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family law property matter

Family Law and the Bank of Mum and Dad

It’s common for modern entrants into the property market to have had some assistance getting there. You might have heard of the term ‘the Bank of Mum and Dad’ to refer to when parents or family members have assisted someone in helping with a deposit on a property. But how does this new type of Bank stack up when it comes to a separation with your partner?

Family law has long adopted a presumption about money coming from family members, called the presumption of advancement. In brief, that presumption says that where there is an intra-family transfer (a payment from your mother to you for example), then that is presumed to be a gift. If there is evidence to the contrary, then the presumption can be rebutted.

What does it take to rebut the presumption of advancement? There are competing schools of thought and arguments about this. One line of reasoning says that if you intended something to be a loan, then you would have all the regular features of a loan – a contract entered into before the money was transferred, terms of repayment, interest payable, the ability for whoever loaned the money to ‘call in’ the debt, and even registering an interest by way of a charge or sometimes a mortgage.

However another line of reasoning, advanced particularly in the Supreme Court of NSW, has said that family members are simply unlikely to adopt such formalities in their intra-family relations, but that this shouldn’t stop a Court taking a view that money transferred was a loan, not a gift. That is, that the level of formality about a loan in a family is going to be lower than if the Commonwealth Bank, for example, loans you some money.

These questions turn on evidence, and your conduct with the money, particularly before you separated. If you separate, and suddenly start treating money as being a loan and paying interest, it certainly looks suspicious if that’s not what was happening before. Patterns of conduct are important, as are formal documents being prepared at the time of the loan, particularly with documents showing that a partner or former partner knew exactly what was going on.

It’s easy to say all this in hindsight, but our lawyers are experts at asking you the right questions to help find the evidence that you might need to argue a loan – and if you cannot, giving you the right advice early to help you avoid going down the wrong path.

Call us now on 03 9614 7111 or email melbourne@nevettford.com.au to find out more.

I’m going through a property division - should I quit my job to get more?

We get this question, or a variant of this question very commonly. Part of the stages of a property division in Australia is considering each party’s future earning capacity. In response, people often have some ideas about how they might maximise the funds they receive.

Someone might ask whether they should quit their job, as getting 5% more of a million dollar pool of assets seems attractive. Or they might decide not to start looking for work very hard during the course of the proceedings. Sometimes opportunities come up and clients think about whether they should postpone taking up those opportunities. It can happen that there is deliberate contact to reduce your earnings just to try to get a bigger slice of the pie. Sometimes clients are, unfortunately, not completely honest with their lawyers or with the Court, and may be earning cash from jobs that they do not declare.

In all of these situations, the Court is obliged to look at your earning capacity, not necessarily what you are earning right here and now on paper. A skilful lawyer will be able to identify a pattern of earnings you’ve had, and if those earnings suspiciously drop around separation, you will have to have an excellent answer for why that happened for your Judge. You may be compelled equally to reveal to your ex-partner and the Court what attempts you have made to get a job, and your efforts in that regard (or otherwise) could become a significant issue.

Not only that, but by not working if you are otherwise able to, and not earning what you genuinely are able to for the work you do, you are depriving yourself for potentially years of litigation while you await a decision, all while gambling on whether a Judge will find your actions to have been believable. It’s not a bet I would risk my house on!

My view is that you should take the work you can get, can reasonably perform with your health and skills, for fair pay. You will have more money in your pocket from salary and appear as an honest, sensible person to any Court looking through your affairs.

This is of course a general observation and you should always seek advice specific to your circumstances. If you suspect your former partner isn’t playing by the rules, or you need advice about your reported earnings, call our lawyers on 03 9614 7111 to speak with someone now.