How To Financially Survive A Breakup

There are few things in life worse than a breakup. Wise folks say it’s because the experience is a version of grief; the person who you were closest to in the world suddenly becomes a stranger. The harrowing rollercoaster of a breakup is emotionally draining; to make matters worse, we can often suffer financially as we make the transition from coupled to single.

Here are some suggestions to unburden you of your financial difficulties, so you can focus on your tender heart.

First things first: enlist support

Before doing anything, let someone know that you’re going through a breakup. For some, this is counterintuitive, or at least at first. You may hope to reunite with your partner, so you see no reason to involve friends and family; or you may be emotionally introverted, and wish for some alone time under a doona with a bottle of wine and ten blocks of chocolate.

But support is immensely required. Friends and family who know you (and your ex- partner) will be able to give you the emotional crutch and practical advice you desperately need at a time of major life upheaval. Hopefully this first step will allow you the strength and clarity to get your finances in order, when you least feel like it.

A bit of personal admin is in order

Act quickly, if possible. Close your joint account and open your own, making sure you redirect all your pay into your solo account. Get a copy of all the main documents relating to your shared assets. This means leases, mortgage documents, bills, car ownership, pet ownership. You’re not doing this because you anticipate a fight or any type of litigation, but simply to ensure you have your own copy of your entanglements, so you can re-assess where you’re at as a single.

“It’s not pretty,” advises David Rankin, founder of personal budgeting service, Sort My Money. “But it’s a matter of starting back at square one by making a list of all of your financial commitments, including any ongoing obligations with your ex: rent, gym, car insurance, health insurance, internet, mobile phone and utilities. Not forgetting the likes of Netflix, Spotify and iTunes, as well as any annual expenses, such as car rego.”

The process may even give you a semblance of confidence back. “Putting your finances in order is a bit like cleaning the house – in that, once you get started, it’s not as bad as you thought it would be. You might even derive a strange pleasure from it, even though you would probably not want to admit this to anyone!” says Rankin. “Once you’ve got the list, you can fill in the details for each item: the frequency, the amount (or average amount if it isn’t the same each time) and how it gets paid. If a payment is made by direct debit, which card or account does it come out of?”

Know the law regarding de factos

Many unmarried long-term couples slide into de facto status without realising it. There are many exceptions, and the definition varies state by state, but very generally, if you’ve been living with someone for two years, sharing a domestic life together, and you define yourselves as partners, you’re de facto.

Heather McKinnon, family law specialist at Slater and Gordon, tells her clients that defining a de facto partnership is about exercising common sense: “De facto relationships are defined as marriage-like. If you have shared the same bed, have an exclusive sexual relationship, your friends and family consider you a couple, and you go out socially together, you’re probably de facto.”

Despite the simple definition, many couples that come the time to part ways are at odds over their former status. McKinnon says, “the cases that are contested are often about that tipping point when a relationship turns from casual to a marriage-like relationship. There’s lots of litigation over whether a couple had de facto status because a lot of money can ride on the answer to that question.”

In Australia, de facto and same sex relationships are treated the same as married under the law. In that sense, a financial settlement after a breakup will include various factors into the decision, such as whether there was equal financial contribution and homemaking effort from both parties. However, if the relationship was pretty equal financially speaking, and not decades long, a 50/50 split is generally thought to be the fairest outcome.

Don’t shy away from asking for your share because you’re emotionally drained

It’s probably the last thing you want to talk about with the person that has broken your heart or vice versa, but discussing a fair dissolution of your shared ties is paramount to your financial health and avoiding future regret.

Get clarity before talking to your ex about your financial position. You’ve already got your comprehensive list of your shared finances. It’s time to think about how to share fairly, from your perspective. Take your time with this. In the list, include the little things you own together that have sentimental or practical value to you; perhaps you want to keep the fridge, the TV, or the toilet brush (each to their own). The more detailed this list, the better. Then, when you’re ready, invite them to do the same before coming together to discuss next steps. Going in without preparation can see you losing out, which adds insult to injury.

Of course, sharing cute, living things (kids and pets) makes things trickier, and lengthy discussions and considerations are required to nut out who gets who, and when, and how. Sometimes, unconventional approaches are in order.

When Polly Smith broke up with her de facto partner of two years, they were tied together by their dog, Kramer. Rather than one of them taking on sole ownership, they decided to share Kramer equally. “We take Kramer two weeks on and two weeks off…However, we both agree to do whatever’s best for the dog. So, if I moved to a farm and my ex was working in the city, I’d probably take him, or if my ex had a new partner who is allergic to dogs, and vice versa, for example.”

Don’t see the dividing of your shared belongings as a chance to reconcile

The day that you meet up with your ex to divide your property is often the first time you see them after a breakup. Those who hope to reunite with their partner (normally the dumped, not the dumper) may not take the ritualistic dividing of their stuff seriously, and therefore not claim their rights over their property. Even if you do eventually get back together, it’s vital to see the rather awful ordeal of dividing your stuff for what it really is; a big step in the dissolution of a partnership.

If possible, go slowly and as mindfully as possible through this torture of an exercise. If you turn up on the day and are finding it impossible to do properly, tell your partner you’ll have to reschedule. You may need to bring along an impartial friend for support. That’s totally fine, as long as your partner is invited to do the same.

Don’t channel your anger into a financial war

It’s one thing to protect your financial future and take what is rightfully yours; it’s another to try and punish your ex by claiming ownership of things that you know are theirs to as a way to vent your frustration and sadness. It may be tempting to punish them by whatever power you have at your disposal. The vengeance is best left off the table, as appealing as cutting up your ex’s suit or sticking prawns in their curtain rods may be.

Professional breakup recovery coach, Joanne Michelle, says that although it may feel good at the time, holding onto anger “… is a waste of energy. And when it comes down to it, has less to do with your ex than you think. Once you get that feeling of confidence, which can come initially through steps like taking a professional approach to your finances and splitting assets during the breakup, then the feeling of anger eventually disappears.”

Freya Latona is a Byron Bay raised, now Sydney based writer. She has one of those creative writing PhD’s that ensures a life of underemployment. Freya’s memoir was recently shortlisted for the Finch Memoir Prize 2017 and she is represented by Curtis Brown Literary Agency. 

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