Divorce or 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. Ask for support if you need it. There are lots of places you can go for help. Start by sorting out a few simple things, like doing a financial stocktake, then work your way up to tackling the bigger money issues.

First steps when you separate

Take some initial steps to reorganise your finances without your partner.

  1. Close off your joint accounts: Talk to your bank to establish your own pool of money, and make sure your partner can't access it. Check that your pay is going into this account.
  2. Do a financial stocktake: List all your assets, and any debts or joint debts in your name. Try using the your net worth calculator.
  3. Record your turning points: Note down the dates of your separation. To apply for a divorce you will need to prove that you have been separated for at least 12 months.
  4. Update your rental agreement: If your name is on the lease then you could be liable for any unpaid rent or damage caused by your partner.
  5. Seek legal advice:Speak to a solicitor to:
    • Freeze any joint accounts (and go to your bank if necessary)
    • Separate property held in joint names
    • Take legal action, if property is held in your partner's name, to prevent its sale before the final property settlement
    • Update your will

If your partner was the one who took care of the money, find out how things were organised and see if you want to make any changes. Focus on setting yourself up for the future.

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

Video: Scott Pape's surviving divorce money challenge

Video about surviving divorce.

Take Scott Pape's money challenge to help you survive divorce and be in a sound financial position.  

Transcript: Scott Pape's surviving divorce money challenge

Adjusting to a change in income

When adjusting to a change in income, it's important to re-establish where your money comes from and where it goes. Here are two simple steps to get you started.

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:

  • Utility bills (e.g. electricity, gas and phone)
  • Credit and store cards bills
  • Investments
  • Property deeds, mortgage papers, home loan details
  • Savings and transaction account statements, including any PINs and passwords (but be careful with recording your PINs and passwords)
  • Tax records
  • Insurance policies (e.g. income protection, life, health, home and contents, car)
  • Superannuation accounts
  • Will and estate plans
  • Contact details for your accountant and lawyer
  • Business documents, if you have been part of a family business

Do a budget and keep it up to date

Use our budget planner to help you think about your money. Write down all your income and expenses. Then look at what's essential and what you could cut back. Saving a few extra dollars each week can add up to a big difference over time.

Budget planner

Video: Surviving divorce

Surviving divorce video

This video from MoneySmart Teaching features Sue-Ellen, a Victorian technical college teacher, talking about how she handled the financial pressures of becoming a single parent.

Transcript: Surviving divorce

Getting financial information and advice when you separate

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. 

As well as immediate free legal advice about your assets, you might need ongoing support to help plan ahead. For urgent help to sort out your bills and do a budget, you can get financial counselling.

You might also need advice to help you make decisions about housing, educating your children or managing your debts. The Department of Human Services has some information that can help separated parents. Your changed circumstances may also affect payments you are receiving, or could receive, find out how from Centrelink's Financial Information Service (FIS).

For longer-term help to improve your investments and to develop a money plan, consider getting financial advice. If it seems daunting, take a friend for support.

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

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 courses

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.

Transcript: Property and money - settling your finances

Ask for support from family and friends

Managing money when your relationship ends doesn't have to mean going it alone. Ask family and friends for ideas on making your money go further.

Organising your will, insurance and superannuation

Your will

Now is a good time to update your will to reflect the changes in your life. Read more about wills and estate plans at wills and powers of attorney.

Your insurance

It is also a good time to think about insurance, including car, home and contents, and income and life protection insurance, especially if you have children. You might be entitled to insurance through super, but it may not be enough. Try to shop around for cover that's right for you.

If the beneficiary of your insurance is your ex-partner you might want to update your nomination.

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. The Family Law Courts have more information about superannuation splitting, and the Attorney General's Department has superannuation splitting frequently asked questions.

Taking care of children during divorce or separation

If you and your 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.

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

""Pam 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: 04 Feb 2016