Need a lawyer? Or just some sage advice? Separating a relationship is one of the hardest things you can ever go through, especially if there are children involved. Here, local family lawyer Sherika Ponniah shares her legal expertise on the five essential things to do before and the five things to do after you separate…
Life’s journey is filled with many joyful moments such as the birth of a new baby, buying your first home and getting married. And then there are the moments which you never thought *you* would be going through. According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale (The American Institute of Stress), divorce is considered the second most stressful event in life, and separation, the third most stressful (death of a spouse takes the top spot as the most stressful life event).
When you first separate from your partner, there are a multitude of emotions that come to the surface. This, coupled with financial pressures and dealing with big changes can lead you to overlook some important steps you need to take. So, if separation is something that has been forced on you, made by choice or made by mutual agreement, action these five things to ensure you are prepared for the (usually bumpy) road ahead.
1. Ensure you have access to funds. You don’t want to find yourself without access to bank accounts or in the situation where you need to constantly ask your former partner for handouts. If you have a joint bank account, ensure you are also a signatory on the account and an ‘account holder’ for the purposes of accessing details.
2. Ensure the safety of yourself and your children. This might mean changing locks on the home before you separate, ensuring your new address/phone details are silently listed, informing your child’s school and ensuring someone you can trust is aware of where you will be.
3. Consult a professional. Whether it is a lawyer to find out your legal standing after separation, a counsellor to nut out your emotions or a child psychologist to evaluate the impact on the child/ren, be prepared and consult a professional early.
4. Make a list and get organised. Once you have communicated your wish to separate, there is often no time to la-di-da around. Make sure you make a list of essential items you wish to take with you for the child/ren and/or yourself and pack any valuables that must go with you beforehand. Think about pets and other duties that must be taken care of and how you will attend to those.
5. Think of documents as gold. Passports, marriage certificates and birth certificates are very important documents to have in your possession. You also do not want to be left without access to documents linked to assets and liabilities you may need to settle your property. Take photocopies when you are unable to take originals.
If you have already separated, make sure you immediately do the following.
1. Ensure the safety of yourself and your child/ren. Consider keeping your new living address private or take out any restrictive orders (such as Apprehended Violence Orders), if required. If your partner has moved out of the family home, and there is family violence or you are genuinely fearful, look at having the locks changed and consult a family lawyer immediately.
2. Ensure your child/ren’s school or day care is informed. Pick-up and drop-off arrangements need to be communicated to your child’s school.
3. Think about a parenting plan. You know your situation best. Before you see a lawyer or mediator, think about what arrangement might work best for you, your former partner and your children. An agreed arrangement, made soon after separation is always better than a Court making an arrangement for you.
4. Check the validity of important documents. Look at your superannuation interest/s and update any beneficiaries if you wish. This is also your chance revisit or create a Will or Enduring Power of Guardianship.
5. Consult a family lawyer. This is to find out about your legal rights and how to move forward. Even if your separation was amicable, it is best to be informed early in the process. Stats show that agreements that are made soon after separation, stick. The sooner you are able to agree on how to settle any property you might have and best care for your children, the easier it will be to move forward.
If you have any other tips on how to separate amicably that you would like to share with fellow mums, please comment below.
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