SEPARATION & RELATIONSHIP BREAKDOWN IN AUSTRALIA
Separation To Do List: The Practical Issues
After your separation following the breakdown of your marriage, opposite sex or same sex de facto relationship with your husband / wife / partner, you will find yourself having to sort out all the issues relating to your children, finances and property caused by the change in your circumstances.
While you are dealing with the important issues relating your children, finances and property, you will often start to deal with and notice all the little practical, sometimes minor and miscellaneous things that need to be addressed and actioned.
At times the list of things you need to deal with can seem overwhelming and sometimes almost never ending. There will be things like whose name the utility bill is in, what was the date you actually separated, having to change your Medicare card, passwords on accounts etc.
To help make sure you don't miss anything, we have prepared a checklist giving an exhaustive list of all the practical and miscellaneous things you might not remember to do think about. You can read through the list, print it off and make all those things you need to do, then start doing them one at a time and marking them off once done.
The practical and miscellaneous things you need to do or think about after Separation include:
- Make a note of your separation date. Your separation date is when you finally decided the relationship was over and communicated this to your partner, even if you are still living under the same roof. You will need your separation date if you apply for Divorce, but the date you separated may also be relevant to your property settlement, as whether contributions were made before or separation might become important.
- Who moves out? You need to consider:
- The emotional toll it will take to remain in the house in an unhappy or unhealthy environment.
- Are there Children who will remain with you? If so it may be best for the children to remain in a familiar environment, close to their school, friends etc. If you are not in agreement about who the children should live with, keeping them with you in the family home or at least in appropriate size accommodation may be an issue. When a parent moves out, their accommodation usually down sizes and this can have an adverse impact on children.
- Can you afford to move out? Make sure you consider whether you can afford to move out on a long term basis - in the event your family law situation takes a long time to resolve.
- Do you want to keep the house as part of the property settlement? If so, there may be a benefit in you being the one to remain living in the home.
- Will it be necessary to sell the house. Do you need to stay in the house to make sure it remains well presented, gardens tidy, maintenance done and available for any inspections.
- Mail redirection. To make sure you continue to receive your mail promptly and to keep the confidentiality of any mail, you might want to consider having the post office redirect your mail to somewhere more secure.
- Do you need a separate bank account. Should you have your income redirected to a bank account only you have access to. To protect yourself in the short term, maintaining access to funds and making sure your spouse cannot empty the account is often a priority.
- Joint Bank Accounts – Consider both parties access to joint bank Accounts. Your own bank will advise you in more detail however usually the following options exist:
- Two (both) parties to sign - If you wish both parties to approve any transaction.
- Either party to sign – Remember this will mean that although you have open access to the account, so does the other party.
- Accounts may be frozen until you both agree otherwise - This ensures no transactions may take place but allows for interest to be paid or earned.
- Credit Cards – Consider both parties access to Credit Cards.
- Who is the Primary Card Holder;
- Who are any Secondary (Subsidiary) Card Holders and should their authority to use the card continue;
- Should the Credit Limit be changed. Lowering the Credit Limit can reduce potential liability if the card is misused or overused.
- The Primary card holder is liable for all transactions on the Secondary (Subsidiary) Card. The Primary card holder can usually cancel any Secondary (Subsidiary) Cards.
- If a Card is cancelled it is recommended you tell the other party you have done so.
- Access to Financial Records.
- Establishing the history of contributions, transactions etc is very important. It can save a lot of time and money if you keep either the originals or copies of relevant financial documents.
- Insurance Policies - Consider:
- In whose name are the policies as policy owner.
- Beneficiaries – Change the beneficiaries if you think appropriate.
- Authority to act or transact.
- Payment and debit orders should be checked and confirmed.
- Superannuation – Consider:
- Check balances.
- If you have Self Managed Superannuation Funds obtain legal and accounting advice.
- Check authorities to act and change if necessary.
- Loyalty cards and Store Cards (Flybuys, Everyday rewards, etc).
- Check point balances.
- Consider whether you need to remove your former spouse from having access and authority to act in relation to these cards.
- The points balances may need to be considered and split in the Property Division.
- Interest Free purchase cards (GE Finance, Lombard, Furniture (& similar) Stores etc).
- Check amount owing.
- Check repayment details and due dates.
- Consider whether you need to remove your former spouse from having access and authority to act in relation to these cards.
- Any amount owing (liability) will need to be considered and split in the Property Division.
- Automobile cards (RACV, RACQ, NRMA etc) ensure these remain active and check and rectify authority to request services and act on these
- Telephone & Internet Accounts (Fixed lines, ADSL, Mobile etc).
- Ensure the accounts are held in the correct names (bearing in mind who is continuing to use the accounts).
- Change authorities to act if necessary.
- If your mobile is in the name of anyone but yourself, or if they have authority to act on that account, then they have access to call logs and may keep the number and control the account.
- Medicare cards
- This can be complicated if children are on the card but the cards/account should be amended to represent the separation. You may wish to retain the original account and ask your former partner to remove themselves as this number is often registered with doctors, dentists, etc. The options are usually:
- Ask your former partner to remove themselves from the card and set up a new account for themselves. They can and should add any children to their new account in case they need to take the child for medical attention whilst in their care.
- You can remove yourself and then add the children to your account.
- Health Insurance. Things to consider include:
- Who is paying.
- Will you stay on the existing account – new accounts may attract waiting periods.
- Whose Health Insurance account will the children be covered by.
- Obtain specialist advice about tax implications.
- Child’s School
- Ensure the school has the contact details of both parents.
- See “Separation – To Do List – Children”.
- Accountants. Usually both parties have been using the same Accountant. Consider:
- Inform the Accountant of your separation.
- Ensure that your former partner does not have access to your personal information.
- Speak to your Accountant about any issues they foresee given your separation.
- Utility bills – Water, Electricity, Gas, Rates, etc. Consider:
- Whose name is the account in. You may want the utility in your name if you continue to use the service, or want it out of it if you don’t. If it is in your name you may be liability for the accounts.
- Authority to act on the account. Remember that if your former partner has access, then that may allow them to shut off services, not pay bills and have access to private information.
- Mortgages & Loans. There are several issues to consider including payment, liabilities etc and so this should be discussed with your banker, accountant and solicitor. What you need to consider is dependent on your personal circumstances.
- Houses & Land. Obtain specialist advise about:
- Whose name is on the legal title;
- Whether any Joint Tenancy needs to be severed;
- Who is liable for any mortgages already issued;
- If you co-own the property, your former partner may be able to take out a further mortgage secured against the property. In some cases Family Lawyers may agree to act on the basis of a second mortgage over the property being granted to them.
- Do any Caveats need to be issued;
- Motor (and similar) Vehicles. Consider:
- Is the registration in your name. If not do you have authority to act on the vehicle you drive. The registered owner may be able to seize the vehicle unless they agree to you using it or you obtain a Court Order allowing Interim possession and use until Final Property Orders are made.
- Where will the payment notices for the registration be sent.
- Where will any fines and other notifications be sent. If not to your address you may not receive infringement notices (or similar) and if these go unpaid they attract a range of consequences and penalties.
- Car Insurance. Consider:
- Is the insurance in your name.
- Is it current and paid.
- What is the renewal date.
- Do you have authority to act on the account. In the event it was necessary to make an Insurance claim this would be important
- Toll tag accounts.
- Do you have access to act on these accounts.
- Do you need to remove your former partner from having access.
- Remember your movements will be visible (via tolls paid) to anyone with access to act on the account.
- Are you liable for tolls on vehicles you are not using.
- ATO. This should be discussed with your Accountant. Check whether your former partner may have access to private information if they have authority to act on your account
- Medical (and similar) Practitioners need to be notified of your domestic situation to ensure your privacy.
- Next of Kin and Emergency Contact Information. Over the years you will have nominated your former spouse/partner as the main contact person and you may want to change this.
- Continuing payment of bills and other liabilities. Failure to do so may:
- Result in the service being cancelled;
- Affect your credit record; or
- In the event of property such as cars, houses (and the like) result in recovery action for the item being taken by the lender.
- Wills and Powers of Attorney.
- Review them. Consider revoking those documents and making new documents. Separation will not invalidate these documents, only the grant of a Divorce Certificate will invalidate them.
- Your computer, emails and electronic information.
- Consider whether you need to change pin numbers and passwords as well as access to any programs. If you change pin numbers and passwords, remember to change your pin number or password methodology and not to write it down in an obvious place (e.g. back of diary). A sample list of pin numbers and passwords to consider includes:
- Bank ATM Cards
- Internet Banking
- Accessing Share Trading accounts online
- Online services requiring a password or pin number
- Message bank on phones
- Home phone
- iPhone/Smart phone
- Loyalty accounts (frequent flyer, flybuys, etc)
- You may be surprised by how much information is stored in your computer e.g. deleted text messages still reside deep within iTunes. Some consider it necessary to backup and rebuild their computer from scratch. If this is necessary for you, engage the services of an experienced trustworthy computer specialist to assist.
The following checklists may also help you:
Separation: More Information
Read the fact sheet The Stages of Separation: How it will affect you & your former partner to help understand what you or your partner are going through.
A useful starting point after separation is the fact sheet Separation: What you need to know & where to get free help.
You should also know the important information in the fact sheet How does Separation & Relationship Breakdown affect my Will, family after your death, Superannuation & Life Insurance.
If you own houses, buildings or land with your former spouse then you can read how that is affected in our fact sheet How does Separation & Relationship Breakdown affect Jointly Owned Property.
You must know what time limits might apply to you which are detailed in the fact sheet Separation time limits after Relationship Breakdown.
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Michelle Beatty, Senior Lawyer
Other Questions answered in the Separation & Relationship Breakdown Section
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