About to leave him? Ten steps to consider before walking out the door
Sarah Bastian-Jordan | Lawyer | 09 November 2013
“When you have decided to end a relationship…
here are my top ten suggestions for women…”
When you have decided to end a relationship there are some practical steps you can take to protect your interests. Here are my top ten suggestions for women:
- Stay in the house and have him leave
- Secure or take the children’s passports and birth certificates with you
- Take steps to secure your data
Although not as important as it used to be, it is usually still in your interests if you remain in the house with the children. (Please note this should not be a paramount concern if there are issues of domestic violence.) The Family Court previously followed the rationale set down in the case of Cilento which said that if children were in a settled stable environment (eg: the family home with mum) then it was usually in their best interests for that status quo to continue, at least in the interim. This principle was overturned in the 2006 case of Goode. However in determining disputed arrangements for children, the Court must still ascertain what is in the child’s best interest. There are a number of factors, one of which is that the court must consider the likely effect of any changes in the child’s circumstances (s 60CC (3)(d)). Usually keeping children in their familiar environment will be in their best interests. On a practical level it will also be easier for you and the children if you don’t have to haul your belongings out of the house, arrange alternate accommodation, change addresses and set up utilities etc.
This is especially relevant if your former partner has connections overseas. If you secure the children’s passports then you will not need to be worried about him leaving the country with them. Once children are abducted internationally, it is a long and difficult fight to have them return.
Although it is a criminal offence to hack another person’s computer there have been occasions when the court has permitted that information (albeit improperly obtained) to be tendered in evidence. Even if not used in evidence, that information could be utilised against you, to shape or direct your former partner’s case. With technology ever evolving around us, it is imperative that you realise what information you do store on your computer, and how accessible it may be.
Some simple steps you can take are:
- Change passwords on your computer/laptop
- Change passwords on all web based email accounts – or establish a new email account
- Change passwords on your internet banking
- Ensure that your antivirus software is up to date
- Ask for help – Call your Internet Service Provider or a private computer consultant to review your computer and other electronic devices (i.e. ipads/ laptops and other smart phone devices) as you may have had shared settings and authorities with another person during a relationship. However, you need to check that these privileges have been revoked/ moved as in some instances documents and emails have been copied from one computer to another
- Create password protection on documents
- Delete temporary internet files (or cookies)
- Be cautious of the information you post on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter or any internet blogs. Despite the best security measures, there is a risk that information you upload to the internet could be retrieved or accessed and then used against you. With this in mind, you should be aware of the information, documents and photographs that you upload and post onto these websites and even may consider taking some of these down
Whether you do this and the amount that you should secure depends upon your individual circumstances, however in most cases it is prudent and appropriate to secure a sum of money (being funds from your own sources or joint sources) which gives you some security in order to meet likely expenses such as obtaining initial legal advice (the amount depends on your circumstances but an amount of at least $5,000 for this would be sensible), setting up new accommodation (bond, first month’s rent, utility establishment costs, an amount to restock the pantry etc) and an extra amount as a safeguard for unexpected costs.
First, consider changing your internet banking password. Second, have a look at your accounts. Do you have a credit card/s which are primarily in your name and your former partner is the secondary card holder? If so, consider using joint funds now to pay off the debt and then cancelling his secondary card. Do you have a joint loan facility which is not fully drawn (ie: there is still the option for one of you to draw extra funds on the loan?) Consider directing the bank that no further draws are to be made on the loan without joint authority. Do you have a savings/access type account in to which your salary/income is paid and to which your former partner has access? Consider making changes to ensure he will no longer have that access.
Collect together and take or secure your important documents including:
- Your income tax returns and assessments
- Your payslips and group certificates
- Your hard-copy bank statements
- Your superannuation documents
- Your loan documents
- Any documents relating to any business, partnership, company or trust (trust deeds, partnership agreements, business contracts, financial statements, tax returns, letters from accountants)
- Your insurance documents
- Registration and ownership documents for cars, boats, other vehicles
- Documents detailing the historical purchase and sale of important assets (eg: properties)
- Any documents that can verify the assets, liabilities and superannuation that you had at the commencement of your relationship
- Any documents that can verify the assets, liabilities and superannuation that you have at the present time
- Your CV
- Your tertiary and/or professional qualification documents
- Your Will and Power of Attorney
Make copies of all of his documents from the list above.
The family law system is not properly designed to deal with the minor intricacies of people’s lives. That means that whilst ‘big picture’ items such as houses, cars and superannuation can easily be addressed in the court’s jurisdiction, it is time-consuming and inefficient to try and divvy up the ‘minor’ items such as photo albums, sentimentally significant items of low value (tea sets, small inherited items, or small items of a personal nature), jewellery. Securing these items now will avoid the need to have to chase them down at a later time. It does not mean that you will not need to account for their value in a property division (or in the case of photos, allow your former partner to take copies) but at least they are in your possession and control and you know they will not be ‘lost’ or ‘misplaced’.
You should consider informing people such as:
- childcare, kindergartens, schools – whilst these institutions are not bound by any arrangement you reach with your former partner or court orders, it is important that they are aware of the separation so that they can consider the need to only take steps based on the joint authority of the parents and can provide the children with support during the difficult times.
- banks – some banks have cosy relationships with the male partner and will act on their instructions alone even in relation to joint accounts or liabilities. You should make the separation known to them so that they are aware that they can no longer act on the ‘she’ll be right mate’ principle. Of course, this may not be the best step to take in your circumstances if the banking relationship is working the other way.
- real estate agents – if your property is on the market then making your separation known to the agent can cut both ways – it will ensure that they communicate to both you and your former partner rather than just your former partner, but knowledge of your separation could have an adverse impact on the sale price in the market.
First you should get legal independent legal advice in relation to family law. Then you should also consider obtaining advice in relation to:
- Financial matters – from your accountant (what tax obligations are outstanding, what needs to be lodged, what obligations do you have as a co-director of a company that you own with your former partner?) and financial planner (should you keep the house or is it better that it be sold and you obtain cash for alternate investments?)
- Estate planning matters – do you need to make a new Will? (separation does not revoke the terms of an existing Will). Do you need to revoke an existing Enduring Power of Attorney? (You may not wish for your former partner to still have control over your health and financial affairs). Do you need to change the title registration on properties you own jointly (from a joint tenancy to a tenancy in common)? Do you need to change nominations you have made on your superannuation and insurance policies? (ie: have you nominated your former partner as the beneficiary of those policies in the event of your death?)
- Personal matters – counselling is usually advisable for you and perhaps for older children.
The above is intended as general advice only. It may not be suitable to your particular circumstances. If you require advice or assistance, please contact a family law solicitor.
Senior Associate, Phillips Family Law
Sarah is a Senior Associate with Phillips Family Law. She has over 10 years’ experience and practises exclusively in family law. Although practising across a broad range of family law areas (property, children, international abduction) she has particular high-level expertise in complex property disputes. She is a professional member of the Family Law Practitioners Association (FLPA), the Law Council of Australia and the Queensland Law Society…go to Sarah Bastian-Jordan’s profile page
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