Family Law

Facing Separation? Some things you may need to consider…

Facing separation or relationship breakdown can be one of the hardest things you ever do. Even if you don’t add trying to separate property or managing parenting and custody and support of any children – breaking up is hard.

There is no right or wrong way to feel when facing separation

This is an emotional time where things can get volatile, and people can get very hurt. There is no right or wrong way to feel right now and everyone experiences separation differently.

You may feel worry and fear, sadness, anger, bitterness and resentfulness. You will feel concern for others involved, and you may even feel some relief now that you are facing what has been coming for some time.

Your main worries right now are probably trying to face and manage your own feelings, look after your children and your safety, look after your property and prepare for the future. There are many options, services, and resources that can help you through this – you don’t need to face things alone.

Your financial situation will almost certainly change. If you have children, your home life, and routines and responsibilities will also change. You may have to go to work when you didn’t before, or you may become 100% practically responsible for looking after your children (or possibly both) or you may see you children significantly less than you did prior to your separation.

If you don’t want the separation or didn’t see it coming, then all of this can get even harder. If your friends and family aren’t supporting you in this, it can become more difficult.

It is natural to feel scared and overwhelmed at this time.

Don’t let anyone tell you how you should be feeling, or how you should deal with your grief. You will get through and manage in the ways that work for you.

Separation takes time, but you can heal. Just keep taking the steps towards healing, even if you doubt right now that you will ever get there.

If you are concerned about your legal rights when separating, this article has covered some of the basics for you.

Bear in mind, this is just the basics – and you may need to consult a family and relationships lawyer to get advice about your specific situation.

Things you need to consider when facing separation

Are you and your children physically safe? Where are you going to live?

How are you going to support yourself in the future? What are your immediate bills and costs, and what can be put off for a little while?

What property will you need to divide up? Do you need to put anything into place to protect your property or other assets? How will you divide up debts?

Do you have any idea what child custody arrangements would suit both parties and most importantly, the children?

You have choices in your separation, and knowing this can give you a sense of power.

According to Relationships Australia, you can choose to:

  • accept that your relationship is over and plan for the future
  • survive – one day at a time
  • learn new skills or polish up your old skills
  • seek help
  • be there for your children
  • not be the victim
  • not get hooked into fighting
  • not be the one who drives an unnecessary legal battle
  • recover and rebuild your life.

Is it important to look after yourself

It can be very hard to put yourself first right now, and it can very hard to think clearly or make reasonable decisions about what you need. Here are a few things that you should try to do:

  • Don’t blame yourself
  • Be kind to yourself and give yourself as much time to heal as you need
  • Look after yourself physically and mentally
  • Don’t use your children as a sounding board or as a weapon against your ex
  • Ask for help
  • Don’t isolate yourself

But doing any of this can be difficult, so just focus on one thing at a time, one day at a time.

Some options that may help:

  • Join a support group for people in a similar situation
  • Speak to your GP about your physical and mental health
  • Seek counselling, either as a couple, or own your own
  • Speak to a financial advisor or counsellor
  • Talk to the DHHS (Centrelink) about changes in government payments
  • Speak to a family and relationships lawyer

The Legal Side of Separation

Legislation provides that de facto and same-sex relationships have the same legal entitlements when it comes to property adjustments and making arrangements for children as those of traditional marriages.

Legally you will need to arrange for:

  • Property settlement
  • Parenting arrangements (such as a parenting plan or a parenting order)
  • Child support payments

You will need to have a formal written arrangement in place between you and your ex for property settlement, or in some cases, for your children.

Many separations can be navigated through lawyers and family dispute resolution services. This is a reasonably low-cost way to make sure that everyone is looked after. It keeps things amicable, lawful and puts protection in place to make sure that all parties stick to the agreements.

You may need to escalate matters to court and have orders made by a judge, but this can still be handled through dispute resolution and conciliation, and does not necessarily mean facing a trial.

Parenting arrangements after separation

Separating from your partner doesn’t mean you are no longer a parent. The family continues, but in a different form – and your love and responsibility for your children shouldn’t change.

The law presumes that the child will be best off if both of their parents sharing parental responsibility (save for some exceptions such as circumstances of family violence). This relates primarily to making decisions and planning for the future.

Although it is envisaged that a child will spend equal time with both parents, that may not be the case for a variety of reasons, and it falls to what is in the best interests of that particular child.  The decision as to who a child will live with and how much access both parents have will depend a number of factors, often unique to your particular family circumstances.

Whilst this juncture in your life can be one of the most traumatic and overwhelming periods you will ever face, there are option to minimise the pain and stress to you and your family.