11 April 2013 Relationship breakdown checklist - what should you do if you separate?

By Annette Wilson, Special Counsel and Caroline Bass, Senior Associate

  • Check all joint accounts and home loan redraws. Change PINs and passwords. Withdraw surplus funds or restrict access. Speak to your bank.
  • Check all joint credit accounts, including credit cards, store cards and overdrafts. Restrict access or cancel cards and get new ones.
  • If you do not have a bank account open one in your sole name. Redirect your income into that account.
  • Consider sources of income, especially if income-splitting. Terminate the splitting arrangement.
  • Review the beneficiaries of your Will, life insurance and super.
  • Revoke any Power of Attorney or Appointment of Enduring Guardian in favour of your spouse. You might need new ones.
  • If you move out of home, remove your name from accounts for utilities.
  • Visit the child support agency website ( for information about child support.
  • The court takes into account assets and super acquired or built up after separation, as well as increase to income. Avoid accumulating assets after separation.
  • See a lawyer as soon as possible to start a property settlement. Knowing your rights early can help you reach and amicable resolution. You can then focus on rebuilding for your future sooner.
  • If possible, keep living in the home. If your spouse moves out, change the locks.
  • If you do move out, take your computer, all your important personal papers (eg your and any children's passports, birth and marriage certificates, medical records, Medicare and health insurance cards, bank records) and copies of as many of the "Documents to gather" listed below as possible.
  • If leaving the computer, copy your financial information and other important documents to a disk or USB and delete them from the computer.
  • If you move out, take your car and any sentimental items, such as photos and your family heirlooms.
  • If you move out, lodge a mail redirection and change of address notices as soon as possible. Don't rely on your spouse to forward important mail to you unopened.
  • If you separate under the same roof, open a post office box in your name and redirect your mail to it.
  • If your spouse leaves with the children, start seeing them regularly. Make sure the children have your mobile number, so they can contact you.
  • It is now compulsory to try to settle parenting issues through community based mediation. See for more information.
  • If you think there is a risk your spouse might leave the country with the children, contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and see a lawyer urgently. Secure the children's passports.
  • If violence is an issue, telephone the police and ask for an AVO.
  • Have lawyers document any financial or parenting agreement you reach. If an agreement is not properly documented, it will not be binding.
  • Relationship breakdown can be one of the most stressful times of your life. Find a counsellor or trusted friend to talk to.
  • Current income information, last three years of financial reports, tax returns and tax assessment notices for you, your spouse and any company, trust or self-managed super fund.
  • Current bank, loan and credit card statements.
  • Current information for other assets, eg share portfolios, managed investments, superannuation.
  • The constitution, share register and minutes of meetings of any family company.
  • The trust deed for any trust or self-managed super fund.
  • Title deeds, any valuations and market appraisals of real estate.
  • Any documents related to assets, liabilities and super you each had when you were married or started living together, and their values at the time.
  • Any documents showing any lump sums you or your spouse received during the relationship - eg redundancy payments, inheritances, compensation payouts, loans or gifts from relatives or friends.
  • Any pre-nuptial or domestic relationship agreement you and your spouse signed or had drafted.
  • Any document recording any offer or agreement regarding split of assets.

Ask a lawyer about a pre-nuptial or domestic relationship agreement to protect yourself and your assets if starting a new relationship.
Ask a lawyer about protecting your new partner if you have not yet finalised financial matters with your former spouse.

For more information please contact:


Annette Wilson, Partner  |  Phone: +61 2 9233 5544  |  Email:
Caroline Bass, Partner  |  Phone: +61 2 9233 5544  |  Email:

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This article is not legal advice and the views and comments are of a general nature only. This article is not to be relied upon in substitution for detailed legal advice.

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