There are five important things to do before leaving your relationship. In Australia, de facto relationships are recognised by law, therefore when de facto or married couples split, there are legal considerations which must be dealt with before ‘walking out the door’.
1. Gather Important Documents and Protect your Information
Before leaving the family or matrimonial home gather documents like your Will, passport and birth certificate. If there are children involved and you are a primary carer, consider the birth certificates and passports for your children too.
It is important to note that a separation will not change your Will. If you fail to amend your Will, your former partner could benefit as a result of this. Your ex-partner may also have a level of control over your finances or medical decisions unless this is amended.
For an effective property settlement which is fair and reflective of your financial position, you should also gather any relevant financial documents including bank account statements, tax returns, pay slips and superannuation statements. This information can be subpoenaed if necessary, or requested directly from the institution, however, full and frank disclosure of your financial position is required, and having the information readily accessible will save you time and money.
Protect your privacy and security by changing your banking, email, social media, your Apple ID and passwords for your phone. It is also important to change any PINs for your ATM cards. If your partner or spouse is emotional or vengeful, having access to your sensitive information could be an issue for you.
2. Plan for the Children
The parties should reach an amicable agreement about how the children will be looked after and the time each parent will spend with them. A mediation with Relationships Australia is a valuable resource that may help you make plans for the children that are in their best interests. If you are unable to agree on arrangements for the children, a certificate, called a Section 60i, will be provided to you, and you will need to provide this before you can file an Application with the Court in relation to parenting matters. An exception to this rule is where family violence has occurred or there are matters of urgency.
If the parties have reached an agreement, it should be written down and provided to a lawyer so that a Parenting Plan or Consent Orders can be drafted.
3. Access to Funds
Consider whether it is appropriate to limit your partner’s access to joint funds by obtaining a joint authority or closing your account and splitting the balance if the parties so agree. The bank could freeze the account and this may be disruptive for both parties. We recommend keeping a separate bank account and considering freezing a joint credit card if necessary.
4. Sort out the Bills
If you are leaving the family home or business, you should contact creditors and let them know in writing that you are not responsible for future liabilities.
If you are the primary income earner and your partner cannot afford these costs, you may be required to pay them anyway. We recommend that you do this to avoid the other party applying to the Court on an urgent basis for spouse maintenance. Attending Court is costly and should be avoided unless necessary.
5. Consider Third Party Involvement
Before leaving a relationship, consider discussing your issues with a third party who is valued by both partners. Involving a third party, such as through a mediation, can help to avoid emotions clouding your better judgement and assist you to reach resolutions that are in your best interests.
There are many legal considerations that arise following a relationship breakdown. If you are considering leaving your relationship and need more information, or if someone you know needs help, please contact Etheringtons Solicitors to speak to one of our experienced solicitors on (02) 9963 9800 or contact us here.