Parties in a domestic relationship, whether that relationship is marriage, de facto marriage or a same sex relationship, usually accumulate a property pool over the duration of the relationship. Upon separation, many couples are able to agree as to the division of assets and liabilities.
In the event of a dispute between the parties as to the splitting up of various assets and liabilities, it is prudent to consult with a family lawyer.
The most basic steps required in law when resolving a property dispute involve:
- Determining the net asset pool (including superannuation entitlements) to which the parties both have some claim.
- Assessing the contributions which each party has made towards the property pool and the relationship, and determining the weight to be given to those contributions. Contributions can be financial – such as a high earned income, significant windfalls and/or inheritances; and non-financial – such as providing significant and ongoing homemaking and child-nurturing tasks and duties.
- Assessing the future needs of each party – e.g: care of the children, disparity in income earning capacity, and whether a party has a chronic illness.
- Whether or not the division of property between the parties is just and equitable.
The above four points – very simplistically – set out the basic steps in determining how matrimonial property should be divided at the end of a relationship.
There are many ways to achieve a property settlement. Often an exchange of letters between the parties’ lawyers, or an informal “round-table” conference between the lawyers and their clients, can achieve property settlement. Another method is a mediation conference. The mediator is an independent person whose role is to assist both parties to resolve their property matter without having to go to court.
Property matters need to be settled (or a court application issued) within certain time periods: de facto matters should be settled within two years of separation, whereas matrimonial property matters should be settled within one year of divorce. Legal advice is recommended to determine the critical date by which negotiations with the other party should be commenced or an application should be filed in the Court. Time should be allowed for preparation of application documents, so the sooner an ex-spouse or ex-partner contacts a family lawyer for advice, the better.