The end of a de facto relationship can be emotionally taxing for both parties involved, without the added stress of working out who gets to keep what.
However, time and time again disputes are created around the division of assets between a recently separated couple.
For same-sex couples this can become particularly tricky depending on the nature of their relationship.
Slater and Gordon senior family lawyer Mona Emera said many separated couples are able to negotiate arrangements between themselves but there will often be disputes.
“In our experience these disputes are common but most can be resolved out of court,” she said.
“Usually there will be a disagreement about how much each party contributed to the assets and who the assets belong to. Ultimately the disagreement will be about who gets to keep what assets after a split.
“Even if there is no dispute, property settlements should almost always be formalised so it’s important to get advice early.”
At Slater and Gordon Emera said she deals with range of disputes, particularly over property settlements.
“We deal with arguments over whether there is a same-sex de facto relationship – people sometimes assert a friendship rather than a relationship,” she said.
“There are also arguments over the length of the relationship, and over who contributed to assets and household expenses.”
Emera added that it’s important for members of the LGBTI community to seek legal advice in order to know their rights after separating.
“We always recommend getting legal advice even if negotiations do not involve lawyers and things are amicable,” she said.
“Get advice about what constitutes a de facto relationship and possible entitlements under the Family Law Act in the event of a separation.
“In some cases it may also be appropriate to have a financial agreement protecting assets, like a pre-nup for de facto couples.”
Going through a separation can be a stressful time, and Slater and Gordon are often asked by people what they need to do to protect themselves once they decide to separate from their partner.
Emera has put together a handy checklist of things you should follow once you separate.
1. Change all your passwords
It’s important that you change your bank PIN numbers, internet and telephone banking passcodes, and email passwords, to ensure money can’t be withdrawn from your account. You should also change your social media passwords and have strict privacy settings in place.
2. Check bank accounts regularly and let your bank know that you have separated
Check your redraw facilities and joint bank accounts. If your partner has withdrawn a very large sum of money from your redraw facility or joint accounts you need to act quickly. Check your accounts regularly and if you are concerned that large sums will be withdrawn without your consent, talk to your bank and see if they will change the account to require two signatures.
When in doubt, inform your bank in writing that you are separated and do not consent to any money being withdrawn from your redraw facility.
3. Put your financial documents and other valuable documents somewhere safe
It is not uncommon for these documents to disappear after separation. Take them to work or leave them with someone you trust. If you are concerned that your partner may take your children overseas without your permission, put the children’s passports somewhere safe too.
4. Put your sentimental or valuable things somewhere safe
If that trinket box that your grandmother gave you is sentimental or you can’t live without that signed copy of your favourite book or album, put it somewhere safe.
5. Change your will and consider whether you want to change the beneficiaries listed in your insurance policies and superannuation fund
6. Revoke any power of attorney
If you have appointed your partner as your Attorney it is preferable that you revoke that Power of Attorney as soon as possible.
7. Keep a diary
You may need to recount events to a lawyer including conversations you had with your partner. Maintaining a diary will help you with that task.
8. Keep things as civil as possible
Nobody wants to spend a lifetime fighting with a former partner.
9. Consider whether you need to change your postal address
If you are concerned that your former partner will read your mail, consider obtaining a postal box or redirecting your mail to a friend or family member.
10. Get legal advice
You may never need to use a lawyer but make sure that you are fully informed before making life altering decisions.
If you’re currently going through a separation and require legal advice, visit Slater and Gordon for support and advice.