Where Do I Start With Separating?

Choosing to separate from your partner is a life-changing decision.  Ending a marriage can be an extremely stressful and emotional time and most people have no idea what to expect – or where to start.

This guide takes you through separation and provides some insights into what you can expect and how best to prepare for it.   

We take you through the steps of separation and answer questions with respect to property and children issues.  We will also provide some suggestions on how to set up for your ‘new normal’.  

As a starting point, it is worth bearing in mind that litigation is generally very costly on many different fronts and the preferred route to a resolution is through mediation and communication.   The goal for someone going through a separation is to try to reach agreement without requiring court intervention.  

It is also important to note that married and de facto couples – regardless of whether they are same sex or opposite sex couples – are treated a similar manner under Australian family law.  

Starting the separation process

The decision to separate does not have to be made jointly.  One person can decide to end the relationship without consent by the other party.

Communication about the decision to separate can take place in a number of ways, including a face-to-face conversation, a counselling session, telephonically, via email, text message or in a letter.  Once the decision has been made, the usual course of action is that the couple ceases to live together.  However, couples can still be separated and live independently under the same roof.

It is not necessary to engage a family lawyer or go to court in order to start the separation process.  However, it is beneficial to get legal advice as soon as the decision has been made – or even when you are considering leaving your partner – because a lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and responsibilities and chart a way forward that achieves the best outcome.

What you need to consider

Once the decision has been made that the relationship is over, you and your partner will need to make some immediate plans about practical issues.  If you have children, it is important to make sensible and loving decisions about their care and welfare.  You will also need to work out a financial solution at some point.

It is understandable that couples do not always agree on a way forward in the very early stages of separation.  Emotions can run high but it is best to try and make temporary arrangements however challenging the situation may be.

Taking care of yourself and getting help

No two separations are the same.  The circumstances of each situation are unique and everyone has different pressure points, different concerns and different expectations.    Regardless of your situation, you need solid advice and support systems around you.

It is also crucial to look after your physical and mental health as well as your financial health.  Engaging the services of caring and compassionate professionals such as a financial advisor, accountant and family lawyer can help dispel concerns and prevent you from making any decisions that may compromise your future.

What to do if there are children involved

A separation where children are involved is generally more complex.  

Parents are strongly encouraged to consider the children’s best interests when making parenting decisions.  This is not easy, especially in turbulent situations, but it is important to try and keep personal emotions at bay and think about the children’s future.

Even after separation, it is assume that both parents have joint responsibility for any major decisions relating to the child or children’s lives.  These include major decisions about their education, health and religion. This is referenced in Australian law as ‘equal shared parental responsibility’, which is a presumption, but can be rebutted.

If the decision has been made to separate, does the court need to be involved?

Some couples are able to end their relationships amicably, but in conflict situations, third party intervention is sometimes required.  Not all separating couples end up in court as many are able to reach agreement through mediation.  In fact, separating couples are required to try and resolve their disputes through mediation before they make an application to the Court.

What do I do about financial matters?

Once you have separated from your partner, it is important to plan for your future financial health and security.  You will need to work out financial arrangements (otherwise known as a ‘property settlement’) with your former partner and it is generally a good idea to finalise these as soon as possible after the separation.     

Property settlement involves many different financial elements, including a couple’s assets, and liabilities.  

Note that if a party wants to apply to the Court for a property settlement, they have a limited time after their divorce (in the case of married couples) or after their separation (in the case of de facto couples), in which to do so.   If a couple was married, they have 12 months from the date of divorce in which to make an application to the Court and de facto couples have two years from the date of their separation.  

In conclusion

If you are newly separated or considering ending your relationship with your partner, one of the most important steps you can take is talking to a family lawyer.  Even a one-off consultation may be sufficient to chart a satisfactory way forward.  

A family lawyer will offer advice that is pertinent to your unique circumstances and will help you understand what your rights and obligations are.  Please note that this article is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice.  Should you wish to talk to a compassionate and highly experienced family lawyer in Perth to assist you with your separation or divorce, please get in touch with West Family Lawyers at www.westfamilylawyers.com.au or call them on 08 9380 9111.


Natalie Dimmock

Natalie has worked in family law for 18 years, with skills and qualifications in law, mediation, psychology, management, and company directorship.

Natalie is equally comfortable at mediation negotiating a settlement and in the Family Court advocating for clients. She has experience in all areas of family law, including child support, financial settlements, and parenting issues. She is part of a small team of trusted family lawyers in Perth practising in the Family Court of Western Australia.

Find out more about Natalie here.

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