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Till divorce do us part

Verity is a freelance writer, web designer and crafter who loves to bake, run and kill the occasional house plant. As mama to one gorgeous little man, Verity finds excitement in dinosaur treasure hunts, building forts out of sheets and f...

what to do when it's time to call it quits

From SheKnows Australia
Do you want to end your relationship? If you’re thinking about getting divorced but don't know where to start, here's what you need to know before you make the split.
Relationship tips
woman talking to her lawyer

One in three marriages ends in divorce. Yet despite its prevalence, divorce isn’t something that often comes up in conversation. Sure, you probably know of a friend of a friend who’s made the split but, beyond the fact that divorce is hard to deal with emotionally, do you really know where to start when it comes to dealing with important practicalities?

First steps

Natalie Fielding, family lawyer at Lewis Holdway Lawyers, says the first thing you need to do if you’re thinking about a divorce is to speak to a lawyer.

"An initial appointment with an experienced family lawyer will hopefully alleviate some of the concerns that you have," Ms Fielding says. "They will help you put things into place that will enable you to move forwards and will be able to give you advice about your living and financial situation," she explains.

Your lawyer will help you establish whether you are entitled to file for child support or spousal maintenance and, if you are, will advise you how to do this. "Your lawyer will also encourage you to establish some parenting arrangements for your children and will provide you with a framework of how you could achieve this," she says. You may also be entitled to some Centrelink benefits and you should speak to Centrelink about whether you are entitled to Centrelink benefits.

Speaking to a financial adviser is also a smart move. A good financial adviser who is experienced in family breakdowns will help you plan your future cash flow and can help you make plans to move successfully from a double to a single-income household. Many lawyers also work closely with financial advisers and accountants to assist you in managing your relationship breakdown, says Ms Fielding.

Emotional support

While seeking out a good family lawyer is essential in dealing with the practicalities of divorce, it’s important to remember that family breakdowns are emotional affairs. Ms Fielding says the best thing you can do is to find someone you can talk to.

"Separation is a difficult process for everyone so it is a good idea to find someone to talk to, whether it is a family member, a friend or a counsellor," she indicates. "Ask this friend to come to your appointments with your lawyer and walk the journey with you to provide support when needed. Lawyers can assist you with obtaining a legal outcome and some finality for your relationship, but they are not counsellors and a lot of people need some added assistance to help them move on," she explains.

A year and a day

A common misconception when filing for divorce is that it is a process that is separate from obtaining a property settlement and making arrangements for your children.

"You can obtain a property settlement and make arrangements for your children before you get divorced," Ms Fielding says. "Considering you need to wait one year and one day from separation before applying for a divorce, it would be beneficial to obtain a property settlement and make arrangements for your children before this time," she says.

Generally, you would live apart from your partner during the period of separation, however, you can be separated but living in the same home before applying for divorce. This is known as "separation under the one roof" and to prove to the court that you were separated during this time you, your spouse and another person (if you and your spouse are not filing a joint application for divorce) will need to prepare separate affidavits stating the change in your relationship.

The kids

Trying to sort out who gets the kids and when is an emotional, challenging and often heartbreaking issue. It goes without saying that your children should not be used as pawns in your settlement discussions and it’s important to remember that, when children are involved, you will both remain the parents of your children for the rest of your lives. Try to keep it amicable.

In terms of resolving arrangements for your children, there are four pathways you can take:

  1. An informal agreement with your ex-partner
  2. A parenting plan (your lawyer can help with this)
  3. A consent order (an Order from the Court agreed upon by both parties)
  4. An Order from the Court

"You don’t need to attend court to obtain an arrangement for your children," Ms Fielding says. "The best way of resolving arrangements for your children is by discussion between both parties. If this does not work you can attend mediation with a family dispute resolution practitioner, or obtain assistance from a lawyer," she explains.

Unless there is evidence of family violence or child abuse, you must engage pre-action procedures before you file court proceedings. If you are required to file court proceedings, there will be several opportunities through the court process to attempt to reach a settlement with your spouse, Ms Fielding says.

De facto divorce

Another key thing to know is that the law in Australia is now the same for people who were legally married and those in de facto relationships. "The only difference is that people in de facto relationships have two years from the end of the relationship to apply for a property settlement, while people in a marriage have only one year from the date of their divorce," Ms Fielding explains.

Even the best planned divorce is messy, emotional and loaded with issues you probably never imagined. If you’re thinking of making a split, or your partner has uttered that big D-word, it’s time to prepare yourself and start working towards the best possible outcome for you and your family.

More relationship advice

Why fighting is killing your relationship
Help a friend through a break-up
How to extend the honeymoon phase

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