Ann Northcote advises on the things you can do to make separation smoother.

Separation is a huge step. Sometimes, while dealing with the big issues, little things are left behind. Doing the right thing in small ways can make for an easier transition to living separately and also build some goodwill. Sometimes the small things can jeopardise agreement being reached.

I have been present at settlement conferences that have failed because of a party feeling aggrieved over things that have occurred that an outsider might regard as small. The following are some tips to help you in relation to both children’s and financial issues:

  1. Make sure you have a complete list of assets, liabilities and superannuation that will need to be dealt with in your property settlement.
    Your lawyer can’t help you if they don’t know about something. Some people forget about the jointly owned IAG shares they may have received when NRMA was floated some years ago. Has your company provided your ex with a fuel card? Do either of you have old superannuation funds that you have forgotten about?
  2. Accounts for utilities will need to be sorted out but do not engage in petty behaviour such as organising for the electricity to be cut off at the home which you have vacated.
    Remember the children live there too.
  3. Even if you were the “social secretary” during your relationship, remember that in most circumstances, you will now only have the children with you every second weekend.
    It is therefore not appropriate to accept birthday party invitations, or commit the children to weekly sporting events without consulting your former partner.
  4. Be fair about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
  5. If, pending a property settlement, you are driving a car that is in the name of your former partner, do the right thing by them when you incur a parking or speeding fine.
  6. If you have private health insurance talk to your fund about options available post separation.
    Do not remove your spouse or indeed your children from the family policy without prior consultation and agreement. No one would be happy with receiving a huge ambulance bill due to the actions of the other party.
  7. Pets.
    A lot of emotions are tied to our pets. Take into account the children’s feelings with regards to pets. Under no circumstances take a pet to be put down without the other party’s knowledge.
  8. If you are the spouse remaining in the former matrimonial home pending property settlement, however tempting it may be to have a big cleanup, do not discard items that you would acknowledge were more your spouse’s than yours, even if you can see little use for them.
    As the old saying goes, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure”. On the other hand, if you are the party who has left, be realistic that over time items do wear out or break.
  9. Do not engage in destructive behaviour.
    We have all seen on television, stories of partners cutting up photos or their ex’s clothing. Any momentary satisfaction that this may bring you may be dwarfed by the response it elicits. If you dispose of or damage an item of property which forms the matrimonial pool, then the court can adjust for this in the property settlement.
  10. Be very careful about what you post on Facebook, what you send by email and what you text.
  11. Be sensitive to the how and when of introducing your children to your new partner.
    While one might think it is obvious, do not ask your children to call your new partner Mum or Dad, nor say to the children “this is your new Mum/Dad”.
  12. Do your best to maintain at least a civil relationship with your former in-laws.
    Remember that they will always be your children’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Published in B2B Canberra Magazine