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When you’re going through a separation, it’s difficult to know where to start. Often couples have been together for a significant period and it’s hard to know how to start unravelling their joint lives. The process can be overwhelming, but there are a number of things you can do to make it easier. Here are some things to think about:

Record your separation date

The separation date is the date when one of you communicated that the relationship was at an end. Nothing formal is required, but it is helpful to take a note in your phone to when this occurred. This date is important because it draws a line in the sand in terms of property sharing and is the date used when determining the value of your assets. It’s important to keep a record of this date, and any evidence of your separation (such as emails, text messages etc.), in case there is a dispute down the track.

Get your mind right

People often underestimate the emotional toll that separating can have on them. It can be a long process with emotional negotiations. Talking to friends or a therapist can help give perspective and enable you to approach negotiations with a level head.

Plan for financial independence

Once you separate, your income becomes your separate property. If you don’t already have a bank account in your sole name, now is the time to set one up. Have your income paid into that account, rather than a joint account. You are still required to contribute to your household expenses (if you were doing this during the relationship), so make sure you are putting money back into your joint account to cover these costs. If you are not earning an income, agreeing on interim financial support will be a priority. If this is not something you and your partner can agree on, your lawyer will be able to guide you through your entitlements.

Find a lawyer

Family law is a specialised area of law, and it is important that you find a lawyer who is proficient in this type of work. Too often we see people receiving poor advice and missing out on entitlements they aren’t aware they have. Be sure that your lawyer regularly deals with separations and can deal with complexities such as spousal maintenance, claims against trusts or companies, and economic disparity (unequal division of property). Seeing a lawyer early on in the process can help achieve a quick resolution.

Gather your disclosure

Your lawyer is going to need to see statements for your bank accounts, superannuation schemes, credit cards, hire purchases etc. showing balances at the date you separated. If you have a trust or company, your lawyer will need to see the trust deed and the latest company accounts. Getting these documents together before you meet with your lawyer will speed up the process.

Think ahead

Now is the time to update your Will or put one in place if you don’t already have one. Chances are if you do have a Will, it will make substantial provision for your partner. This should be updated to reflect the change in your relationship. If you have a joint life insurance policy, you should contact your insurer and have the policy separated. You can change the beneficiary of your policy to your estate (to be distributed in accordance with your Will) or to your children, if you have any. If you don’t do a little estate planning now, and something was to happen to you, your ex-partner could benefit from your estate in a way you don’t want.

Our experts

Cavell Leitch has a specialist Family Law team that can help guide you through the separation process. We regularly deal with routine and complex separations, including court litigation (if required). Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance.

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