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Getting back control of your money

This is a useful guide through some steps you can take towards untangling and securing your finances from your partner’s and securing your future.

Untangle your money from your partner’s

Find out what you have and don’t have, and separate yourself financially from your partner or ex-partner, so that they cannot continue to harm you financially. There are some things you can do to try and prevent your ex from accruing more debts in your name or continuing the financial abuse.

Steps to safety

If your partner has been abusing you financially, here are some ways you can make yourself safer financially:

  1. Talk to your bank, and explain the situation to them. Most banks have a hardship team that can help if you’re experiencing financial difficulty, including family violence. You can call your bank or visit their website to find out more about how they can help you, ask to speak directly to the hardship team so you don’t have to repeat your story to multiple people. Your bank may be able to help you make some of the following changes.
  2. Open your own account. It’s important that you have somewhere to put your money that your ex can’t access. If you don’t already have your own account open a new account and make sure your pay or Centrelink payments are being deposited to the new account.
  3. Joint bank accounts and credit cards – Freeze any joint bank accounts you have with your ex, which will prevent them from draining the account. Make sure you have some money in your own account before you do this because once the account is frozen, you’ll no longer be able to access the money. Cancel any joint credit cards you have, or second cards in your partner’s name so they can’t rack up more debts. Your bank should be able to help you do this.
  4. Mortgage – If your mortgage has a redraw facility or line of credit, change the terms so both signatures (yours and your partner’s) are needed to withdraw money.
  5. Security numbers/passwords – Change the PINs, passwords and security questions for all your mobile phone, bank and credit card accounts, online shopping accounts, email and social media accounts. It is possible that your ex might be monitoring your smartphone or tablet without you knowing so it’s a good idea to do this even if you don’t think they know your passwords. Use a computer or smartphone that your partner cannot access to make online financial transactions, such as at a library or friend/family relation’s house. You can also visit WIRE’s Women’s Information Centre during our opening hours (link to new contact page) to freely access one of our Internet-enabled computers. For more tips and details on online safety, head to Technology Safety Australia’s Women’s Technology Safety & Privacy Toolkit.
  6. Contact details – Get a new mailing address (PO box, friend or family member’s address) that only you can access. Australia Post provides free mail redirection for family violence survivors. As part of this service Australia Post will send a letter to your old address to confirm that you are aware of, and authorise, the redirection of your mail. If this is a safety concern for you don’t use this service.
  7. Rent – If you have moved out, contact your real estate agent to have your name removed from the lease. This means you won’t be held responsible for any arrears or damage to the property. If your ex has moved out have them removed from the lease. If you need help with issues related to renting you can contact the Tenants Union for help and advice.
  8. Utilities –Take your name off any utilities, otherwise you could be held responsible for any unpaid bills. Utility companies also have hardship programs and may be able to help if you’re unable to pay your bills so if you’re struggling don’t be scared to let the utilities company know what’s going on.

Once you have done this, you may want to take the steps below that are relevant to your situation:

  1. Centrelink and child support – Ask a Centrelink social worker to help you work through the financial issues of separation, including how you or your partner should pay child support (more on this later)
  2. Seek legal advice through a Community Legal Centre, Victoria Legal Aid or a private lawyer before you transfer ownership of vehicles, or change wills and insurance documents.
  3. Vehicles – Transfer ownership and registration of vehicles to either yourself or your partner, so that you are only responsible for your own vehicle.
  4. Insurance – Transfer the names and scope of the cover for your home insurance, such as building and contents insurance, and any other car/health/life insurances.
  5. Wills and Power of Attorney – Make or change your will. Nominate a guardian for your children if your partner isn’t the parent or guardian. Cancel any Powers of Attorney that nominate your partner, and nominate another person you trust. WIRE currently run a clinic for women seeking assistance with changing their will or power of attorney – call us for more details.
  6. Tax – Visit a tax agent or contact the Australian Taxation Office on 13 26 81 or via the ATO website to find out how separation will affect the amount of tax you pay, or whether you are eligible for a refund. Also make sure that any tax returns are paid into an account in your name only.

Where can I go for help?

To discuss legal or financial options to meet your needs and circumstances you can call WIRE

Contact us here

Get your own credit report

A credit report provides your credit history including any loans, credit cards or bad debts you have had, or whether you have been declared bankrupt or insolvent. Creditors like banks use this to determine whether you will be able to repay your debts when you apply for a loan or credit card. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every year.

A bank or utility will arrange for a credit report based on your personal details including your driver’s licence, address and employment status. To find out more about getting a copy of your credit report, visit the website of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner or the Money Smart website.

You can also apply for a copy of your credit report by contacting one of these national credit reporting agencies:

  • Equifax (call 138 332, 8:30am-5pm Mon-Fri)
  • Illion (call 1300 734 806, 8am-8pm Mon-Fri)

If you have a bad credit report because of your partner’s debts, you are still legally responsible for those debts. You can contact the National Debt Helpline or speak to a financial counsellor to look at your options, such as restructuring your loans, negotiating debt repayments with banks, utilities and other creditors, or considering bankruptcy as an option.

You can also download our booklet on Managing Your Money & Debts for more information.

Gather important documents

Here is a list of important financial documents you may need if you are leaving your partner. These include

Financial records

  • Bank statements from all accounts
  • Credit card statements
  • Chequebooks, bank cards and credit cards
  • Mortgage applications and repayment records
  • Records of any loans and repayments
  • Any correspondence with debt collection agencies
  • Pay slips
  • Record of other work benefits (such as bonuses or fringe benefits)
  • Receipts for other income
  • Tax returns and refund statements
  • Statements from superannuation accounts
  • Documentation of Centrelink or childcare benefits

Property documents

  • Title documents and mortgage agreements
  • Rental lease agreements and payment records
  • Original purchase documents of any items
  • Photos of items and furnishings in the home
  • List of collectibles (such as artwork or jewellery)
  • Vehicle registrations and ownership documents

Expense documents

  • Documents and receipts related to household spending
  • Utilities bills
  • Education and childcare expenses
  • Health and medical expenses
  • Insurances (health, life, car, house and home contents)
  • Clothing receipts
  • Charity donations
  • Transport costs (such as petrol and public transport)

Legal documents

  • Birth certificates
  • Driver’s license
  • Marriage certificate
  • Passports
  • Medicare card
  • Health care card
  • Wills
  • Prenuptial agreements or binding financial agreements
  • Records of any pending legal actions
  • Immigration paperwork
  • Any protection orders

Business documents

  • Business financial statements
  • Records of business partnerships
  • Business tax records
  • Details of business assets

If it is not safe for you to collect these documents, speak to a financial counsellor on how you can get copies. To find a financial counsellor, visit the Financial Counselling Australia website.

Remember: It is important to plan ahead. Store originals of all important documents in a secure place, such as a bank deposit box. Keep copies of all these documents in another safe place, such as with a friend you trust. You can also scan copies of these documents and keep the files online so you can access them at any time.

Get child support and Centrelink assistance

Unfortunately, some partners continue abusing women financially evenfinancial abuse often continues after separation by through manipulating and abusing the child support system and family court. Here are some things your partner or ex might do to avoid or minimise payment:

Remember: As soon as your status or circumstances have changed — you have separated from your partner and/or have changed addresses — you must contact Centrelink to update your details within 14 days to ensure that you continue receiving your Family Tax Benefits. You can also enquire about your eligibility for income support payments as a survivor of financial abuse or if you have children under 8 years.

Call the Centrelink ‘Families’ Line (13 61 50) and you’ll be referred to a Family Assistance Officer who will be able to give you further advice on the actions you need to take in your situation. You may also need to contact the Child Support Agency within 13 weeks to apply for child support.

You might also be eligible for a crisis payment if you are experiencing financial difficulties as a result of family violence.

You can also contact WIRE on 1300 134 130 (9:30am-4:30pm Mon-Fri) to find financial support services in your area.

Get legal advice

Choosing a lawyer

Not all lawyers are experienced with family violence or understand its ongoing impact on women’s ability to move on with their lives. It is important to find a lawyer who is familiar with the tactics that can be used to prevent you from getting your fair share of the financial assets in your relationship.

Community Legal Centres and Victoria Legal Aid may be able to assist you, though often they have limited capacity and may be unable to help with property settlement. In this case you may need to talk to a private lawyer.

Here are some questions about financial abuse that you can ask when choosing a suitable lawyer:

  1. I have experienced financial abuse in my relationship. How will this be factored into my case and the property settlement?
  2. I am concerned that my partner might dispose of our assets, such as funds in the bank or try to sell our house. What can I do?
  3. I am in immediate financial need. What interim orders can you get to help me in this situation – can you get me an interim property order or an interim spousal maintenance order?

What is an interim spousal maintenance order?

Your lawyer may be able to get you an interim spousal maintenance order, which is based on establishing your financial need and your ex-partner’s capacity to pay, especially if you are in immediate financial need. This is different from an interim property settlement) where the Court can order that some of your legal costs can be taken out of the eventual property settlement before the matter is finally settled. De-facto partners can also apply for these orders.

Family Law Courts (Family Court & Federal Circuit Court)

Unfortunately, some people use the legal system to perpetuate financial abuse. Should your partner have the means, you might be repeatedly taken back to court over an extended period.

This can be a huge drain on your time, energy and money. It is important that you try and look after your emotional and mental wellbeing.

Here are some ways you can prepare yourself for the Family Law Courts:

  • Speak to your lawyer
  • Get all your case documents ready and find out as much as you can about the court process prior to your court hearing. Visit the Family Law Courts website so you know what to expect.
  • Tell your family and friends about what you are going through and seek their emotional support and understanding throughout this potentially long process. You might also seek support from a social worker or counsellor.
  • Recognise that the court process may take a long time to resolve so pace yourself. Take time out to think about and do other things that help you feel good.
  • Talk to other women who have been or are going through similar experiences.
  • The role of the Family Law Courts is to interpret and apply the law. Judges decisions are determined by legislation. This may mean some court decisions may seem unfair or insensitive to your situation. If possible, seek independent legal advice or talk to a financial counsellor about what is happening, what your options are and what further action you can take.

Court Network

Court Network is a support service available in the Family, Children and Magistrates’ Court. It is not a legal service, but it does provide valuable support and information for people who are trying to navigate the legal system. Court network can provide support workers to be present with you during your court appearance. You can get in contact by calling (03) 8306 6966 or visiting the Court Network website.

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