When a relationship goes pear shaped, the emotional fall out can be all consuming, particularly if you have children to think of and support. This can make dealing with the practical matters even more difficult.
Here are 5 things I wish I knew before I got separated:
1. Secure your finances.
This needs to be top priority as your financial security will help you move forward. If you don’t already have your own bank account then create one and deposit enough money to support you and your children for at least a month if possible. Also consider access to shared credit cards and loans. While it is easy to trace, once money is gone from joint accounts, it is hard to get back after it has been spent. Document everything (see next point).
ASIC’s Money Smart website has some good information on finances during separation and divorce.
2. It’s all about the paperwork.
Get a diary, a binder, start a spreadsheet or do all of the above. There will be a lot of paperwork in your future!
- Take note of important dates such as date of separation as this information will be required a lot.
- Record dates and notes of key communication between you and your ex as this may come in handy for future reference, particularly for finance or child related matters. Email is always a good source of communication as it automatically creates a paper trail.
- Make sure you secure your important documents such as birth certificate, marriage certificate, superannuation, life insurance policies etc.
3. Do your research.
There is a lot to get your head around but it is important that you know where you stand legally and what your entitlements are. Here are some things to consider:
- You may be entitled to Centrelink benefits as a single parent. If you are eligible for a Single Parenting Payment (SPP), this will give you a Pension Card/ Health Care Card. This card entitles you to discounts on things like medical services, pharmaceutical, concession discounts for bills like rates, electricity, water as well as transport and some fun stuff like entry to movies etc.
- A Child Support Assessment needs to be lodged with 3 months of separation otherwise any benefit you receive may be impacted. You do not have to have a formalised Child Support arrangement in place, but you must have an assessment done within the timeframe.
- Read up about family law around shared parental responsibility, what a parenting plan is and how they work. The Family Court of Australia website has a wealth of information available.
- The Family Relationship Advice Line (1800 050 321) is a government initiative that provides information to families going through separation. It provides information of family law, family relationship issues and advice on parenting arrangements after separation, including mediation.
- Lawyers are handy but expensive. However, a good lawyer can save you money in the long run. Make sure they are well versed in Family Law – seek recommendations from friends and family. If you get a lawyer, be as informed as you can before you see them so you make the best use of your time – you will pay by the hour and by the email/phone call so make them count. Depending on your circumstances you may be eligible for Legal Aid.
4. Get support.
This is such a hard journey but you don’t have to go it alone. I was amazed at the number of women on Facebook that contacted me after my marriage broke down to express their support and share their experiences. Those ladies got me through some dark times because they gave me hope for the future as well as being a wealth of information.
Often friends and family who haven’t been through separation don’t know quite what to say or do. In some case, the support you need might just be a cry with the girls, other times professional counselling or solid advice might be more helpful.
Some places you can seek support are:
- Online groups. There are lots of forums on the net and social media which provide a great network of support and advice (Refer to list at the end)
- Organisations such as Relationships Australia
- A private counsellor or psychologist.
It is also important to get external support for your kids. Tell their teachers or carers about your change in circumstances so they can be alert for any changes in behaviour and consider engaging a child psychologist or counsellor if they show signs of not coping.
5. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
Even the most amicable separation can get complicated and sometimes things can turn sour, even when it seems like everyone is on the same page. Separating from a relationship requires adjusting our expectations of the other person. Remember they are processing this event in their own way, which can often impact communication and the outcome of negotiations. Terms you agree on early in the process may change as each of you navigate your new separate lives. While it sounds a bit Negative Nelly, it is always good to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Leaving a relationship can be extremely difficult, regardless who instigated the separation. It is also important to note that the most dangerous time for domestic violence is at the point of separation and after. If at any time you think your or your child may be in danger, please seek support immediately.