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Separation - a woman looking through real estate booklets

Separation or divorce is a stressful and upsetting time. It can also have a big effect on your finances. Taking control of your income, debts and spending can help you get your life back on track. Start by taking stock of your day-to-day finances, then work your way up to tackling longer-term money issues.

Getting started

The first thing you will need to do is to reorganise your finances without your ex-partner. If they took care of the money, you need to work out how things were organised and see if you need to make any changes. Focus on setting yourself up for the future – this could be a whole new start for you.

  • Talk to a lawyer: They’ll be able to advise you and help you freeze any joint accounts, separate any property held in both your names, take legal action if property is held in your partner's name to prevent its sale before final property settlement and update your will.
  • Set up new bank accounts: Set up your own bank accounts that only you can access. Make sure your pay goes into your own account. Change the passwords and PIN numbers on any accounts in your name that your partner may have had access to.
  • Check that bills get paid and that automatic payments and debt repayments are made: Bad debts that are in your joint names could affect your credit history. You may need to freeze or close joint store cards or loans until they are transferred  to one name. A few months after the break-up, check your credit record by getting a copy of from each of the credit reporters.
  • Update your rental agreement: If your name is on the lease you could be liable for unpaid rent or property damage caused by your partner.
  • Work out your net worth: List all your assets and any debts or joint debts in your name. Our net worth calculator can help you do this.

Relationship property law

The Property (Relationships) Act covers how homes and other assets are divided when people divorce or separate.

De facto relationships

In most cases, the Act only covers ‘de facto’ couples who have lived together in a relationship for at least three years.

If your relationship has lasted for less than three years, you may still be covered by the Act if you have a child, or if you’ve made a substantial contribution to the relationship.

Married couples and civil union partnerships

Married couples and civil union partnerships are covered by the Act from the date of the marriage or civil union. If a marriage or civil union has lasted less than three years, different rules apply to the division of property.

You can find out more about relationship property on the Ministry of Justice website.

There’s also useful information about dividing up relationship property, living together and what happens in a break-up on the NZ Law Society website.

Adjusting to a change in income

If separation means a change in your household income, it's important to know exactly where your money comes from and where it goes.

Sort out your day-to-day finances

To work out the current state of your finances you will need to check the following:

  • Power and phone bills
  • Credit and store card bills
  • Details of investments and superannuation funds (including KiwiSaver)
  • Rental agreements
  • Property deeds, mortgage papers, home loan details
  • Savings and transaction account statements
  • Tax records
  • Insurance policies -  income protection, life, health, home and contents and car insurance
  • Will and estate plans

You’ll also need to review any business documents if you and your ex-partner had a business together. 

Make a plan for the future

Use our money planner to work out a plan for your income and spending from now on.

No matter how much or how little you have to play with, sticking to a budget will put you in control of your money.

This is also a good time to set some new financial goals. Our goals worksheet will help you through this process.

If you have debts to pay off, use our debt calculator to make a repayment plan.

Michelle Buchanan

Michelle Buchanan radiates enthusiasm as she provides tips on how to stay positive and cope with financial adversity after her separation.

Read more about Michelle Buchanan

Get advice

Managing your money can be hard, especially if you’re new to it. But advice is available – including free budgeting help.

Find out more about getting financial advice.

Free help is also available for the wider aspects of dealing with separation.

The Family Court provides up to 6 hours of free counselling for people who need to sort out separation issues.  For more information visit the Ministry of Justice website.

The Citizens Advice Bureau is also a good source of information, help and advice.

Your will, insurance and superannuation

Your will

After a relationship break-up you may need to update your will – particularly if you want to change any references to your ex-partner. Find out more about wills.  

Your insurance

Your insurance policies may also need updating, especially your life insurance if you have children.

Your superannuation

Getting your retirement savings sorted after your relationship ends is an important step in planning for your future. If your partner was taking care of this, you may need to set up your own savings plan.

Note that if either of you contributed to KiwiSaver during your relationship, your savings could be counted as relationship property and will need to be divided along with your other assets.

Child support

If you and your partner have children you may need to work out child support arrangements. To find out about child support payments and how they work, see the Inland Revenue website.

Where to go for help