5 reasons to consider seeking family law advice before separation

Many people go to see a family lawyer well before they make the decision to separate from their spouse or partner. Sometimes clients seek family law advice but then do not need to use it as they ultimately remain in their relationship.

By Shelley O’Connell, Head of Family Law at Australian Family Lawyers (South Australia)

There are many reasons why clients may seek advice from a family lawyer before they separate or if they are just starting to consider separation. It is always a good idea to find out as much as possible about your rights, entitlements and obligations under family law so that you can be best prepared if it is the case that your relationship ultimately breaks down.

Clients can always be assured that there is nothing wrong with seeking family law advice and their spouse or partner may never know that they have taken this step unless the party seeking advice wishes to tell them. Clients are often nervous about taking this step but there is never any harm in simply making sure you are informed and educated about these difficult topics. 

Reasons to seek legal separation advice

Man and women discussing legal advice on separation

The following are some reasons why you may wish to consider seeking legal advice on separation whether or not you intend to initiate the separation process:

  1. Your spouse or partner may be insisting that a significant new purchase (such as real estate) be registered in their name only, without providing a reason which you readily understand.

  2. Your partner may not wish to disclose or discuss financial information such as their income, credit card liabilities, bank account balances, or become defensive when you wish to discuss household finances. 

  3. Your partner starts making unilateral decisions about your children or finances without consulting you or seeking your permission. 

  4. Your partner makes large withdrawals from your bank accounts or mortgage offset, without consultation or transparency. 

  5. If separation is already being discussed, you should seek legal advice on separation from a family lawyer to help dispel some of the myths, including threats which are commonly made such as:

      • If you leave the relationship, you lose any or all rights to see your children;
      • If you leave the house, you are not entitled to a share in the property or its contents; or
      • Superannuation will only ever remain with the person who has “worked” for it. 

How to best benefit from your first appointment

When you make the decision to see a family lawyer, you will get the best benefit from your first appointment if you come along armed with as much information about your situation as possible. This might include the following:

  1. A chronology of important dates and events such as the date you first started living together, the date you married, the full names and birth dates of both parties and any children, the purchase of significant assets such as real estate, cars or shares.

  2. A clear picture of all assets, liabilities and financial resources (e.g. superannuation, pending inheritance or compensation claims) at the current time whether they be in your name, joint names, or in the name of a family trust or company. It is also important to have a good idea about the assets and liabilities that each of you brought into the relationship at the start.

  3. Information about the income of both parties from any source, and information about any health issues that may impact your earning capacity. 

  4. Information about financial contributions that have been made during the relationship including funds from other sources such as inheritances, gifts from family, lottery wins or a court case.

  5. Information about care arrangements of children during the relationship and patterns of paid employment of either of you.

Remember, often your first appointment with a family law solicitor is about giving them enough information to be able to give you preliminary legal advice with respect to your rights and entitlements. They will be able to give you options about the next steps you may wish to take to move forward whilst protecting your best interests as much as possible. 

If you are in a position where you are not able to collate some of the above-suggested information, for instance, if you have no transparency into your partner’s bank accounts, shares or superannuation, then your family lawyer can also give you advice about how you might obtain that information even if the other party does not readily cooperate. 

It is really important for you to take the opportunity to empower yourself with the advice that an experienced family law solicitor can give you, to enable you to make well-informed decisions, and engage meaningfully in any difficult discussions you may start having with your partner about separation.

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