Viewing entries tagged
property claim

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.

Don't assume your partner will get half of your asset's increase in value!

It is a prevailing shorthand for many family lawyers that a starting point in a property division for clients is to work out what each party had at the beginning of the relationship, apply a percentage to what they have now, and estimate that your contributions otherwise during the relationship are '50/50'. However, a new case has emphasised the risks in taking this shorthand approach in some situation.

In the matter of Anson & Meek [2017] FamCAFC 257 (http://www7.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/cth/FamCAFC/2017/257.html), the trial Judge found that the Husband had brought in a property worth about $1,000,000 at the beginning of the relationship. That property had increased in value to almost $2,000,000 at the time of the family law trial. The assessment of contributions during the relationship, although not linked explicitly to this calculation, meant that the Wife was treated as having contributed half of the increase in value.

The Full Court took issue with this outcome, and identified that in fact the increase in value of the property was not solely due to the financial and non-financial contributions of the parties during the relationship (including homemaking duties), but also to prevailing market factors. In fact, a very large proportion of the increase in value was connected to the increase in the land value of this rural property, rather than the increase in value of the home itself. It would stand to reason then that the Husband should have a greater percentage contribution attributed to him, as without his initial capital to buy the property, the parties would not have been in a position to profit so handsomely.

The case seems to indicate that the Court should not neglect the concept of 'springboarding' when looking at assets such as these. It is important that you have a lawyer who understands these concepts and is able to dig into the detail of your assets, rather than treating your assets generically. Our lawyers at Nevett Ford Lawyers Melbourne are fully across this issue and will be able to provide you with the advice you need to get the outcome that is appropriate. You can call us now for more information on 03 9614 7111.

Risks in delaying property settlements

Risks in delaying property settlements

Parents, children and or family members who have endured or witnessed a relationship breakdown can certainly attest to the challenges and intimidation separated parties face as a result. Not only are they emotionally challenging, they involve life-changing and confronting decisions, particularly adjusting to the severance of any financial ties and or resolving care arrangements for the children.

It is not uncommon to come across clients who have separated and left finalising their property settlement for many years. Empathetically and understandably so, property negotiation with a former partner is probably the last detail on the minds of separated parties, given the need to also address emotional issues resulting from separation – however it is imperative that you know the considerable risks associated when discussions surrounding a family law property settlement are left for a significant period.

It is important to be aware of the time limits under the Family Law Act 1975 in bringing proceedings for property settlement or spousal maintenance before the Court, which is designed to promote property settlements within a practical time frame.

  • For married couples, you have 12 months from the date of divorce;
  • For de facto couples, you have two years from the date of separation.

For married couples, we do not recommend applying for divorce until property settlement has been finalised or proceedings commenced seeking property orders. For de facto couples, we commonly run in to the issue of being out of time and we see parties expending legal costs to argue the exact date of separation – therefore reiterating the importance of finalising your property settlement at the first available opportunity following separation.

These time frames exist under the Act to provide certainty to both parties and is beneficial in cases where one party is deliberately skirting the negotiation process (usually the party required to pay maintenance or the party who has smaller future needs) and delaying a property settlement.

In the event you wish to pursue a property or maintenance claim outside the designated time frame, you can only do so with the Court’s permission, that is, leave must be sought from the Court to begin proceedings. The Court must be satisfied that hardship will be caused to you or a child if leave was not granted. In maintenance proceedings, you must demonstrate that at the time the ordinary time limit expired, you were unable to support yourself without an income tested pension, allowance of benefit.

Another significant risk associated in delaying a property settlement is that values of assets, liabilities and or superannuation, as well as the parties’ financial circumstances may change between the date of separation and when negotiations begin and or the matter is brought before the Court –the law looks at and considers the asset pool at the time of any trial, not at the date of separation. This means that any lottery wins or inheritances accumulated may be included as part of the asset pool for division. Similarly, delaying a property settlement whilst meanwhile disposing of any matrimonial assets prior to a settlement can be treated by the Court as that the person has already received part of their property settlement entitlement, thereby reducing their entitlement in the final settlement.

When property settlements are left for a significant period, this also increases the risk that one party may die before proceedings are initiated. Any property owned as joint tenants such as the matrimonial home will be transferred automatically to the surviving tenant (usually the ex-spouse), regardless of what the deceased’s Will states and regardless of whether the parties have separated.

It is for these complexities and risks involved in determining the parties’ entitlements after a long period of separation that we advise you to speak to one of our experienced family lawyers post-separation. Or, if you are in a position where the ordinary time limit has lapsed, we can tailor our advice to you accordingly taking into account your circumstances.

On the same note, if you have managed to reach an agreement with your former partner about a property settlement, we encourage you to document it in a legally binding and recognised manner, either through Consent Orders or a Binding Financial Agreement. The risks you face otherwise is that your partner later decides to change the agreement, which was never formalised in the first place. Putting the terms of settlement in a legally enforceable way would save considerable amount of time and costs in the future if the “informal” agreement was challenged.

Please do not hesitate to contact us on 03 9614 7111 or email us out of hours on melbourne@nevettford.com.au.

The Nuts and Bolts of a Property Claim in a De Facto Relationship under the Family Law Act

De Facto Relationship

A De Facto relationship arises when two people, who are in a relationship, are not married or related by family, and having regard to all the circumstances of the relationship, are a couple who live together on genuine domestic basis. Circumstances of the relationship that the Court will consider in determining whether a De Facto relationship exists or not include the duration of the relationship, living arrangements, whether there was a sexual relationship, financial arrangements, property owned jointly or individually, any registration of the relationship under State or Territory law, any children and public representation of the relationship.

Grounds for Property Claims in a De Facto Relationship

If a De Facto relationship breaks down, the Family Law Act provides that a Court can make orders in relation to property of the relationship only if: -

  • The relationship has lasted for a minimum of 2 years; or

  • If there is a child of the relationship; or

  • A party has made a substantial contribution; or

  • The relationship was registered under a State/Territory law.

As a result, the De Facto relationship that last for less than 2 years, a property claim can only be made if there is a child of the relationship, the relationship is registered or if the concerned party has made a substantial contribution.

Substantial Contribution

Substantial contributions are contributions which are not ‘illusory’ and are ‘considerable or large’ having real worth or value. Contributions that would be considered by the Court as being substantial contributions include, but are not limited to, the following: -

  • Financial contributions made for acquisition, conservation or improvement of any property of parties

  •  Non-financial contributions made for the acquisition, conservation or improvement of any property of parties

  • Contributions made to the welfare of the relationship and/or children of the relationship including homemaker contributions.

When determining whether a contribution is a substantial contribution, the Court may also take into account other considerations, such as: -

  • Effect of any proposed order on earning capacity of any party

  • Matters such as age, health, income, care or control of child, any commitments, standard of living, extent of contributions to financial resources of the relationship

  • Any financial agreement/arrangement between the parties

  • Child support

There is a further requirement for claims based on substantial contributions. If a party makes a substantial contribution and in the absence of an order that party would suffer a serious injustice, only then can a claim for property be made by that party. The Court requires this injustice to be more than slight and a mere injustice will not suffice.

If you have been in a de facto relationship that has unfortunately broken down and you would like to discuss further what your entitlements are, please do not hesitate to contact one of our approachable family lawyers. The number to dial is 03 9614 7111, or email us out of hours on melbourne@nevettford.com.au.