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How will the court divide our property?

The court uses a four-step process to determine how property is divided between partners.

  1. Identify and value all of the assets and liabilities.  This requires both partners to be forthcoming and disclose all of the necessary documents and certificates regarding property.  A court will look unfavorably upon someone who is not honest at this stage.
  2. Evaluate the contributions each partner made to the asset pool.  This includes both financial contributions, such as salary and wages and indirect financial contributions, like gifts or property, like a home, acquired through an inheritance.   The court will also consider non-financial contributions, such as taking care of the home and the children.
  3. Consider the future needs of each partner.   The court will take into consideration the health, age, education and earning capacity of each partner.  One partner may have stayed at home to care for the children for the last 10 years, enabling the other partner to develop professionally and earn a higher income.   These factors need to be considered when deciding who gets which property.
  4. Provide a “just and equitable” division of the property.  The law does not require that the distribution of property be equal, only that it be fair.  For example, the court may determine that since the mother will be taking care of the couple’s five young children, she should keep the marital home.

What is “marital property”?

Marital property is all assets and liabilities acquired during the course of the marriage.   Assets might include your home, cars, furniture, shares in a company, rental income and savings.   Liabilities can include any debt, such as mortgages or other loans and leases.

Generally, anything acquired before the marriage is not considered marital property.   However, the court might determine that certain types of property are marital.  The longer a couple is married, the more likely a court will consider property – even property acquired by one partner before the marriage – to be marital property.  For example, perhaps you purchased your home before getting married.  Fifteen years later your spouse, who had a higher income, contributed equally to the mortgage payments and the house renovations, may now be entitled to some share of the value of the house.

What do we do if we can’t agree on the property division?

Many people have trouble dividing their property on their own.  Divorce is a time of emotional upheaval, bringing with it anger, loss of trust and generally an inability to communicate and be fair.  This is where the court steps in.

Couples can turn to the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court to request financial orders.  This is a court order, dividing up the property – both assets and liabilities – of a couple.

What is a “Pre-Action Procedure”?

The courts in Australia are the last resort for settling a property dispute between spouses.  Even if you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement, you need to show the court that you’ve tried to reach an agreement through some type of alternative dispute resolution.  This is called a “pre-action procedure”.

Pre-action procedures are also aimed at determining which disputes can be settled out of court and which really require the court’s intervention.  While you might not be able to come to an agreement about everything, you might agree on some issues (who gets the house) and only have to bring a small number of disputes to the court (how is the debt divided).

There are several steps to the pre-action procedure:

  1. Inviting the other side to participate in dispute resolution, such as family counseling, mediation or arbitration.
  2. Agreeing on a type of dispute resolution service.
  3. Attending the dispute resolution and making a genuine effort to resolve the problem.
  4. Giving written notice to the other side if no agreement can be reached (or the other side refuses to attend the meeting) of your intention to file with the court.
  5. Replying to the written notice if you are on the receiving end.

Consult with an experience Family lawyer about the rules and requirements in pre-action procedures to insure that you meet all of your obligations.

How do my spouse and I divide property when we get divorced?

The best way to divide property is by coming to an agreement on your own.   Many couples are able to work out an agreement by themselves or with the help of an objective person, like a mediator.  In this way, you control exactly who gets what – the house, cars, furniture, savings accounts, and debts – without a judge intervening.

If you sign an agreement, you can bring it to the court to receive consent orders.   A standard “Application for Consent Orders” must be filled out and signed and then submitted to the court along with the agreement.   Once the court grants the consent orders, the agreement is binding on you and your spouse and has the same legal status as any other order the court gives.