What is Separating?

Separating refers to the situation where two people stop living together as a couple. It happens when one or both people in the relationship decide they can no longer live together. You can be separated and still live in the same house.
Separating is hugely stressful, and yet there are no legal requirements with regards to separation. You do not need to apply to the court or fill in any forms. You don’t need to apply to any government organization. There are so many horror stories shared about complicated divorces as it is only the most complex and horrific of cases that reach the news. There is no doubt that separating is challenging and that if the divorce is adversarial, then legal expenses can be immense, stress levels high, and the ongoing conflict involved harming. There is good news, however. There are ways to manage separation that will ensure the transition for all family members can occur in a more manageable and less damaging way. The aim is to work to de-escalate the conflict.

A Way Forward

As far as possible, reduce the emotion.
A time of separation from a partner is crushing, and you will experience a combination of strong emotions, including intense sadness, anger, guilt, fear, and denial. You may even feel relief that you have finally made a decision that is in your best interests. Tempers will be frayed, and that makes it easy for disagreements to become heated. It won’t be easy to think rationally, but this is the time when you need to breathe deeply and maintain your calmness and patience. Consider the following to assist you:

  1. Treat your partner (ex-partner) as a business partner. To do this, you need to think of them differently, perhaps like a colleague with whom you do not get on well. Treat them politely and courteously. Always ensure you answer emails, phone calls, and messages in a business-like manner.
  2. Don’t say bad things about your ex-partner. Besmirching, slandering, or insulting your partner does not serve your purpose. Remaining calm will be the best move to retain family relationships.
  3. Do what you say you will do. Reliable communication with your partner may be vital for you. Following through with what you say puts you in a good position. You may be required to provide specific documentation. It is advisable to do this promptly.

The main aim is to model the behaviour you would like to see in your partner. However you feel, all people deserve to be treated with respect. By demonstrating the desired behaviour and not engaging in deprecating actions, you show that you can be trusted even in the most challenging circumstances. In this area, you may have to be the better person, and ultimately, by acting in such a way, you may be able to reach a resolution more rapidly. The fact is whatever the state of your relationship, you will be required to continue to work together to find solutions for all issues that have arisen as a result of the relationship breakdown. If the process is undertaken more pleasantly, then less tension is created.

When Children Are Involved

The above advice is critical when children are involved, as, despite the breakdown in your relationship, you and your partner will likely be required to co-parent the children. If you can remain business-like, it will reduce pressure on your children and the wider family and assist in the future when dealing with children’s birthdays, Christmas, and future weddings. Despite your feelings, put your children first to form firmer foundations for the future once the heat of the separation has passed.

What steps should you make to facilitate your separation?

  1. Don’t just drop the ball. It is wise not to make significant changes straight away. If you are responsible for paying household bills, continue to do so until you and your partner have agreed about how you will proceed with future bill paying.
  2. Don’t withdraw large sums of money from accounts or go on a spending spree. (It is prudent to set up your financial arrangements so that both your signatures are required for withdrawals from joint accounts.)
  3. If children are involved, and there are no safety concerns, don’t just pack up and leave. It is better for the children if arrangements have been made and they are only required to move once rather than a few times. Staying in the home may not be the most straightforward pathway for you, but it will maintain more stability for your children. If possible, wait until a suitable parenting plan or arrangement is in place. This provides the children with more security.

In most cases, the separating couple can decide who will leave the family home. If you cannot reach an agreement, you will need to apply to the family court for a sole use occupation order. This order forces one person to leave. Gaining legal advice is advisable as this order is only given under exceptional circumstances. If the house is in that person’s name or owned jointly, they cannot be forced to leave without a sole use order or domestic violence order.

WARNING – if there is a concern about the children’s safety, you should act immediately to get the children to a safe location.
You can ask the family law court for a domestic violence domestic order in a domestic violence situation. This order will force the other person to leave the home. Again, legal advice is advisable before you proceed.

Research your options

It is worthwhile doing some research to gain as much useful information as possible. You want to know your options.

  1. Look into dispute resolution options.
  2. Make sure you are familiar with the term’s mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law.
  3. Look at the pros and cons of each of the above. The results will depend on the complexity of the situation in which you find yourself and the ability of you and your partner to communicate and make collaborative decisions at this time in your lives.
  4. Once you have done your research, discuss your partner’s choices and come to a decision about which is best for you both and the family. You may have to take the path that both of you can live with rather than the one you prefer.

The above processes are voluntary. People are encouraged to undertake some form of mediation as the court is seen as a last resort.

Legal Advice

During the separation process and irrespective of the dispute resolution, you may select to access legal advice. You do not necessarily need a lawyer to represent you, but advice from a family law lawyer will provide you with information and insight.
When consulting a lawyer, do your research as not all lawyers are alike. Some lawyers like the thrill of the chase, while others may be a peacemaker. You may want to find a lawyer who has worked as a mediator. It would be best if you did your research to find a lawyer and therefore legal advice that best suits your needs and situation.

Get The Process Moving

Often people drag out the process, and this can make the separation more difficult. It is prudent to get things moving because as time goes on, tensions rise, tempers become more frayed, and the ability to communicate with each other can deteriorate. Take control. To do this, prepare yourself by doing research and knowing how you could proceed. There are things you may need to do. They include:

  1. Informing Medicare, Centrelink, or Child Support Agencies.
  2. Let the children’s school know as they may need additional support.
  3. Sort out financial affairs – how you will sort out bank accounts and loans, superannuation, insurances, etc.
  4. Let family and friends know of your decision. They will be able to support you.
  5. Change your will.

If you are required to leave the home or decide you want to leave, you can take with you anything you own individually. You need to ensure you take personal documentation, including your bank or chequebooks, financial statements, credit cards, birth and marriage certificate, passports, tax returns, and sentimental items.


Separation, even in the most amicable situations, is difficult. Breathe deeply, plan, do your research and approach the separation in a businesslike manner. Seeking legal advice will make the process easier. You can contact many services for support and information, including your community legal centre, relationship advice lines, DV Connect, Family law courts, family relationship centres, and Women’s Safety After Separation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What does separation under the same roof mean?
    This statement indicates that the couple has separated and live quite separate lives but reside in the same house. There are times when you are required to prove you are separated when still sharing a home in Australia. For example, Centrelink may ask if you are still sleeping together, sharing money, bank accounts, etc.
  2.  If I leave the house, does that mean I will lose the house and my possessions?
    No, you do not lose your rights. Seek legal advice, and they will assist you in gaining access to your things.
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