Family lawyer: The five money mistakes separating couples make

Family lawyer: The five money mistakes separating couples make – and how to avoid them if your relationship breaks down

  • A family lawyer revealed the five money mistakes separating couples make
  • Kirsty Salvestro said that a relationship breakdown is incredibly stressful
  • One of the mistakes is not understanding your combined financial position
  • Kirsty said you also need to avoid moving assets and being unaware of finances 

A family lawyer has revealed the five money mistakes separating couples make, and how you can avoid them if your relationship breaks down.

Lawyer, mediator and divorce guide Kirsty Salvestro explained that having a relationship, particularly a long-term relationship, breakdown is one of the ‘most stressful experiences we can go through’.

Working as a lawyer, she said she regularly sees the ‘best and worst in people’ as they navigate this difficult phase.

‘Immediately following the breakdown of a relationship, you’re highly emotional and stressed, so it’s not a great time to be making long-term smart financial decisions,’ Kirsty told FEMAIL. 

‘While the experiences of each couple are different, a calm and informed approach is really what is needed.’

A family lawyer has revealed the five money mistakes separating couples make, and how you can avoid them if your relationship breaks down (Kirsty Salvestro pictured)


The first mistake Kirsty said couples often make when they break up is they don’t understand their current combined financial position.

‘One of the first steps to separating successfully is knowing and understanding your combined finances and your own financial position,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.

‘In many situations, it’s one person per household who understands, manages and controls the finances. If you’re not that person, you need to make sure you learn.’

Solution: Seek advice from your accountant

To fix this, Kirsty recommends seeking some financial advice from your accountant, who should have a clear picture of your income, assets and liabilities.

They should be able to review both of your incomes and expenses, and will hopefully have the details of all the assets and liabilities you both have. 

‘If you can’t get advice from your accountant, you have every right to seek this information from your ex-spouse under their obligations to provide full disclosure,’ she said.

While it can be tempting to move assets around, withdraw funds or even close accounts after a separation, Kirsty said this is never a good move (stock image)


While it can be tempting to move assets around, withdraw funds or even close accounts after a separation, Kirsty said this is never a good move.

‘Unless it’s strictly necessary or you have some specific advice to do so, don’t do this – as it could come back to haunt you in the long term,’ she said.

Solution: Review your options available

The best solution is to review the options you have available to you and try to reach either interim or long-term agreements about the transfer or withdrawal of your assets before you go ahead and make the changes.

‘The best possible scenario is that you and your ex can agree on what needs to be done and do this together,’ Kirsty said. 


The third mistake you need to avoid is assuming there needs to be an equal division of the pool of assets.

‘Most couples believe that there must be a line drawn down the middle of the assets, but that is often not the case,’ Kirsty said. 

‘The legislation requires us to consider the contributions you made at the commencement of the relationship, what you contributed during the relationship and what your future financial needs are.’

This doesn’t always mean a direct equal split.

Solution: Speak to a family lawyer

If you’re struggling with this one, Kirsty recommends speaking with a family lawyer, who can explain the concept to you.

‘If you feel you need it, a lawyer can give you written advice on what split they would recommend to you,’ she said. 

Kirsty (pictured) recommends getting a joint valuer if you need to value all of the big-ticket items in your life and get an accurate value so they can be distributed fairly


‘Ascertaining accurate values of your assets and what liabilities you have is so important for future security and your ability to negotiate a fair settlement,’ Kirsty said.

‘In most cases if a debt is incurred during your marriage, it will be a matrimonial debt. Working out how to divide this is part of the process.’ 

Solution: Agree to appoint a joint valuer

A joint valuer will value all of the big-ticket items in your combined life to get an accurate value.

‘Seek out as much financial disclosure as possible, including documents to prove the current and accumulated debt,’ Kirsty said.


Finally, Kirsty said you absolutely must know your own financial situation. 

‘Before you can make any decisions, you need a clear, accurate and realistic budget,’ she said.

‘You also need to get some real advice on the options you’re proposing and what will serve you best in the long-term.’

Kirsty is the author of the book What Are We Fighting For? (pictured)

Kirsty said she has often seen many ‘give up everything’ just so one of them can keep the former matrimonial home, so they take on a huge debt that ‘strangles them financially only to later lose it’.

‘This is usually an emotional decision and not a practical one,’ she said.

‘If you ignore the numbers in a bit to keep the house, you could find yourself struggling later on or even going backwards.’

Solution: Be realistic

The solution to this problem is often either to sell the home or allow your ex to take over the mortgage, while you downsize.

‘If you are unsure as to your ability to afford and retain an assets, seek the advice of a financial planner,’ she said.

‘You might want to hire a financial planner to review any proposed property settlement and advise about the long-term financial consequences and projections for you.’ 

Kirsty’s strategies for coping with separation and divorce 

* LOOK AT ALL AVENUES FOR ADVICE: Think to yourself: Do you need to go straight to a lawyer? You can get some initial advice to calm you down, but there is other support you can look at too. Consider Family Support services and family courses, instead of taking the legal path immediately.

* PUT YOUR CHILDREN FIRST: If you have kids, you should always be considering the implications separating will have on your children. Continuing to be a co-parent with your partner is the best move, and you should always avoid embroiling your kids with negative comments about your ex. ‘Work on your communication skills and avoid any discussions about your separation in front of the children,’ Kirsty said.

* REMAIN CALM: Consider self-care options, like meditation, yoga or running, and try to keep a calm, clear head at all times. ‘If at any stage you feel you cannot deal with certain aspects of the process, get a referral to a counsellor or psychologist who can assist you with the emotional side of things,’ Kirsty said. It is important you deal with your emotions before you make decisions.

* LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE: Don’t get bogged down in the detail and instead focus on the big picture for success. ‘In many cases, when it comes to dividing assets and possessions compare both the financial and emotional cost of arguing over household items or possessions verses replacing these items over time and/or once you have obtained a property settlement is negligible,’ Kirsty said. 

* MOVE FORWARD: When you are ready to move on, consider all the options to help you reach a solution. If you do need a lawyer, make sure they are a specialist family lawyer and get all of your options and pathways explained. 

* BE KIND: Finally, be kind to yourself. Give yourself time and take care of yourself.   

Source: Kirsty Salvestro 

Kirsty Salvestro is a family lawyer and the author of What are we Fighting For? A Peaceful Pathway for Separating Couples. For more information, please click here. 

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