You tell yourself: the whole world has ended. I am barely holding it together.
No: the world has not ended.
Yes: you can take control and get your life back on track.
Whatever the circumstances, ending a relationship is an uncomfortable and stressful rollercoaster and may feel like your world is over. A complete overthrow of life as you know it – who you are, where you live, who you socialise with and, for longer term relationships, your finances and family life.
Be kind to yourself. It is important to realise that you have access to plenty of support. There are a number of positive and easy steps you can take that will help you navigate the emotional and legal maze caused by the end of a relationship.
Talk To Someone You Trust
Emotional and psychological support is extremely important at a time like this.
Although you might not feel up to speaking about it, it is essential that you try to express your feelings, your thoughts, your worries and your stresses, rather than bottling it up.
Family and friends can be great sources of comfort and reassurance. A friend or sibling who has also been through a break up is an especially good source of support as they may be better placed to understand your feelings and have tips or strategies to share with you.
Recognise A Relationship Breakdown
One of the first major steps in healing and moving on is accepting the fact that your relationship has ended.
There are two consenting people in any relationship. Every person has a right to decide whether a relationship should change or end. It is a decision you can make, or it may be a decision made by your partner.
Once this decision is made (easier said then done) follow through with clear communication and positive action. If you have decided to break up, then it is important that you behave that way. The sooner everyone is on the same page and it is clear where you are going, the easier it will become to start moving on.
Come to terms with, and respect, your new reality.
Give Yourself Time To Grieve
A part of your life is over. This is big. Recognise this change. You are likely to feel many emotions, and go through various stages of grief, including shock, anger and sadness.
Work out a strategy that allows you to feel whatever it is you need to feel. Let out your emotions with complete freedom.
Cry, write, laugh, paint, exercise, sit on the beach. Eat!
What makes you feel better? Start to build a solid base of coping mechanisms and positive thinking that you can use into the future.
When you are going through a traumatic time in your life, the best thing you can do is focus fully on yourself. It’s okay to be selfish and focus on what is right for you.
Speak To A Counsellor
You may find it awkward, or even impossible, to speak with friends and family about your situation. It could be because of complex family dynamics, or maybe they do not really understand what you are going through.
Counselling is an excellent, and often overlooked, option which can provide you with support when you feel at your most vulnerable. The healthy strategies you take away from counselling sessions may even help you start moving on from a relationship breakdown faster than you would alone.
Know Your Legal Rights And Responsibilities
Okay. Now we are feeling strong and brave, let’s face the law.
It’s not so bad.
Getting access to the right legal information and advice early is equally as important as obtaining emotional and psychological support.
If you and your partner have been living together as a couple, there are a number of practical decisions to be made, even if you would prefer to avoid them.
Before making any decisions, an awareness of what you are legally entitled to, as well as what you are responsible for, is important. This is especially so where your finances are complicated or you have children together.
Where Do You Stand Legally?
1. De facto relationships
If you were in a relationship as a couple living together in a genuine domestic basis, your relationship is likely to be considered a ‘de facto’ relationship. How do you work this out?
Your personal circumstances are relevant, including how long you were in a relationship, how long you were living together, whether you were in a sexual relationship, how dependent financially you were on one another, how you owned your property and how you socialised in public, as well as your commitment to each other. Your gender is not a relevant consideration.
The importance of recognising your relationship as de facto lies in the flow on rights and responsibilities, discussed below.
2. Separation at law
Whether you were married or in a de facto relationship, your separation commences at the point in time when one of you decides to stop living with the other. You may move out or you may remain under the same roof but live separate lives. At this stage, there is no formal legal process you need to take to separate.
3. Division of property
If you were in a de facto relationship and cannot agree on how to divide your property and assets, in some circumstances, you may apply to have the Family Court decide this for you.
When the court is making a decision, it will look at the individual circumstances of each couple.
To start, the court will look at what property exists between you, including assets and debt. Then the court looks at the contributions each person has made. This is not limited to financial contributions. Contributions made by a partner who stayed at home and cared for children or who contributed domestically are also relevant, in addition to what you owned before you got together.
The court will also consider other relevant personal factors such as your earnings into the future, your age, your health and any care required for children.
In the light of your individual circumstances, overall, what is most important is coming to a just and reasonable final division.
When you try to come to an agreement independently, the above should be a useful guide on the relevant factors that will affect how to reach a fair agreement with your former partner.
If you were in a marriage or a de facto relationship, you may have a right to receive financial maintenance payments from your former partner, or you may be responsible for making these payments.
For de facto relationships, you may have be entitled to receive maintenance payments from your former partner where you are unable to adequately support yourself. For example, due to the care of a child from the relationship, for health or any other adequate reason, and your former partner is able to afford to make maintenance payments to you.
The Family Court makes decisions about maintenance. In making a decision the court will consider a wide range of factors, including both your financial positions.
Any maintenance order will usually only be for a specific length of time. A change in your situation, such as if you get married, may end your entitlement to these payments.
If you have children and your relationship breaks down, your responsibilities to your children do not change.
If you are unable to come to an agreement which provides for your child spending time with both parents, you may need to seek family dispute resolution.
If you cannot reach an agreement through alternative dispute resolution, then it may be necessary to apply to have a Court decide on parenting arrangements. This may include who your child will live with, when your child will spend time and with you or your former partner, parental responsibility and, more broadly, issues about how the child will be raised.
The most important consideration of the Court in making any such orders is the best interests of the child.
Reaching An Agreement
The ideal situation for everyone would be to reach a mutually beneficial agreement that is fair, reasonable and in line with your rights and responsibilities.
A number of legal advice providers and community services can help by offering mediation and dispute resolution.
Any agreement you make will not be legally enforceable unless it is registered as a ‘consent order’ by the Family Court. You should seek legal advice before doing so.
Domestic Or Family Violence
If you feel at risk of, or have been the victim of family or domestic violence, contact the police immediately. You may also seek support and referrals from the resources extracted below.
See The Positive Side – Things Will Get Better!
With time, and when you are ready, think about what you have learned from your experience, about yourself and about life in general.
This is a chance for you to positively change and grow as a person.
For access to counselling and support services contact:
- Relationships Australia – 1300 364 277
- Family Relationships Online – for information about family relationship issues and services
- Family Relationship Advice Line (national) – 1800 050 321
- Lifeline – 13 11 14 for free counselling and support
- Beyondblue – 1300 22 4636 for free counselling and support
- QLife – 1800 184 527 for counselling and referrals
- MensLine Australia — 1300 789 978 for support and advice for men
Domestic Violence Support
- 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) (National) for sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling
- Domestic Violence Advocacy Service – 1800 810 784 (NSW)
- DoCS Domestic Violence Line (NSW) – 1800 656 463
Community legal centres across Australia and Legal Aid organisations may provide you with free initial legal advice.
Legal Aid organisations differ in each state and territory, the details of which can be found at www.nationallegalaid.org.
Factsheets and information brochures are available on most of their websites:
For a list of community legal centres across Australia, visit the National Association of Community Legal Centres.
The Family Court of Australia also provides useful information on how to reach an agreement without going to court.