by Samantha Lewis, Nolan Lawyers
Relationship breakdowns are hard. What makes them more difficult is having no clear strategy or information on what to do and how to do it. This is particularly so if you are in a relationship where you have been given very little financial Information.
If you have no financial information, that is not uncommon. There are processes in place that facilitate the exchange of financial information between spouses. Don’t be fooled if your partner suggests you don’t need disclosure and that you can work it out just the two of you- it’s like splitting a bill in a cafe without having the list of items and prices in front of you.
If you have recently separated or are considering separating, consider this step by step check list:
1. Collate financial documentation
The types of documents you may need include:
- Marriage certificate
- Birth certificates for your children
- Bank account statements
- Loan account and mortgage statements
- Insurance policies (health, home and contents, car, income protection and life)
- Tax records (tax returns and notices of assessment)
- Superannuation statements
- Car registration details
- Utility bills (gas, electricity and telephone)
- Property documents (leases, deeds and mortgage documents)
- Investment statements (managed funds or shares)
- Government benefit documents
2. Seek legal advice
We recommend that you obtain legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity. It is not uncommon for clients to consult us before they have separated so that they can make an informed decision about how best to proceed. A family lawyer can assist you with the following:
a. Dividing your property and assets
Obtaining legal advice early allows you to have the knowledge of what you are likely to achieve on any property settlement. In order to assist in the process of obtaining this legal advice:
- make a list of the assets and liabilities you both own.
- assets include real property, bank accounts, motor vehicles, shares, interest in any business, company or trust, superannuation and furniture and effects.
- liabilities include mortgages, personal loans and credit cards.
b. Deciding how to care for your children
- if you are unable to agree on the appropriate parenting arrangements following separation, we recommend that you attend upon a suitably qualified Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) practitioner. An FDR practitioner will meet with both of you and assist you in negotiating suitable parenting arrangements. We can then work with you to formalise these arrangements.
- agree on how to pay for children’s expenses
- child support – contact Services Australia to find out more information about the amount of child support that is payable in your particular circumstances.
- government payments – contact Services Australia to find out if you are eligible for government benefits for separated parents.
3. Domestic violence and financial abuse
Domestic violence can include physical, sexual, emotional, verbal or financial abuse.
- if you or your children are feeling unsafe, contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 737) 24 hours a day.
- protect yourself – call 000 if you are in danger or need assistance with an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO)
4. Manage your income and expenses
a. Sort out your mortgage
- speak to your lender and let them know that you have separated. Your lender may allow you to make an application for financial hardship to reduce the mortgage repayments to interest only pending finalisation of your property settlement.cancel your redraw facility or ask the bank to implement a ‘two to sign’ process on the mortgage.
- try to reach an agreement about who will be responsible for the mortgage pending finalisation of your property settlement, noting that one of you may be paying rent for a separate residence during this time.
b. Protect yourself if a property is registered in only one party’s name
- you should seek legal advice about how to protect your interest in a property if it is registered solely in the other party’s name
c. Prepare a budget
- work out your income and expenses using a budget planner
- government benefits and payments – speak to Services Australia to see if you are eligible for government financial assistance
d. Spouse maintenance
- you should seek legal advice about whether your spouse has an obligation to support you financially following separation
5. Update your accounts, Will and superannuation
- If you do not already have one, you may wish to open a separate bank account in your name
- you should change your PIN and online banking passwords
- try to reach agreement about the use of joint bank accounts and credit cards (including an agreement for two to sign)
- update your insurance policies and superannuation binding death nomination forms so that your insurance and superannuation goes to your intended beneficiaries
- update your estate plan including your Will, Power of Attorney and Enduring Guardianship documents
6. Formalise the agreement reached
The most important advice is that once agreement is reached you formalise it through either an Application for Consent Orders or a Financial Agreement. This will put an end to any potential claim either party may make against the other.