Divorce & Separation - The First Steps

Article 17 May 2017

Making the decision to end a marriage or separate from your spouse is never easy.   Whether the decision is mutual or not, separation is a very emotional process and one of the toughest experiences in life.  

From a family law perspective, there is a distinction between divorce and separation. Separation is the breakdown of the marriage.  It is usually considered to have taken place when one of the parties moves out of the marital home, however in some cases couples can live together under the same roof even though their relationship has broken down. 

A divorce is the more formal, legal end to a marriage and couples must have been separated for a minimum of 12 months before they can apply for a divorce.

Taking the First Steps

There are a number of steps that should be taken when a couple separate in order to make the process as fair and equitable as possible for both parties.

For example:

1.  Make a list, or keep a diary, of the key dates and details of the relationship and separation.  

Include dates of key incidents that may have led to the decision to separate, details of when one party moved out of the home or any conversations you had in which you agreed to separate.  This will make the process easier from a legal perspective if the separation ultimately ends in a divorce.

2.  Make note of your financial situation including a list of any assets that you and your partner own both separately and jointly.

Include bank account details, balances, superannuation policies, property assets, cars, business holdings and so on.

3.  Contact your bank and block large withdrawals from being made on any joint accounts - it is fine to withdraw amounts necessary for normal living expenses, but neither party should withdraw or transfer large sums of money.

It may also be worthwhile to change passwords and security PINs on your bank account, email account and telephone.

4.   If you have children, keep a record of the parenting arrangements between you and your partner both before and after the separation.  

5.   Make sure that you have copies of any relevant documentation such as bank statements, superannuation statements, insurance policies, car registration papers and so on, as well as Marriage and Birth Certificates and your passport.

6.  Find a lawyer that you feel comfortable with and speak to them about obtaining legal advice.

This is arguably the most important step.  Even when a separation is 'amicable', it is important to speak to an experienced family lawyer as soon as possible to ensure that you have a good understanding of your individual situation, including your rights and your obligations.  

For more information on separation and divorce, contact the team at CDQ for advice.