Your marriage is over. What you should do in the first 72 hours


However much you are hurting, you must take some practical steps in the first 72 hours when your marriage is over

When a marriage ends, changing your email account is the last thing on your mind. It shouldn’t be. Six things you need to do in the first 72 hours.

We’ve written a lot about divorce with dignity, staying friends with your ex, co-parenting, etc. We are the first to advocate an amicable divorce. It saves everyone – especially children – a lot of pain and heartache. It can save money too. A divorce that goes all the way to the divorce court is an expensive one. But sometimes this ideal is impossible. One party or the other is unreasonable (see Divorcing a Narcissist). Or there is abusive behaviour involved. What happens in the first 72 hours following the end can make a big difference to the final outcome…and possibly to your safety.

The tips in this article apply equally to men and women. In our experience, pain and suffering are gender-neutral, and both sexes have a capacity for vitriol and point-scoring. Hurt can turn even the gentlest of people into revenge-seeking monsters. When your world is falling apart, you have a duty to protect yourself from further turmoil to the best of your ability. If you have children, that obligation is even more onerous. While there are dark days ahead, there are some things you can do to limit the damage caused by the breakdown of your marriage.

A note for women

The advice contained herein applies to men and women and much of it refers to protecting assets. But if you are a woman who has escaped an abusive relationship, some of these tips pertain especially to you, to protect yourself. The nature of gender-based violence is such that men are unlikely to encounter the same risks.

Change the locks

When a marriage breaks down, usually one or other spouse leaves the marital home. Some couples manage to cohabit until they reach an agreement regarding the disposal of the house, but that only happens in an amicable divorce, which is not the subject of this article. Normally one partner either leaves or kicks the other one out, and if there are children, it is usually the mother who stays in the family home.

If you have any reason to worry for your safety, it’s a wise precaution to change the locks. This eliminates the risk of your partner returning unexpectedly and harming you…or abducting the children. If there are personal belongings to be collected, arrange a time during the day – preferably when the children are not there (to avoid them witnessing any conflict) – and ask a friend to join you – or better still, to stand in for you. Even if abuse is not a factor, you don’t want your spouse returning to the marital home and refusing to leave, forcing you to move out or live in an intolerable situation. Changing the locks will protect your autonomy over the residence.

Protection order

If your partner has threatened you or been violent to you in the past, you can apply to the police for a protection order. The protection order prevents the other person from:

  • Committing any specified act of domestic violence/sexual harassment
  • Entering your residence
  • Entering your workplace
  • Having contact with your children, if it is in the best interest of the child

The Domestic Violence Act, 1998 allows you to approach your local Magistrate Court for a protection order if you are a victim of any act of domestic violence. Before you can obtain a protection order, you must apply for an interim protection order. The interim order will state the date when the final order will be considered. The final order is permanent and can only be changed by applying to the courts.

Apply for the interim protection order immediately if you feel at all threatened. If you think of the day your partner leaves as Day Zero, do this on Day One.

Email and web access

This may be the last thing on your mind, but it should be one of the first. Your email account will very likely contain correspondence between you and your lawyer in the days to come. You may discuss your circumstances and your plans with family or friends. It’s very important your now ex-spouse not have access to your email. Even if you weren’t a couple who shared login details, your partner may have discovered your password. Sadly, this often happens when trust in a relationship breaks down. The safest way to ensure your email security is to set up a new address, not merely a new password…but definitely reset the password for the new address. Many people use the same password over and over, which defeats the purpose of setting up the new account. Once your ex finds it, if you haven’t changed the password, they’re in! Set up automatic forwarding from your current email to the new email address. This provides a second copy in case some mails are being erased without your knowledge. It also saves you having to notify everyone of your new address. You’ve got enough to do.

Now the very tedious bit…change all your web passwords, especially those for sites that may have credit card details saved. You don’t want your partner going on a spending spree with your credit card (a common feature of revenge). More sinisterly, you don’t want your partner impersonating you on social media and other sensitive websites. Do this immediately. And don’t change your password to a common password for all sites. It may be easier to remember, but if your ex is hell-bent on hacking into your accounts, a universal password makes the job easier.

Bank accounts

This can be tricky. If you have a joint account, the terms and conditions probably specify that both signatures are required to make any changes to the account. Therefore, removing your ex from the account unilaterally may not be possible, though we know of exceptional circumstances when a bank has allowed it. It’s important to open an account in your name only, but knowing what amount you can reasonably withdraw from the joint account can be difficult. Fifty percent is a logical  recommendation, but it will depend on your marital regime, the financial obligations of each partner and other factors. If you are the sole or main breadwinner and your income is paid directly to the joint account, there is a risk your ex could deplete the account. This could leave you severely compromised, and is an even bigger issue if you are responsible for any children of the union.

It is strongly advisable, even before initiating divorce proceedings, to seek expert legal advice from family lawyers if you have any concerns about managing your finances in those confusing, post-marriage, pre-divorce days. You may be eligible for an interim maintenance order, known as Rule 43. You also need to ensure you stay within the law and avoid unreasonable, vindictive actions that may provide your ex with ammunition to use against you in the divorce court. Family attorneys SD Law & Associates can help you sort out your finances without jeopardising your future case.

This must be done as quickly as possible. We know of one woman whose joint bank account was emptied by her husband within 24 hours. She had two children to feed. There is no time to waste.


The last and arguably hardest task to undertake is the compilation of evidence. Remember we are not talking about an amicable divorce here. If the divorce is contested, you will need to provide evidence of assets, behaviour, historical events, etc. The further removed you become from the marriage, chronologically and emotionally, the harder it will be to remember details. Get a journal and start recording your memories of incidents now. Where possible, include dates and times and any witnesses. You may need them later. This is particularly critical where abuse or unreasonable behaviour has taken place. The abuser will try to make out that you were at fault. You need to have clear record of events.

Itemise your assets. Consider non-bank assets such as your pension, life insurance, investments, jewellery, property, etc. Be specific and include values. Allow for all joint assets, but itemise joint and personal possessions separately. If you can, try to make an estimate of your partner’s assets. You want to have a clear financial picture so you are prepared when the time comes to negotiate the financial settlement. It also helps your family lawyers immensely if you can provide them with a valuation of your marriage, even a crude one.

But when is it the end?

These tips all make sense, but are rarely followed. Why? Because in the first 72 hours following a break-up, most people don’t fully comprehend the implications. Some couples split up and get back together multiple times, before finally calling it a day. We know one woman who kicked her husband out, changed all the locks, issued the occupant of the cottage on the property with new keys…but within two weeks the husband was back and they picked up where they left off. They are still together.

You may think the split is temporary; you may be hoping it is. You may spend every minute of those first 72 hours trying to be reunited. Or you may be too overwhelmed by grief to function. Our advice is: hope for the best, prepare for the worst. If your marriage has indeed broken down irretrievably, and relations between you are strained, these actions will mitigate a lot of potential trauma down the line. And none of them is irreversible or devoid of purpose. It is no bad thing to change your online passwords occasionally. Listing your assets is good financial management. Opening your own bank account, if you don’t have one, assures you of financial autonomy, regardless of marital status. The more extreme actions that involve changing locks and seeking a protection order will only be necessary in certain circumstances, and in those cases the end is usually obvious (and a relief).

Let family attorneys help

SD Law is a firm of divorce attorneys who understand that divorce is traumatic. We handle divorce proceedings sensitively and look after more than just your financial outcomes. If you are considering divorce or someone you know is in the initial stages of a marital break-up, we can help with the “first response” practical matters. We will handle your case with discretion, empathy and compassion. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email for a confidential discussion.

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The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.

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