A separation can be one of the most challenging experiences of a person’s life.
It’s a time of change and emotional distress – even when it’s something that both people in the relationship agree to be the best step to take to move forward with their lives.
Many people who have experienced a separation after the dissolution of a long-term relationship are surprised by just how difficult it can be to untangle their lives from their former partner. It’s easy for many aspects of our lives to become intertwined, especially if the relationship lasts many years or when children are born to the relationship.
However, while separating from a partner is also going to have some challenges, there are some things you can do in the lead up to a separation that may help to reduce the stress and even the costs that can be associated with a separation.
Whether you’re on the verge of separation or it’s something that you’re looking to learn more about, keep reading to find out how you can prepare for a separation.
What is a separation?
A separation is the ending of a partner relationship – either a marriage or de facto relationship. A couple is considered to be separated when they no longer live together as a couple. Often it involves the former couple living separately, however, people may still choose to live in the same residence just no longer as a couple – this is known as separation under the one roof.
A separation can be initiated by one party of the relationship or by both people in the relationship.
There is no legal process or documents required for separation however, if you’re separating to later divorce or may make a claim for property settlement, it’s important to record the date of separation. You may also need to inform various agencies such as Centrelink and Medicare of your new circumstances.
Why should you prepare for separation?
A separation is often a tumultuous time for the couple going through it. Many different decisions and arrangements need to be made, and many different people’s lives are going to be impacted by the separation – not just the parties to the relationship.
Over the course of a long-term relationship, such as a de facto relationship or marriage, the lives of the spouses can become exceptionally intertwined. They may have had children, they may have started a business together, and/or they may have acquired a lot of valuable assets. The former couple will need to work out how to divide their assets and how they will parent moving forward. And often, many people are surprised by just how many of these different decisions they need to make.
Preparing to separate can allow you to understand your position, think about your ideal outcomes and make the overall process of finalising your relationship potentially a lot less stressful, time consuming and costly.
Being able to prepare for a separation is not a luxury everyone is afforded. You may be blindsided by your partner’s wishes to separate, or you may be in an unsafe situation, such as one where domestic or family violence is present. In these circumstances, being able to have the time to prepare for a separation may not be possible.
However, if separating is something you’ve discussed with your partner already or it’s something you’re considering, there are some steps you can take that can potentially make the process of separation a lot easier.
But before we talk about how you can prepare for a separation, let’s look at the various areas of your life that will be impacted by a separation.
What changes when you separate?
A separation has a significant impact on your life and unfortunately, it’s unlikely that there will be an area of your life that isn’t impacted.
Here are some of the things that are impacted the most during a separation:
For many couples who separate, one of the most significant changes will be to their financial situations and is often one of the biggest stressors.
It’s common for people in long-term relationships to combine their finances. They also tend to rely on one another financially and may have made some large financial investments together, such as a mortgage.
So, when a couple separates, this might mean quite a shake up to their finances. Couples who choose to live separately may see their costs of living increase. Couples will also need to consider how to separate themselves financially from one another, which may require reviewing investments they have made together and dividing their assets.
Whether a couple chooses to stay living together but separated or live separately, the changes to their living situations will be significant.
Living separately will require at least one person to move out of the primary residence. The new financial situation of each party may mean that the family home needs to be sold. It may require both parties to move into new residences.
If the former couple choose to live together but separated, this will mean a change to the way of life inside the home, such as separate bedrooms, no longer eating together, and no longer engaging in a sexual or intimate relationship.
Another area that can be highly impacted by a separation is the way a former couple will parent their children.
If they are living separately, it may mean that one parent spends less time with their children than they did when they were living together.
Deciding where the kids will live, and how they will be cared for are some of the most important arrangements that need to be made. And whilst it can be upsetting for the parents, it’s important that any decisions that are made for the kids are based on the kids’ best interests. This may mean them living with one parent more than the other to disrupt the children’s lives as little as possible.
Ability to Work
A separation may also impact your ability or need to work – particularly if you have children.
Often, when a couple has children, one parent may end up spending more time at home taking care of the children and no longer working, or not working as often as they had before.
Where one person in the couple has been the primary financial provider, when the couple separates, financial support for the other person may need to be considered. Or the other person may need to consider working more than what they have previously in order to be able to support themselves.
The living and parenting arrangements the former couple decide upon may also impact the ability of a person to work too. A person may need to work more to help financially support their children, or they may need to work less in order to be able to spend time with their children or manage their parenting.
For many people, a separation is a highly emotional time. This is often due to the uncertainty of the future and the many changes you’ve already faced. These heightened emotions can make it difficult for your and your former spouse to communicate well.
If your relationship was already somewhat tumultuous, then you may have already been experiencing difficulties communicating with your former partner. However, many people can be somewhat surprised at how difficult communicating with their former partner can become, which can make the separation and finalisation of the relationship a lot harder.
Whilst you can’t expect your ex-partner to want to be friendly or amicable, aim to take the high road and communicate when necessary and with as much emotion removed as possible.
During a separation you may need to make a number of practical changes to various areas of your life – in addition to the ones we’ve already mentioned. For example, if you have joint bank accounts, you may need to apply for separate ones. If you have combined debts, figuring how these will be resolved needs to happen.
Some of the other things you need to change include:
- Medicare card
- Health Insurance
While some of these are not as urgent as others, there are a lot of practical changes that you will need to consider.
How to prepare for a separation
Now that you know the various areas of your life that may change when you separate from your spouse, here are some of the things you can do to prepare for a separation.
1. Understand your financial position
As we mentioned above, the financial situations of each party to the relationship will be impacted by a separation in one way or another.
Money and finances are generally one of the most divisive and contentious areas of any separation, so knowing where you stand financially is very important. You need to be able to plan for the future.
Whether you’re preparing for your separation together, or you’re preparing alone, an audit of each party’s financial situations separately as well as the joint finances, is important.
You need to have information about your current assets, your current debts and liabilities, joint and separate accounts, and even your superannuation. A full picture of everyone’s financial situation may make the division of assets a lot easier in the future too.
It’s not uncommon for one person in a long-term relationship to take charge of the finances for a household, but if this isn’t you, it’s important you do not bury your head in the sand when it comes to your true financial position.
2. Gather your documentation
There are many documents that we become reliant on in our lives. Documents such as passports, wills and marriage certificates are extremely important.
If you’re planning to separate, having a portfolio of all relevant and important documents may save you time in the long run. For example, if you’re planning on divorcing, having a copy of the marriage certificate is vital to the divorce process. Whilst you can always apply to Births, Deaths and Marriages for new a marriage certificate in Australia, this can delay processes, such as filing your divorce application.
Some of the important documents you should ensure you have the originals or copies of include:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificate
- Passport (your own and your children’s)
- Medicare cards
- Leases or Mortgage documents
- Bank account details
3. Think about the practical things
We mentioned a number of different things that will most likely be impacted by a separation, like your finances and living arrangements. So, taking some time out to think about these practical things is extremely important in the lead up to a separation.
You may wish to discuss these things with your former partner during the separation, but it also doesn’t hurt to take the time out for yourself to consider the practical elements of your life once you’re separated.
Some of the things you need to really think about include:
- Where you’re going to live
- If you can support yourself
- Can you pay rent or board for a new place
- Do you have access to your own money
- Opening a bank account in your own name
- Do you need to apply for child support or centrelink
- Do you need to make changes to your will
You need to think about what you need as a bare minimum to survive, what your ideal scenario is and whether there are any of these practical elements that you can do now to save you time in the long run.
The preparation of some of these more practical things can also make it easier for you to make a quick exit if you need to – for example, if your former partner is violent or your safety has been jeopardised.
4. Get support
Support can come in many different forms – it can be with friends and family, local support groups, therapists, and even online.
Even though a separation or a divorce is a very difficult time for anyone who has experienced it, a lot of people have also experienced it. So, finding people to talk to who may be able to offer practical advice or even just emotional support may be easier than you think.
You don’t need to go through a separation alone, so don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
5. Talk to a lawyer
When it comes to separations and divorces, most people engage the services of a divorce lawyer when they are already in the thick of it.
However, you don’t need to wait for something to happen to engage the services of a lawyer. A family lawyer can offer practical negation and representation for you if you’re already involved in a divorce, but they can also be a wealth of knowledge when it comes to understanding your legal position prior to a separation. They can also provide you with the information you need to know about the separation and divorce process.
Proactively engaging with a family lawyer who specialises in separation and divorce can lead to you receiving invaluable advice and the tools you may need to help avoid an especially difficult separation.
Many lawyers also offer a free consultation where you can discuss your matter. You can use this time to ask questions and understand your next steps.
This might save you a lot of time, stress and money in the future.
Do you need a separation lawyer in Australia?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re separating to be able to divorce in the future or you’re separating in an attempt to save your relationship, you can discuss your situation with our understanding family law team today.
A separation can leave many people feeling afraid and uncertain, but an experienced lawyer can provide you with the information you need to know to be able to make informed decisions that are right for your situation.
Talk to a separation lawyer today by calling us on 1300 667 461 or booking a free consultation using the button below.