Things to do before you decide to leave your relationship
"We have to talk, but first …"
18 January 2021
So, you have made the decision that it is time for you to leave your marriage or relationship. This is probably one of the hardest decisions that you will have to make in your life.
You need to be in a good headspace before doing this. Having access to professional support is a really good idea and something that you should put in place before separation occurs.
You may consider getting help from:
When you have come to your decision, the next step is how to execute it. This will depend on the type of relationship you have with your partner and how they might react.
During my 18 years as a lawyer, I have seen many different exit plans – the good, the bad and the very, very bad.
Some have been very amicable where people sit down, have dinner and discuss the best way to exit the relationship. Others have had to occur under the cloak of secrecy because of domestic and family violence.
Some have had an international twist to them including a client who found out that her husband was planning on serving her with divorce papers in an American state. This would have resulted in a more favorable result to him even though almost all the assets (except for a small retirement savings account) were in Australia. To avoid this, she immediately booked the first flight she could back to Australia, spending 20 hours on the airside part of the airport where process servers were not allowed to attempt to serve her.
Based on what I have seen in my career, here are some things you should consider and have in place before you leave your marriage or relationship:
Things to do before leaving your marriage or relationship:
Have access to funds
Ensure that you can support yourself and possibly your children. For example, if you need to find new accommodation, you will most likely need a rental bond (usually 4 weeks’ rent) plus the first 2 weeks’ rent upfront).
Check if there are daily limits set on any joint bank accounts to ensure significant withdrawals (eg all the money) cannot be made without the consent of both you and your partner. Also make sure that the consent of both parties is needed to change the daily limits.
Ensure that joint financial obligations (such as mortgage payments, loans, and utilities) continue to be met from joint accounts, particularly if it is set up as direct deposits. A default can affect your credit score and ability to obtain a loan or mortgage in the future.
Set up a separate account and ask your employer to make any payments to your own account rather than a joint account. But remember, you may have to transfer money from this account to your joint account to cover any financial obligations.
If you intend to borrow money from friends and family, make sure that it is appropriately documented as a loan to avoid potential disagreements.
Keep an eye on joint accounts and credit cards. If you can:
cancel any secondary card access that your spouse might have to credit or charge accounts in your sole name;
cancel any joint credit cards (which will require the balance to be paid out from joint funds); and
get a new credit card in your own name.
Remember: you will continue to be liable for the balance of your joint credit card until this is paid off.
Ensure that any bank accounts for a self-managed superannuation fund are changed to require all members to approve transactions including payments and transfers. There are strict rules and major taxation implicants about self-managed superannuation fund assets and how they are used.
Obtain records of online transactions and secure your login details
A lot of our lives are lived and transacted online so you should keep a record of all online logins and change your passwords, as well as changing the location data settings and passwords or passcodes on all computers and mobile devices.
Change the passwords for your: email, social media accounts, smartphone PIN code, online bank account access.
Consider setting up an alternate email address to deal with matters relating to your separation (eg emails with your lawyer).
Make sure that your accounts are secure. Computers and smart devices usually save passwords, and you do not want a situation where someone has access to your accounts because of saved or linked passwords on a device.
Deactivate other devices from sharing your iCloud or Google accounts to ensure these devices cannot receive messages using your cloud profile.
Ensure that any old smartphones are restored to factory settings and do not contain any passwords or apps that might allow your partner to read your communications.
Secure your social media accounts
Lockdown or deactivate your social media accounts to ensure that your spouse cannot access them or make any posts to them trying to impersonate you.
Deactivate smartphone tracking
Deactivate your spouse’s ability to find you using your smartphone and devices through Find My Device or Find Friends on an iPhone.
I have unfortunately had a client who was stalked by her husband after they separated resulting in her new partner being violently assaulted when the husband tracked them down while they were having a weekend away.
If your children have devices, you may also wish to consider deactivating these programs on their devices or at least turning them off while they are with you.
Contact the bank
Contact the financial institution where your mortgage is held
Inform them that you have separated. This may trigger an automatic requirement for two signatures on your mortgage redraw accounts or lines of credit. If not, check with your financial institution about how you do this.
Communicate with schools/day care
If you have children who are still at school or in daycare, inform the school or childcare centre and ensure that both parties receive all communications about your children going forward.
If your situation involves family or domestic violence, ensure the school or childcare centre is aware of this and what it means in terms of dealing with your children and partner.
Record important documents
Take copies of important documents so that you have important information. There are several apps that allow you to take pictures with a smartphone. Adobe Scan allows you to take pictures of documents, convert them to PDF and save them to cloud-based services like Adobe Cloud or Dropbox.
Types of documents that you should take copies of include:
Birth and marriage certificates
Bank account statements
Health information and medical reports
Private health insurance details
Tax assessment notices
Estate planning documents (Wills, Enduring Power of Attorney, Advance Health Directives, guardianship documents)
Family trust deeds
Child care benefit statements
Change your Will and Enduring Power of Attorney
Think about changing your Will and Enduring Power of Attorney.
Most couples appoint each other as executors and attorneys in the event of something untimely happening. You might want to think about who you would prefer to make decisions for you if you become incapacitated.
Things not to do before leaving your marriage or relationship:
Think that family violence and keeping you and your children safe is not a priority.
Drain joint accounts – particularly where these accounts have direct debits for mortgages, utilities, or other important expenses.
Involve your children in any of the separation issues or events. Regardless of whether they are 2 or 42, they must adjust to what is happening with their parents no longer being together. For children who are young, this can quite often be traumatic if it is not handled appropriately.
Exclude your partner from spending time with the children unless there are issues of concern like family violence or other risks to the children
Announce to the world via social media that you have separated from your spouse. If you feel the need to inform friends, do so by some other means that is not public where you can have more control of the narrative and the dissemination of your news.
This information is intended to provide a general summary only and should not be relied on as a substitute for legal advice.