There are few experiences more traumatic in life than a relationship break-up with a long-term, much loved partner. For some people, the emotional stress of such an event can have considerable and lasting effects on their finances, on their health, and on their lifestyle.
Naturally enough, the bust up of a relationship can also seriously impair your thinking in the weeks and days after it happens. Arguments and continuing conflict have the potential to overwhelm your ability to make the essential decisions that you need to make in order to move on with your life.
That’s why we’ve come up with this list of 10 things you should keep front of mind if and when a separation happens. Paying attention to some of the things on the list will make ‘life admin’ – made necessary as a consequence of changing living circumstances – a lot easier to deal with.
1. Consider Counselling or Mediation
Either for yourself or, if they agree, with your ex-partner, visiting an objective third party to discuss your relationship breakdown and its implications can be an effective way of externalising the pain and trauma involved. It is also a way to avoid the destructive arguments that can envelop ex-couples post-break-up, which sometimes prevent them from effectively sorting out important issues such as children, finances and living arrangements.
2. Seek Legal Advice
While a separation does not require you to see a lawyer, if you were married and plan eventually to divorce, you’ll need to be properly separated for 12 months. Even if you don’t have an immediate plan to divorce, a chat with a lawyer who has family law experience can help clarify what needs to be done in the days and weeks after separation. They will help you prioritise the documentation you will need in order to later finalise arrangements such as divorce, custody arrangements, property settlements, etc.
3. Talk to Your Children
Children are clever and will always know when things are not right between parents. Be honest and upfront with them about the separation. Invite and do your best to answer their questions on living arrangements and other implications of the separation. Ensure they have what they need to feel safe and secure. Avoid criticising the other parent in their presence – this will not stand you in good stead in any latter family law proceedings. Again, consider a counsellor or family dispute resolution service to help the children understand what’s happening.
4. Assess Your Financial Position
Chances are that being in a relationship meant your finances were enmeshed with those of your now ex-partner. Now that you’ve split, you will need to consider opening a new bank account, applying for a separate credit card, or withdrawing funds from an existing redraw facility or jointly held account, particularly if you’re the one who has to move out of the family home and find new accommodation. Separation can be an expensive event. If the split was particularly acrimonious, there is also the need to guard against the chance your ex will withdraw all funds from any joint account.
5. Stay Off Social Media
This is sage advice in an age when people feel the need to share everything about their lives on social media platforms. But talking about your ex, or showing evidence of your post-relationship lifestyle, can all have negative consequences when it eventually comes time to divorce, conduct a property settlement, apply for child custody and all the other unfortunate consequences of relationship break-ups.
6. Update Your Will and Enduring Power of Attorney
First up, if you don’t have a will, you probably should make one ASAP after separation as if you die without a will but remain married, your ex-spouse could inherit your whole estate against your wishes. If you have an existing will and enduring power of attorney which nominates your ex-spouse as your executor, beneficiary and/or attorney, you should update these documents to reflect your new status. Failure to do so leaves a lot of power in the hands of your estranged spouse in the event you die or become incapacitated.
7. Collect Important Documents
Following on from points 2 and 6, it’s wise to gather up all important legal and financial documents, including your marriage certificate, bank statements, tax returns, superannuation policies and loan documents, and keep them in your possession as you will need to provide detail on your assets and liabilities from the relationship when it comes time to proceed to a property settlement.
8. Review Other Important Policies, such as Superannuation
As with your will, if your ex-spouse is nominated as a beneficiary within your superannuation policy, life insurance or other death benefits, you may wish to update these details after separation. If there is no nomination in place, if you were to die the trustees of your super fund would likely pay any superannuation and death benefits to your former spouse. If money in the fund is for the benefit of your minor children, consider paying these benefits to your estate upon trust and nominating a trustee in your will to manage these funds until your children have reached adulthood, otherwise the surviving parent (your ex-spouse) – as the children’s guardian – will be in control of this money.
9. Update Other Information
Like finances, a relationship means lots of other ‘life admin’ matters are joined together. On separation, it’s time to contact various government agencies (Centrelink, etc.) to update your situation. Consider opening a new post office box and redirecting important mail from the former family home. Set up a new email account and change passwords to any personal media, internet banking and other accounts in case your ex-partner knows your former passwords.
10. Stay Calm
All of the above requires some clear thinking and a rational process, yet you’re being asked to do it during a highly emotional time. As best as possible try and keep high emotion out of the things you need to do to separate your life from your ex. Speaking regularly with a counsellor and engaging a family lawyer with a clear view of your priorities at this trying time will greatly help you navigate your way forward.