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  • Writer's pictureNicole King

A Guide to Family Separation

Updated: Apr 3

Family separation can be an incredibly challenging and overwhelming journey for so many and it can be difficult to know what step needs to be taken first.


Navigating where to live, parenting arrangements, finances, property settlement and divorce, it can feel overwhelming.  This guide aims to provide you with practical information to help you navigate the complexities of family separation, offering insights and resources to make the process more manageable for you and your loved ones.


To start with, it’s important to note that parenting arrangements and property settlement planning and/or negotiations can commence before, during or after separation – you don’t need to wait to be divorced. You may want to at least agree upon a temporary parenting arrangement that works for all parties and in particular takes into account the needs of the children as soon as possible following separation. It’s a good idea to note the date of separation (this can include separation under one roof) as Divorce can only be applied for 12 months post-separation.


Seek Emotional Support

Emotional wellbeing is so important during a family separation. You may want to seek support from trusted friends and family or consider seeking professional counselling services to help you process the emotional challenges of separation. While many separations are handled amicably, it can be a long road for some, and having others to be a sounding board or to provide emotional support can make the world of difference. You don’t have to do this alone. You may find it helpful to speak with the Family Relationship Advice Line or Parentline in your state or see some of their helpful resources on separation and parenting.


Prioritise Children's Wellbeing

If children are involved, try to consider their needs and wellbeing as well.  We know that while separation can be an adjustment period, when parents are able to be attentive to the needs of the child/ren and co-parent accordingly, keeping conflict away from them, then they can usually adjust to separation more smoothly. Maintaining open and age-appropriate communication, ensuring they feel heard and supported. Create a safe space for them to express their feelings or worries and allow them to ask questions. Reassure them that the separation is not their fault, that their voices matter and that they are loved unconditionally and that will not change. See Helping Children and Pre-Teens Adjust by Raising Children.


Children may experience a range of emotions during family separation. Be attuned to their feelings and provide emotional support. Encourage healthy coping mechanisms such as art, play, storytelling, sport, family fun time. A good resource on this is Parenting after Separation or Divorce by Raising Children.


Look out for signs that your children are not coping and seek support if that's the case. There are programs that can support children cope with separation, you can talk to your GP or school counsellor. Depending on the age of your child, they can talk to Kids Helpline if they need immediate support or see resources on Kids Helpline - they provide counselling to children between the ages of 5 and 25 .


Despite the changes, continue to celebrate important milestones together as a family (if safe to do so). Attend school events, birthdays, and other significant occasions collaboratively to maintain a sense of unity and normalcy for the children.


Co-Parenting Collaboration

If you can, collaborate with your ex-partner to create a parenting plan that considers the children's best interests and encourages a sense of stability. Work together with your co-parent to establish consistent routines, rules, and expectations across both households. Consistency provides a sense of stability and security for children during times of change.


Consider their schedules, school commitments, and extracurricular activities when creating parenting arrangements. Flexibility and a shared commitment to the children's best interests can really help them adjust to this new world and make for an easier transition.


Relationships Australia have a Parenting Plan Guide/Template called Share the Share : Collaborative Parenting Apart that you may want to use and complete or use as a guide for mediation.


Consider Family Dispute Resolution (FDR/Mediation)

Engaging in Family Dispute Resolution (mediation) can be helpful to negotiate your parenting plan and property settlement. FDR allows for a neutral party (mediator/family dispute resolution practitioner) to help guide these discussions and encourages open communication, empowering individuals to actively participate in finding mutually beneficial solutions.  


FDR can be done informally by using family members or other relevant people in the community to help you resolve your dispute, however it can be helpful to have a neutral party that is experienced and accredited - a family dispute resolution practitioner. These are independent, accredited professionals who are trained to help people sort through their problems and try to reach agreement.


This can be with a Family Relationship Centre  (search filter should be Family Relationship Centre). These services are government subsidised so can be a more economical way of resolving parenting and property matters or you can use with a private mediator.


Family dispute resolution can commence before, during or after a separation.


Managing Finances during and after Separation

There are some checklists, services and support that may help you manage your finances through separation.

·      Moneysmart have a Divorce and Separation Checklist that can be helpful.

·      You may be eligible for Centrelink payments if you are separating.

·      You may also want to register with Child Support Agency to receive payments from your ex partner to cover some of the daily costs of having the children

·     You can view the Child Support Care Estimator here

·      If you are experiencing financial hardship, speak with a Financial Counsellor from National Debt Helpline Ph: 1800 007 007.


Financial Planning and Property Settlement

It can be important to sort your your property settlement as soon as possible. If you want to go to court or apply to court for consent orders, then time limits do apply. Property settlement looks at the assets and liabilities, the contributions that each person has may (financial and non-financial such as raising children) and the future needs of each party.


You may want to have a look at the resource Money and Property. It’s important to gather relevant documents to understand your financial situation so that you can plan your future. Seeking legal advice is important before agreeing to any financial/property settlement so that the agreement is fair and equitable and your specific circumstances are taken into account. You may want to look at this Guide by Relationships Australia called A Fair Share: Negotiating your property settlement.


There are also apps such as Amica https://amica.gov.au which allows separating couples who are amicable, to resolve their property settlement (and parenting plans) online

at minimal cost without having to go to court.


Understand Legal Rights and Obligations

It can be important to understand the legal landscape when separating from a partner. It’s a good idea to get some independent legal advice to gain clarity around your specific circumstances.


As mentioned above, it's important to get legal advice for your property settlement.


In terms of parenting and parent’s rights, it can be helpful to consider that it is the child’s right to be able to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents (and extended family) so long as it is safe to do so. It a parent’s obligation and responsibility to provide financial and emotional support to children until the age of 18.


Depending on your circumstances and financial situation, you may be able to access free legal advice from:


Seeking legal advice does not necessarily mean pursuing Court and legal battles. Seeking legal advice can just be a way to understand your position better and prepare you for what's needed. For example, how consent orders can be obtained to make property settlement legally binding. This stage is more about understanding your position and how you can best move forward.


Build a Circle of Support

Try to connect in with a supportive network that understands the challenges you're facing. Surround yourself with friends, family, support groups, professionals or organisations that offer support around separation. Having a reliable support system can make a difference as you navigate this journey.

 

 Nurture Self-Care

Amidst the changes, don't forget to prioritise your self-care. You can’t serve from an empty cup. Ensuring to try and stick to your healthy routines, engage in activities that help you cope, and seek professional help if needed. By taking care of yourself, you'll build resilience and help you manage the ups and down and the emotional challenges and grief that may come with separation.

 

Family separation can be a challenging time. Having a guide of what to expect, seeking help and knowledge, planning, having emotional support, and prioritising self-care, can go a long way to helping you take the complex journey of separation and divorce, one step and one day at a time. Good communication with your children, staying attuned to their needs, and  seeking professional support when needed can lay the foundation for a smoother transition.


Note: If you need support because of family violence, call 1800 7373732 or the DV service in your state. If you or your children are in immediate danger because of family violence, call the police on 000.


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