Marriage separation checklist in Australia: A helpful guide – Family Law

Key Takeaways

  • Separation marks the beginning of the end of a marital
    relationship but does not legally end the marriage. It requires no
    legal process but is crucial for applying for divorce after a
    12-month period.

  • Achieving financial independence is key, involving gathering
    financial documents, opening a separate bank account, and managing
    joint finances.

  • Early legal advice is vital for understanding rights, handling
    parenting arrangements, child support, and navigating potential
    disputes, ensuring a smoother separation process

What is a separation in marriage?

In Australia, a separation in marriage refers to the point at
which a married couple decides to end their relationship but
remains legally married to each other. This can be considered the
first step towards the formal dissolution of the marriage
(divorce). It doesn’t necessarily require legal processes and
is distinct from divorce, which marks the official ending of a
marriage and requires the couple to have been separated for at
least 12 months with no chance of reconciliation.

While a separation does not require a legal process, being aware
of your separation date is crucial in ensuring that you are able to
apply for a divorce in Australia, after the 12-month separation

How to prepare for a separation

Preparing for separation involves more than just making a
decision. It’s about reflection, acceptance, and strategic
planning. And while financial and legal matters are incredibly
important to be aware of and be prepared to resolve, your emotional
and personal health matters too.

Below we’ve provided a checklist with some of the most
important aspects of preparing for a separation, and you can find
more information about how to prepare for separation here too.

To do: Creating a separation checklist

We’ve categorised the various tasks and requirements of
separation to make it easier to understand all the matters that may
be related to each other. These categories are:

  • Financial preparation and independence

  • Legal advice

  • Parenting arrangements and child support

  • Updating personal information and documents

  • Emotional support and self-care

  • Establishing a separation date

Financial preparation and independence

Gaining autonomy and financial independence are very pivotal
elements of the separation process and can feel overwhelming. Some
of the key steps to take in this area include:

Gather financial records

Collecting relevant financial documents, such as financial
records, will help you to prepare for your separation. It’s
necessary to compile documents like:

  • Pay slips

  • Bank statements (including credit cards)

  • Tax returns

  • Rent/mortgage agreements

  • Investment documents

  • Loan agreements

These documents are important for a smooth property settlement
process. Documentation related to personal and shared assets, as
well as liabilities, will be relevant in property settlement
negotiations and may support claims for spousal maintenance.

Additionally, recording detailed balances, purchases, and
payments from credit card accounts, including interest free
purchase cards, ensures accuracy in property settlements and
clarifies debt responsibilities related to payment and debit

Opening a separate bank account

In order to manage personal finances, you will need to open a
separate bank account that will be used to receive post-separation
income like your wages, salary, and Centrelink payments. This also
ensures that you have access to funds, protecting your financial

Consider how you will manage joint accounts and finances

It’s common for finances to become entwined in a marriage or
long-term relationship, so in addition to opening your own bank
account, it’s important to figure out how to manage any joint
bank accounts, investments, or liabilities. If possible, aim to
eliminate as many of the potential liabilities and joint accounts
as possible to ensure that neither party is misusing these
resources. This may also require a conversation regarding how your
shared responsibilities, such as a mortgage, may be handled in the

Seeking legal advice

It’s never too early (or too late) to seek legal advice. In
fact, early legal advice can ensure a clear understanding of
one’s rights and entitlements and help to avoid causing minor
issues to become major ones. Legal advice can also help with
understanding the implications of separation on parenting
arrangements, child support, spousal maintenance, and even the
details of wills.

Seeking legal advice before separating from a partner is key to
handling all related processes correctly as each couple’s
situation is unique in a divorce separation in Australia. And in the
event of disputes or aggression post-separation, family lawyers can
provide clarity and options for obtaining enforceable orders.

Parenting Arrangements and Child Support

Parenting after separation can be challenging, but with
preparation, it’s not impossible. As family lawyers we strongly
encourage parents to ensure they think about the following:

Establishing temporary parenting arrangements

Establishing temporary parenting arrangements is crucial in
providing stability for children during separation. A parenting
plan is a written agreement between parents concerning childcare,
which is not legally enforceable but serves as a guide and the aim
should be to do what is in the best interests of the child –
factors such as the child’s age, needs, special requirements,
logistics, cultural considerations, the child’s views, and
safety should be considered.

Calculating and managing child support payments

Calculating and managing child support payments is a crucial
step to meet children’s needs. The Australian Government’s
child support calculator estimates payments by considering taxable
incomes, number and ages of children, and the time children spend
with each parent. Additional factors such as multiple child support
arrangements or receiving income support payments may influence
child support liabilities or entitlements.

Updating personal information and documents

Refreshing personal information and documents forms a vital part
of the separation process. Here are some of the documents and steps
you should take:

Changing Contact Details

Changing contact details is vital to ensure proper communication
during separation. You need to notify Medicare, Centrelink, and the
Australian Tax Office of any change in contact details following
separation. Updating mailing addresses for those who are moving is
crucial, as well as ensuring details on driver’s licenses and
passports are current.

It’s also important to inform children’s schools,
doctors, and accountants of the new contact details to maintain
continuity of services and communication.

Reviewing Insurance Policies

You may need to review insurance policies and ensure they
reflect up to date information to account for any changes in
personal circumstances, such as removing one party from the policy.
This includes insurance for house, contents, motor vehicles,
private health, and pet insurance. This helps to prevent
unsubstantiated claims being made.

Securing Important Documents

Securing important documents is an essential part of the
separation process. It’s crucial to secure all important
official documents to avoid any potential issues with the legality
or access to these documents. Key official documents to compile

  • Marriage certificates

  • Birth certificates

  • Passports

  • Bank statements

  • Insurance policies

  • Car registration

  • Business papers

  • Property documents

Once gathered, these documents should be kept in a safe location
such as a safety deposit box, fireproof safe, or with a trusted
legal advisor to ensure they are protected and accessible when

Emotional Support and Self-Care

Emotional backing and self-care are of utmost importance during
the separation process. The emotional impact of separation can
include experiencing loneliness, sadness, shock, hurt, anger,
guilt, frustration, and sometimes feelings of relief or excitement
for the future. It’s crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle
during the stress of a relationship breakdown including taking care
of yourself both physically and mentally too.

Finding Professional Help

Finding professional help can make it easier to manage emotional
difficulties during separation. Services such as Relationships
Australia and the Family Relationship Advice Line provide
professional counselling and support for those undergoing
separation. Professionals like psychologists and counsellors
recommend therapy sessions to help separate negative thoughts and
behaviours contributing to separation anxiety.

Building a Support Network

Building a support network is important to maintain social
connections and receive emotional support during separation.
Talking to family, friends, colleagues, or health and relationship
professionals is encouraged. Avoiding social withdrawal is
important; staying engaged with those who wish to help can provide
much-needed support during the separation process.

Joining support groups can provide a community of individuals
experiencing similar issues with separation, offering education,
shared experiences, and emotional support.

Understand why the date of separation matters

The date of separation is pivotal in family court proceedings as
it sets the baseline for asset distribution, and impacts property
settlement and the time limit for filing for divorce. Determining
this date can be challenging, especially when couples continue to
live together due to financial reasons or child custody
arrangements, despite being legally considered as separated under
one roof.

Importance of a Clear Separation Date

A clear separation date is vital for legal decisions, including
asset division. Courts consider contributions to the marital assets
up until this date, and even after in some circumstances. Assets
acquired post-separation may also be included in property division
if the asset pool is calculated at the time the agreement is
reached instead of at the separation date.

Hence, controversies over the separation’s timing can result
in in-depth legal scrutiny and impact property settlements,
underscoring the need for a clear separation date in our
comprehensive separation checklist.

How to Record the Separation Date

Recording the separation date is just as important as
establishing it. You can document the intention to separate in
writing, such as through a text message, email, or official
correspondence via a lawyer. It’s also useful to update the
separation date with government agencies, including Centrelink,
Medicare, and the Child Support Agency.

Informing friends and family about the separation promptly is
essential, especially if you continue living with your ex-partner.
These measures help ensure that the separation date is recorded
accurately and can be used as evidence if disputed.

What not to do during separation in Australia?

While it’s important to comprehend what actions to take
during separation, it’s equally imperative to understand what
actions to avoid. For instance, do not take the children out of the
country or interstate without your ex-partner’s knowledge or
consent. Avoid discussing your intention to separate with other
people before discussing it with your ex-partner to maintain the
possibility of reconciliation or an amicable relationship.

Do not post about your relationship issues on social media
platforms as it can cause tension, miscommunications, and pressure
on friends and family to take sides – and an even have legal
ramifications. Always call the police if you are exposed to
domestic violence to protect your safety and provide an independent
record of the incident. These are just a few points to keep in mind
during separation to avoid complications.


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