The separation roller-coaster is different for everyone and can take you on unexpected twists and turns! However, there are some useful things you can do along the way to help smooth your ride, writes TGB associate Rebecca Zanol.
Visit the Bank
Take a trip to your bank! Whilst this pointer may seem obvious, it is surprising how many issues arise in this area.
Many couples operate joint bank accounts, in which they deposit their respective wages. It is useful to consider whether, upon separation, you should continue depositing your wage into a joint account or redirect your pay into a new account, opened solely in your name.
If you choose to open an account and re-direct your pay, then advise your bank about your separation. If the bank is unaware of your separation, particularly if you are married, they may disclose details of your new account to your former partner. It is therefore ideal to open a new account with a different bank.
Please note that your new account will be subject to disclosure during your property settlement negotiations. As such, you may need to show your previous partner the statements for your new account. However, the account itself and the funds accumulated in it post-separation will be yours to manage.
On the contrary, if your former partner redirects their pay from your joint account leaving you with no income, then you will need to speak to Centrelink about government benefits. Further, depending on your specific circumstances, you may also be eligible for spousal maintenance, so it is important you seek legal advice quickly.
One final point about attending the bank; be sure to speak with them about requesting joint signatures on all savings accounts and redraw facilities. This may prevent you later finding that your previous partner has withdrawn all of your joint savings!
Payment of Joint Expenses after Separation
When negotiating who pays what expenses post separation it is important to know what you are responsible for paying, and what you can legitimately decline to contribute towards.
As a general rule, the party who remains in the family home is required to pay the expenses for the home, including the mortgage and utilities. This is mainly because the party remaining in the home is receiving the sole use and benefit of the property. Further, it is likely that the party who has vacated the home is required to pay rent elsewhere.
The situation is different when there is potential for a spousal maintenance claim. For example, a stay-at-home parent who relies on the working parent’s income may remain in the family home caring for the children and therefore have the use and benefit of the property, yet be unable to solely meet the mortgage repayments. In such a case, if a private arrangement can not be negotiated, it is important to seek legal advice.
The situation can change once again when there is no mortgage secured against the family home. In this scenario, one party will have moved out of the home and is likely paying rent elsewhere, whilst the party who has remained in the home is enjoying the benefit of an unencumbered property.
If both parties to the relationship are working and earning a similar wage, then the party who has remained in the unencumbered property may need to contribute toward other joint debts (in lieu of paying a mortgage) or could be required to pay the renting party an occupation fee. Again , this is an area where you should seek legal advice about your specific circumstances.
Living Arrangements and Changing the Locks after Separation
Changing the locks without providing notice to the other party can create a tricky situation. If both parties are registered proprietors to the property, then technically the “locked out” party is entitled to call a locksmith and have them open the door!
It is therefore best to avoid this scenario by agreeing temporary living arrangements and arranging mutually convenient times for collection of personal effects.
Notwithstanding the above, in some cases both parties are unable to afford the cost of renting or living elsewhere. It is therefore possible to officially separate under one roof. As long as both parties are of the clear understanding that separation has occurred and are essentially living separate lives then, for the purpose of the Family Law Act 1975, separation has occurred. The parties may need to have someone (such as a friend or relative) later verify that such arrangement occurred, so at least one external person should be informed about the separation arrangements.
Emotionally and practically, there is a lot to think about when going through separation. But if you take the time to put a few precautions in place you can protect yourself from some very stressful situations. Whether you are married or de facto, amicable or not, it is always wise to get legal advice on your separation to ensure your rights and entitlements are protected. Tindall Gask Bentley are experts in family law. Book an appointment today or register your details here and we’ll be in touch soon.