Q: My husband has just asked for a divorce completely out of the blue and I am very worried because he has been managing a lot of our joint finances. What should I do?
Stephanie – Cottesloe
A: It is not unusual for one partner in a marriage to be in control of the finances, but this can be a disadvantage to the other partner when a separation occurs. Particularly when you are in that position, the first thing you should do is make an appointment with an experienced family lawyer. They can obviously give you an understanding of your entitlements with respect to spousal maintenance and property settlement, but sometimes more importantly at an early stage, they can provide advice about how to secure your financial position. For example, a lawyer may suggest that you secure some cash for yourself in a new bank account that your husband can’t access, that you remove or limit redraw facilities on joint loans or that you seek to restrain your husband from selling assets without your consent.
In preparation for your appointment you should try and prepare as detailed a list as possible of all assets and liabilities owned by you and your husband (jointly and individually) or held in any family trusts. This includes any business interests, real estate, cash, shares and superannuation, as well as existing debts such as mortgages, personal loans and outstanding credit card debts. If you have a financial planner or an accountant, they may be able to assist you with this. You should also start to collate any documents about your financial position which you can access (such as bank statements and financial statements and tax returns for entities etc.) and if necessary, store copies somewhere secure.
Whilst you will need to be separated for 12 months to apply for a divorce, property settlement and spousal maintenance claims are dealt with separately from divorce and can be made immediately after you separate. So, if you require urgent financial assistance or need to stop your husband from say, selling a home without your consent, a lawyer will be able to advise what options you have in this regard.