If you’re facing, or in the middle of, the breakdown of a marriage or de facto relationship, you’re probably wondering who gets what – especially if your ex-partner met most (if not all) of the expenses for the family. Rest assured that other non-financial contributions will generally be taken into account and weighed up against direct financial contributions.
Broadly speaking, your entitlement will be guided by your contributions to the relationship (which can be financial, non-financial or homemaker contributions) and your “future needs”. This applies to de facto relationships as well, provided the relationship meets the criteria of a de facto relationship.
No two families are the same, of course. As such, it is not possible to summarise with complete certainty what you will be entitled to without knowing the specific circumstances of your case. However, this article may help guide your expectations.
What non-financial contributions count?
In addition to typical financial contributions to the relationship (such as the purchase of motor vehicles or houses, or the accumulation of savings), the courts recognise a variety of other contributions, including:
- cleaning, cooking, house management and other homemaker duties;
- looking after children;
- looking after a partner’s elderly parent;
- gifts and inheritance from family members;
- money management and entrepreneurial expertise;
- nursing activities;
- house improvements and renovations; and
- working in a family business without payment.
After considering your contributions, the court will come up with a percentage range of the matrimonial property pool which you might be entitled to.
In long relationships (more than 15-20 years together), it is generally – though not always accepted that the non-financial or homemaker contributions are equal to financial contributions.
What other things might affect the outcome of your entitlement?
The court also considers the future needs of each of the parties. Anything which affects an individual’s capacity to work or support themselves will generally be a “future needs factor”. These include:
- the care of any dependent children (such that you are unable to work);
- health conditions which affect your capacity to work (or that require further financial resources to assist with care);
- the financial resources available to you;
- whether you have not worked for a number of years (and therefore require reskilling or retraining to be able to earn an income again);
- any discrepancy in the income earning capacities of each party (for example, if your partner earns $200,000 a year and you earn $20,000 you may receive an adjustment in your favour to account for this); and
- Any large discrepancy in your ages
Agreeing on a property settlement
Knowing that your non-financial or homemaker contributions carry value can put you in a stronger position to negotiate a fair property settlement.
Being able to negotiate and agree to a property settlement, without resorting to court proceedings, has advantages, including:
- less financial strain (court proceedings can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000 or more in some cases);
- less emotional strain from lengthy proceedings (which can last up to 2 years or more in some cases);
- a more amicable co-parenting relationship moving forward; and
- no lost opportunities from having your resources and assets tied up because of court proceedings.
If you reach agreement, we recommend that you formally finalise any agreement reached to ensure it is binding and enforceable moving forward, and to ensure that there are no future claims by your ex-partner.
To better understand your range of entitlements, whether any outcome you have negotiated is fair and reasonable or to discuss your options to formalise any agreement reached, we invite you to contact us to arrange a free initial consultation with one of our experienced family lawyers.
What happens if we can’t agree on the division of assets?
If you and your partner ultimately cannot agree, you can:
- negotiate privately through lawyers;
- attend a mediation with a government-run mediation centre (such as Relationships Australia);
- attend a private mediation with a mediator experienced in family law (we have a number of experienced contacts);
- commence proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court to have the matter independently decided by a Judge.
In addition to making decisions about property settlement and financial matters, the court proceedings can also decide matters in relation spousal maintenance, child support (in rare instances), and parenting matters.
You can read more about what to expect if you’re involved in the court process here.
If it was not for the many important non-financial contributions you made to the relationship, whether that’s home duties, caring for children or being the “brains” behind investments, your “breadwinner” partner wouldn’t have made the financial gains they did make over the course of the relationship – and the courts have long recognised this.
Being armed with this knowledge can assist with negotiations, and it can help you understand that you do not need to settle for a proposal seemingly forced by your ex-partner.
Contact a Family Lawyer
The above advice is general in nature and not intended to replace legal advice. If you’d like to discuss your property settlement entitlements and options, please contact our Gold Coast and Sydney family lawyers for a free confidential initial consultation.