Divorce and separation

Breaking up is hard to do

The end of a relationship can be an emotional and traumatic time. You may feel anxious or overwhelmed about such a big change in your life.

Be kind to yourself and ask for support if you need it as there is help available. Start by sorting out the immediate things, like having your own bank account, then work your way up to tackling the longer term money issues.

Video: Divorce and separation financial checklist - Anne Hollonds

Video about divorce and separation financial checklist with Anne Hollonds.

Relationship expert Anne Hollonds explains how our divorce and separation financial checklist can help you navigate your finances when you relationship ends.

First steps when you separate

If your former partner was the one who took care of the money, you will need to find out how things were organised and decide how you want to manage your finances. Focus on setting yourself up for the future. Here are some things you can do to protect your finances:

  • Close off your joint accounts - Consider closing your joint account. Talk to your bank to establish your own account with your own pool of money, and make sure the other joint account holder can't access it. Check that your pay is going into this account
  • Do a financial stocktake - List all your assets, and any debts or joint debts in your name with our asset stocktake calculator.
  • Record your turning points - Note down the dates of your separation in a diary or notepad. You can use this when you apply for a divorce as proof that you have been separated for at least 12 months.
  • Cancel your redraw facility - Talk to your bank to cancel any redraw facility on your home loan to make sure your debts don't grow.
  • Update your rental agreement - If your name is on the lease then you are liable for any unpaid rent or damage caused by your partner.
  • Update your utility bills - If your name is on the account then you are liable for any unpaid bill.
  • Seek legal advice - Speak to a solicitor about separating property held in joint names, taking legal action, if property is held in your partner's name, to prevent it being sold before the property settlement, and to update your will

Practical steps to separate your finances when you split up.

Divorce and separation financial checklist

If you're in a crisis and need emergency relief or emotional support see our urgent money help webpage. 

Adjusting to a change in income

Your income and expenses are likely to change when a relationship ends. It's more important than ever to make sure you have a good idea of where your money comes from and where it goes. Here are two important steps to get started.

Create a new budget

Write a new budget based on your changed income and expenses. Start by writing down all your income and expenses. Then work out whats essential and what could be cut back.

Try to keep your bank balance healthy by sticking to a budget.

Budget planner

Saving a few extra dollars each week can add up to a big difference over time. For urgent help to sort out your bills and do a budget, you can see a financial counsellor.

Gather your financial information

If you're not used to managing your money, getting all your key financial documents together is an important first step. Find and organise your:

  • Savings and transaction account statements
  • Utility bills (e.g. electricity, gas, mobile and internet)
  • Credit and store cards bills
  • Property paperwork (deeds, mortgage papers, home loan details)
  • Investment paperwork (managed fund statements, share dividend statements)
  • Tax records (tax returns and tax file numbers)
  • Insurance policies (e.g. health, home and contents, car, income protection and life)
  • Superannuation accounts (both yours and your ex-partners)
  • Will and estate plans
  • Contact details for your accountant and lawyer

Getting advice when you separate

As well as immediate free legal advice about your assets, you might need ongoing support to help plan ahead, make decisions about your children, housing, or managing your debts. The Department of Human Services and Family Relationships websites have information that can help separated parents.

Smart tip

You do not lose your right to a share of the house or other property if you leave the house. See legal rights for dividing property on the Victoria Legal Aid site. 

Your changed circumstances may also affect payments you are receiving, or could receive, find out how from the Department of Human Services' Financial Information Service (FIS).

See our video about Becky who gets behind on her mortgage payments when her relationship breaks up.

Video: Becky gets behind on her mortgage payments after a breakup

Video about checking a bank statement

Becky has two children and has just separated from her ex-partner. While she's paying child support, she is struggling to keep up with her mortgage payments. See what happens when Becky slips behind and how ASIC's MoneySmart website can help.

Guides, workshops and videos on divorce

Legal Aid centres around Australia have some really useful guides, workshops and videos to help you navigate separation and divorce. Here are some that we think will really help you.

Family law guides and resources

Video: Property and money - settling your finances

Video about preparting for bushfire season

Separating your property and finances when you split up is a challenge. This video from Legal Aid Western Australia explains what you should know about your property and financial matters, what to expect from a property settlement and how to make dividing your property less stressful.

Organising your will, insurance and superannuation

Your will

Think about updating your will to reflect the changes in your life as being separated or divorced does not cancel an existing will and different rules apply in each state. Read more about wills and estate plans at wills and powers of attorney.

Review your insurance policies including car, home and contents, and income and life protection insurance, especially if you have children, to make sure they provide the level of cover you need. You might already have income and life protection insurance through your super, which you may be able to increase if it's not enough. Try to shop around for cover that's right for you.

Also, review your nomination if the beneficiary of your insurance is your ex-partner.

Your superannuation

Getting your superannuation sorted after your relationship ends is an important step in planning for your future. Once you separate or get divorced, super is treated as a type of property and can be divided by agreement or by court order.

These websites have helpful resources on superannuation splitting:

Taking care of children during separation and divorce

If you and your former partner are separating and have children, you'll have to agree on arrangements for their care. Child support at the Department of Human Services can help explain your child support options and has a range of self-help tools for parents after they separate.

Unless an exemption applies, the law requires separating families who have a dispute about children to make a genuine effort to try to sort it out through family dispute resolution before filing an application for parenting orders in Court. You can visit Family Relationships Online for more information about the services and advice available for families.

Family breakdown can be an especially difficult time for children, so make sure you talk to them openly, answer their questions honestly and, where appropriate, involve them in the decisions that affect them.

Case study: Pam takes care of her money after her divorce

Woman taking care of her money after her divorcePam has separated from her husband after 26 years of marriage.

'Getting my finances together was a bit overwhelming. I'm ashamed to admit it, but my husband did almost everything when it came to money. So now, at 50, I have just opened a bank account for the first time and I've learnt how easy it is to manage my account online.

'It's taken me a while to get organised but I'm glad I'm getting on with my life.'

Getting on top of your finances can be daunting at any time, and even more so if you are dealing with a relationship breakup. But like a lot of things in life, just take one step at a time and your confidence will grow.

Related links

Last updated: 20 May 2019