into a joint account. If you have your own account but your ex-partner knows your pin/passcode you may wish to change this.
• If you have joint bank accounts or mortgages, consider speaking to your bank manager about how you can ensure that money is not withdrawn without your consent. This may include freezing an account or requiring all parties to the account to sign to withdraw money.
• Make sure that any mortgages or other loans in your name continue to be paid after separation as failure to pay may affect your credit rating.
• If you have credit cards with a secondary card holder, you may need to consider cancelling the card or taking other steps to ensure that debt is not incurred by your ex-partner on a card in your name.
• If you are currently receiving Centrelink benefits it is important that you notify them of your change of situation and keep them updated from time to time such as if care arrangements concerning children change. Failure to notify Centrelink may mean that you continue to receive benefits you are not entitled to and end up with a debt you will be required to repay later down the track. Once you separate, you may also be entitled to benefits you were not previously entitled to so check your entitlement through Centrelink or with a financial advisor.
Manage your finances
• Do a budget – calculate your reasonable costs of living, including running two households. Separating can put a strain on even the best managed finances, so make sure you know when your bills are due and who will pay for these.
Consider Protecting Assets
• If you have assets that you have contributed to that are not in your name or you are otherwise concerned that your ex-partner may dispose of assets, seek urgent legal advice on what can be done. This may include putting a caveat on real property or seeking an order (called an injunction) that certain property is not to be sold without your consent.
• Review your Will, Enduring Power of Attorney, superannuation and insurance policies to make sure these still reflect your wishes.
• If you have a Will that provides for your assets to go to your ex-partner you may wish to review this following a separation. Married couples cannot be divorced until they have been legally separated for 12 months. Whilst a divorce may affect your Will, simply separating does not. Once you have separated, make sure your Will and Enduring Power of Attorney still reflect your wishes. Seek legal advice if needed.
• You may wish to change the beneficiaries of any insurance or superannuation policies in your name. If you have a self-managed superannuation fund check who has authority to act in relation to the fund and seek legal or accounting advice if necessary.
• When preparing for a property settlement it is important that you know what assets, liabilities and superannuation are held by each party. Make sure you have copies of important paperwork such as bank statements, income tax assessments and returns, share certificates, superannuation statements, your marriage certificate, bills and other financial paperwork. It can save you a lot of time and money down the track if you have a copy of these when you separate.
• Property held with your partner may be held as “joint tenants” or “tenants in common”. If property is held as joint tenants your share will automatically pass to the other co-owner in the event of your death. Following a separation, you may wish to sever any joint tenancies so property is held as “tenants in common”. This way, if either party dies, their interest passes according to their will and not necessarily to the other co-owner.
Keep A Diary
• Record all relevant information such as your separation date, time spent with children, conversations with your ex-partner or other communications. If communicating via text or email be sure to back up your information. There is nothing worse than recording numerous text messages on your phone only to lose these when a phone is broken or lost.
Medicare/Private Health Insurance
• Once you have separated you may wish to obtain separate cards with Centrelink and your Private Health Insurer. If you have changed details with Centrelink or your Private Health Insurer, you should advise your ex-partner accordingly. Sometimes refunds from health providers are linked to a particular bank account, so be sure to check these details are still correct.
• If you have private insurance with your ex-partner, you will need to consider how you continue to pay ongoing premiums, whether you stay on the existing account, and whose account children will be covered by. New accounts may attract waiting periods. You may also need to obtain specialist advice on any tax implications of changes to your private health insurance.
Check Loyalty and Store Cards
• Review any loyalty cards or store cards that you have such as Everyday Rewards or Frequent Flyers – check the balances and consider whether you need to remove your spouse from having access to the card. The balance may also need to be considered and split in a property division.
• If you continue to make financial contributions after separation, ensure you keep documentary evidence of these. It may become very important in a property settlement and it can save a lot of time if a record is kept as you go, rather than trying to establish the history of these at a later point in time.
• Be careful about posting comments through electronic media including facebook, twitter, google accounts and the like. Once these comments are in cyber-space they may be viewed by people you never intended including Judges, the other party and their lawyer. Don’t use social media to vent or make critical remarks and don’t send emails or make posts when you are angry or upset. If your matter goes to trial any comments may potentially be used as evidence against you. Try to keep any communications free from emotion. Stick to the facts and speak in the same way you would to a business or work colleague.
• Ensure the school has details of both parents, so that any reports or other notices generally sent to parents regarding children can be sent to both parents.
Consider whether to move or not to move
Whether to move out of the matrimonial home or the house that you have shared with your ex-partner can be a difficult one. You will need to consider things such as :
• How unhappy the situation will be if you stay and what the emotional toll on you will be.
• Are there children that will remain with you? If so, you may need to consider children remaining in a familiar environment close to their school, friends, etc.
• Keeping the family home may not be possible and you may need to consider moving into new accommodation that meets both your size and financial requirements. You will need to think about both the short and long term in case it takes a while for your property settlement to occur.
• Do you want to keep the house as part of your property settlement? If so, there may be a benefit in being the one to remain in the house.
• You will also need to consider whether it will be necessary to sell the house. If so, you may need to stay in the house to make sure it remains well presented for sale.
• Where one party has moved out of the home, check whether telephone and electricity accounts are in your name and change if required. You don’t want the telephone or electricity cut off because you did not pay a bill because it was sent to the wrong person.
Look After Yourself
• Separating is stressful but keeping active and eating healthy foods will help. Don’t use alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs to deal with your stress. Try to find time to do things you enjoy such as exercise, gardening, reading, listening to music, fishing etc. Concentrate on what you have control over and recognise the things you cannot control. Take the time you need to grieve and heal. If you are struggling don’t hesitate to seek health from a medical practitioner or counsellor.
Any questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us.