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The Law and You: Somebody that I used to know…

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Breaking up is hard to do. It’s stressful. Emotions can overflow and cloud better judgement.  

This is why it’s important to find out where you stand in the eyes of the law and learn what is safe and legal to do (and not do).

Our expert family lawyers are regularly asked these questions by those breaking up.

What should I take with me?

Your personal safety and the children’s safety must be your first priority. If there has been family violence, arrange for counselling service support, such as through the ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service.

At the very least, ensure a trusted family member or close friend can help you and the kids get out safely.

If you have time, plan in advance and then remove your identity documents, financial papers and sentimental possessions.

What about social media?

During a breakup, emotions run high. In our increasingly interconnected world, it’s common to relieve emotional stress by posting on social media. You should always bear in mind that social media posts can be used in Court proceedings down the track.

Should I try to reach an agreement with my ex?

Not all relationships are abusive. Try to amicably discuss what should happen between yourself and your ex without initial intervention from anyone else. If this is possible, ensure you get any agreement checked by a family law specialist.

It’s highly recommended that you get legal advice on any drafted documents to ensure they are legally binding in the future.

It’s okay to disagree on major matters. You can aim to sort these issues out after things have settled with help from outside experts, such as a mediator or a family lawyer.

What should I do about the children?

If you can amicably sort out post-separation parenting arrangements, even if they only operate for a short while, then do so. After this initial stage, you can re-evaluate arrangements or seek mediation from a child psychologist or qualified counsellor to help work out what’s best for everyone.

It’s important to obtain expert family law advice early, so you don’t head down the wrong path.

What should I do about the joint bills at separation?

The best idea is to maintain current payments until you see a lawyer. You don’t want debt collectors knocking at your door or threatening to repossess items during this stressful time.

It’s also a good idea to close joint credit cards or joint accounts as early as possible because intermingling finances can become problematic.

Generally speaking, the person who stays in the home should take over the mortgage and ongoing expenses, especially when the other party has to pay for other accommodation. However, this depends on whether both parties are working and/or earning a reasonable income.

Should I tell my family GP and the children’s schools and teachers about the separation?

It’s best to keep your family GP, other medical advisors and the children’s teachers up-to-date so they can provide the best advice and support.

What about our family pets?

Exercise common sense about pets. Goldfish in a bowl that belong to the kids can be easily transported, but if it’s difficult to take the treasured cat or dog, then do what’s best for the pet.

Can I apply for child support from my ex?

Yes. The Child Support Agency accepts online applications for child support and will determine which parent should pay child support to the other parent, depending on incomes and the time the children are cared for by each parent. You can learn more about this in our earlier HerCanberra article.

Should I lock down access to jointly available credit?

This is tricky, and again it’s important to obtain expert family law advice. If you can have an amicable discussion with your ex, then great.

The last thing you want, however, is for your ex to increase the loan on the house or go on a spending spree with the joint credit card and reduce the value of available assets.

If you suspect there is any chance this might happen, call your bank and lock the account so both parties need to agree on withdrawals. You can also cancel joint credit cards to prevent future expenditure you might not agree with.


This expert column was prepared by Debra Parker, Accredited Specialist in Family Lawyer and in Dispute Resolution at Watts McCray Lawyers in Canberra.

Debra is an accredited family lawyer and practices in Canberra. She was made a member of the Australian Institute of Family Law Arbitrators and Mediators in 1992 and is a Nationally Accredited Mediator with the Mediator Standards Board.

She is also a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and the Law Society of the ACT, and is the only family lawyer in the ACT with double Specialist Accreditation in both Family Law and in Dispute Resolution, as recognised by the Law Society of NSW.

Debra has been recognised in the National Doyle’s Guide as both a leading Family Lawyer and leading Mediator in the Australian Capital Territory for the past four years running. She was a finalist in the 2019 Mediator of the Year Award presented by the Australasian Law Awards in 2019.

Meet Debra Parker.

Debra Parker

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