8 steps you MUST take when you separate

Updated: Mar 30

The month of January sees more couples seeking legal advice than any other point during the year – and after the stress of Christmas, it's hardly surprising. Eating and drinking too much; spending time cooped up in the house together; putting up with each other's relatives can all put a significant strain on your relationship. It's no wonder that many couples start to question the state of their relationship. 

For some couples, marriage counselling may be enough to get things back on track. But sadly, for others, this means separation or divorce. 

But what do you do when you've made the decision to separate? What practical steps should you take to safeguard your position? What arrangements should you make for your children?

Knowing what you should do in the days and weeks following separation, will help you enter a new phase of your life calm, organised and in control. Whether it’s the children or the money you're worried about, we'll explore the practical things you can and should be doing NOW. Failing to take action, could mean bigger and yes, pricier problems down the track! 


The first thing you should do is to note, your date of separation. This date is important because it calculates any time limits you have to bring a property settlement claim and make a divorce application. This date will also be used for any claims made to Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency.


We're all guilty of sharing our passwords, but on separation its especially important, to change all your passwords for your online banking, social media accounts, email accounts, cloud accounts and the like. Choose random passwords using apps that can generate them, such as Last Pass, or Norton Password Manager. It’s important to ensure that all tracking apps are off or inaccessible to your ex. For example, apps with location tracking include Google+. Check that your ex can’t track your whereabouts using “Find my iPhone via a shared iCloud or Android Device Manager.


Unless you or your children are experiencing or are at risk of experiencing family violence, its preferable, at least in the short term to stay put.

There are several reasons. Once you leave the house, it’s difficult to regain access if your ex refuses to let you back in without their consent. If you leave - your ex may be entitled to exclusive possession of the home, until a property settlement is reached.

Secondly, if your name is on the mortgage, you remain liable for payment irrespective of whether you live in the property or not. If your ex stops paying, you’ll end up responsible for both the mortgage and paying rent elsewhere.

Having said that, if you find yourself having to leave the property with your ex remaining, and with you continuing to pay the mortgage, this will be taken into account in the overall property settlement - but don’t expect a dollar-for-dollar adjustment.

If you decide to leave the family home, take what you need or want to keep. You should take all your personal documents, including your passport, birth and marriage certificate, the relationship's financial documents, your children's birth certificates and passports.


Make Arrangements for your Children

As a parent, your primary concern will be the arrangements for your children. You'll need to work out where the children will live and how much time they will spend with each of you. Your arrangements should focus on your children's best interests and be appropriate for their age and developmental needs. 

Parents tend to get fixated on the idea of spending equal time with their children regardless of whether it's practical or developmentally appropriate. Remember, it's not about what's fair on either of you but whether it’s in the children's best interest. Are your arrangements practicable? Do your kids have the ability to cope with the proposed arrangements, physically, mentally and emotionally?

If you can't reach an agreement and unless an exception applies, (for, example domestic violence) you'll need to try family mediation before you can apply for a parenting order. There are several private mediation providers as well as state-based, including 'Relationships Australia' who can help.

Child Support

Child support is the money a parent pays towards their child's upbringing. All parents are responsible for supporting their child financially - even if they don't see them. 

Child support is a regular payment to the parent who cares for the children most of the time. To help you agree on an amount, work out your current children's expenses by making a list of what you spend each month.

If you can't reach a private agreement, you can apply for a child support assessment. Statutory child support is the minimum amount payable. It's calculated by factoring how much you both earn, the number of children, their ages, how often your children stay over with them, whether they have other children, or children living with them.

For guidance, you can use the Dept. of Human Services child support calculator. However, note that a child support assessment does not generally include private school fees, medical fees or costs associated with extra-curricular activities. 


Contact Centrelink

As soon as you separate, contact Centrelink and determine if you are entitled to any new or amended Centrelink benefits.

Gather Financial Information

Ideally, before you separate gather as much financial information about your relationship. Financial documents include anything related to the assets, liabilities and financial resources for you and your ex. Financial records include bank statements, credit card statements, loans, mortgage statements, payslips, tax returns, superannuation statements and so on.  

Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for one party to have been kept in the dark over the finances during a relationship. When you don't know the extent of the property pool, the harder it becomes to work out a fair settlement. When you have this information at the outset, your lawyer can give you an indication of what your property settlement will look like.