Divorced or separated?
In Australia, divorce refers to the process wherein two parties agree to legally end a marriage. On the other hand, a separation does not entail any legal process. A separation can take place both in marriages, and in de facto relationships.
The breakdown of a relationship could arguably be one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. It is natural to go through a whirlwind of emotions. The mental toll that it takes on a person is unparalleled, and in many cases one may feel that it hampers their decision-making abilities.
Often, you might find yourself at a complete loss, with no idea as to what you need to do next. While it is important to give yourself time to reel from the emotional shock of a divorce or separation, it is also practical to be informed about the important steps you need to take.
Although the post-divorce and post-separation steps are quite similar, there may be minute differences, especially considering the respective legal and financial procedures.
Within the legal landscape, it is common knowledge that property settlement becomes the most contested matter following a divorce.
Keeping that in mind, there are vital legal and financial steps that parties who are going through a divorce should take.
1. Gather important documents
Before property division and settlement takes place, it is prudent to keep all necessary documents handy, including extra copies of documents. The documents could include property titles, vehicle registration, and insurance policies, among others.
Additionally, for every legal step, it is advisable that you retain copies of your divorce order, marriage certificates, and even birth certificates.
2. Update information and documents
Be aware that your personal documents might include your ex-spouse’s surname, or other information regarding your spouse.
These documents, and other information could include:
- driver’s license;
- Centrelink information;
- Medicare information;
- any bank cards; and
- private health insurance
These documents, among other important documents, should be updated immediately to reflect your current status.
3. Update Wills
It is important to restructure existing estate plans and Wills, as it is not uncommon for people to name their spouse as executors or beneficiaries in their Will. However, after a divorce, it is practical to update your Wills especially to avoid any potential disputes that may arise in the future.
Moreover, it is also advisable to request that you be removed as an executor or beneficiary from your ex-spouses’s Will.
4. Financial step
Couples often have funds saved in joint accounts. All such joint accounts must be closed. Moreover, if there are mutual funds held in accounts, these must be paid out following a divorce.
In a similar vein, if you have set up direct debit payments from any of these accounts, you must notify all service providers of the change. These can include: –
- Internet, water and electricity providers;
- Memberships and subscriptions;
- Children’s school fees (Wherever applicable); and
- Phone bills (in case of family SIM plans)
5. Change passwords
Although not a characteristic of every relationship, it is common to have access to your partner’s computer, and emails, and vice versa. Changing passwords becomes especially important when people are going through a contested divorce.
In a contested divorce, the parties do not agree on their divorce settlements, and it often involves court procedures. To avoid personal disputes, and to maintain peace among both parties, it is recommend that all passwords be updated so as to restrict access.
Passwords can be updated for: –
- Banking accounts
- Social media accounts (wherever applicable)
- Share trading accounts
6. Get legal advice
Given how tedious and complicated the procedures are following a divorce, it is wise to seek legal guidance from family lawyers who have the experience of dealing with complex divorce cases.
The circumstances in each case are very unique. Hence, following a standard procedure may not always help you. Instead, legal advice that is tailored to your specific situation will help you navigate through the complexities better.
There are certain differences between a divorce and separation. A divorce involves a concrete legal step, whereas, a separation does not necessary include any legal procedures.
For instance, if you stop living with your spouse in a domestic arrangement, it can be considered a separation. Similarly, sometimes couples also opt for separation under the same roof wherein they stay in the same house, but are separated from each other.
Because of these differences, the immediate steps to take after a separation may vary slightly. However, essentially the vital steps remain the same.
1. Be explicit about the separation
Often a separation might feel “less serious” than a divorce because it does not include many legal procedures. When this happens, it is normal to hope for things to get better. If you have decided to get separated from your former spouse, you need to make it very clear.
Often, this lack in clear communication leads to unnecessary complexities in the future. Also, this confusion can lead to greater emotional and mental stress. Hence, clearly communicating the terms of your separation is very important.
Importantly, ensuring that this communication is documented will help both the parties in the future. This is because the date of separation is often required in family law procedures. For instance, if the parties wish to file for a divorce, they must have been separated at least for a period of 12 months.
2. Choose residence
After separating, if you have decided to move out from your house, you need to think about your living arrangements. This step is especially important where there are children involved.
Due consideration must be given to the environment of the new residence, and how it can impact your child/ren.
3. Gather documents
As with a post-divorce scenario, it is necessary to gather all important documents, and make copies of the same wherever necessary. These documents can include: –
- Financial documents like bank statements
- Vehicle registration papers
- Property titles original certificates as well as copies
- Marriage certificate
- Documents related to all other assets and liabilities
4. Financial step
The financial steps are also largely similar to those that are taken after a divorce. Because couples have joint assets, and joint accounts, it is necessary to break those accounts.
This is crucial to avoid any conflict in the future. If both parties were directing their salary to the joint account, they need to ensure that it is redirected to their sole bank accounts.
In case of mutual amicable agreements, the assets held in joint accounts can be distributed equally. However, in complicated separations, this will not always be the case, and legal intervention will be necessary.
5. Update passwords
Much like after a divorce, it is imperative that you create new passwords for all your accounts. It might not be a good idea to let your former spouse have access to all your personal information. In updating passwords, you can include things like emails, social media accounts, banking passwords, debit card PINs, etc.
6. Updating Wills
If you former partner was nominated as the primary beneficiary or executor of your Will, it is important to change your executor and primary beneficiary. This also applies to superannuation funds.
7. Getting legal guidance
Taking advice from a solicitor is beneficial to understand what are the best options for you, and what your plan of action should be.
In fact, it is best to consult a solicitor the moment you decide to separate. This is because, not only will the solicitor help you out with the actual process of separation itself, but also it is important to have an expert guiding you through all the procedures post-separation.
This article has provided an overview of the important steps to take following a divorce or separation. The steps mentioned here are not exhaustive, in that, there are many additional steps that need to be taken depending on your particular circumstance.
As with all family law cases, the circumstances vary a lot. To have a complete understanding of what needs to be done, seeking a solicitor’s guidance is vital.
Solicitors have a wealth of family law experience under their belt. This helps them to formulate the exact post-separation or post-divorce plan for you. With their legal prowess, they can help you navigate through all complex procedures.
Going through a divorce or a separation is emotionally demanding. Ultimately, it is important to have people who are looking out for you by your side.