Divorce is a common occurrence with one in three marriages ending each year in Australia.

From the shortest marriages to the most expensive splits, Hollywood holds the most records. We all remember Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s divorce, the star paying out a hefty $76 million to her ex.

Who could forget Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage to Kris Humphries? The scandal hit front-page news in record time.

Divorce can be overwhelming (even for celebrities), but what about everyday women?

Ending your marriage can be emotionally and financially straining for all parties involved, however knowing your rights can ease the stress.

Protecting yourself financially and legally is important in minimising the impact of the divorce, especially for women.

Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies Professor Alan Hayes says while women without dependent children financially recover after six years, those with young children find it hard.

“They often experience difficulty combining paid work and family responsibilities, particularly if they have inadequate support,” he says.

What do I need to do?

To apply for a divorce in Australia, you need to have been separated for 12 months and a day.  You must prove that the irretrievable breakdown of your relationship, meaning there is no chance of you getting back together.

If you have been married for less than 2 years, you need to consider reconciliation with the help of a councilor before applying for divorce.

If you don’t have children under 18 and can mutually agree on divorce terms, you do not need to attend a court hearing. If children are involved however, the court will decide on their care and living arrangements.

What are my rights?

The breakdown of a marriage can be difficult and familiarising yourself with some basic rights may aid the coping process.

You have the right to formally serve your husband with a divorce application. This may be served in Australia or overseas.  You also have the right to apply for divorce if you were married overseas.

If your husband starts the divorce proceedings then you will not have to pay for the divorce, however you cannot legally stop a divorce once the separation has occurred. If you feel your husband has made untruthful statements, you may file a Response, putting your version of events into the statement.

You have the right to fair property settlement and maintenance, as well as child support. Many assume that each party claims half of the property, but complicating factors (such as children, income, etc.) can mean that it may not be that simple. Equal custody of children is common, depending on what the Court sees as the child’s best interest.  Given the complex nature of property settlements and child custody, it is best to consult with your lawyer.

Most importantly, if you feel that yourself or your children are at risk of violence or assault, call the police on 000. You may also apply for an apprehended domestic violence order (ADVO) via police or your Local Court.

Although settling a divorce can be tough, it is important to remain strong and smart. Always refer to your lawyer before making any significant decisions that could impact the legal process. Get the right information from a trusted lawyer to avoid a celebrity-sized feud and start a new chapter of your life.

What are some practical tips to help me prepare for separation?

  1. Choose your Lawyer carefully, make sure family law within your legal jurisdiction is their area of expertise. This is vitally important.
  2. Source ‘ALL’ of the information about your finances as soon as possible. Pull together your household budget, know exactly what and where you spend your money, find and access all logins to track funds such as investment accounts, superannuation, bank accounts and property and share portfolios.
  3. Forecast your future living costs and anticipate unexpected costs.  Try to have savings as you will need it. If you can negotiate an up-front alimony payment to get you through but be prepared that some don’t honor such commitment. If you need financial assistance, contact Centrelink and your state Housing Authority.
  4.  Locate your passport, birth and marriage certificates and any other key legal document. Find a safe place to store your legal and financial documentation (ideally not in your home). It may be best to ask your lawyer when and how to gather this information first.
  5. Make sure that you have the support you need.  Women’s Health organisations and your GP are useful.  A psychologist will also help with self-esteem and “guilt” issues. Your children may not tell you how they feel about the divorce but their behavior will. Watch for changing behaviours, regression in younger children and rebellion in older siblings.  Reach out to social workers through the Family Law Court and school counsellors if you see such behavior present in your children.
  6. Carefully consider what you want out of the divorce, best and worst case scenarios.  It’s also good to give some consideration to how you will communicate with your ex partner and children.  Advise schools who is allowed to have contact with your children and with family and friends.  What type of relationship do you want to have moving forward? Usually trying to hurt your ex will backfire. It is advisable that you come up with a plan or framework for you to communicate.
  7. If your situation becomes violent, it may be necessary to apply for an Intervention Order.  Prepare a Safety Plan.  If you have to flee, don’t go to the obvious (family/close friends) as you don’t want to endanger them.  Go to a trusted friend that your spouse would never think of. If you are going to remain at home and your spouse moves out, change the locks and consider home security and duress alarms.
  8. As soon as you separate, make a new will.

Unsure where to start? Contact a LawPath consultant on 1800LAWPATH to learn more about customising legal documents, obtaining a fixed-fee quote from one our network of 600+ expert lawyers or any other legal needs.

Dominic Woolrych

Dominic is the CEO of LawPath, dedicating his days to making legal easier, faster and more accessible to businesses. Dominic is a recognised thought-leader in Australian legal disruption, and was recognised as a winner of the 2015 Australian Legal Innovation Index.