Family Law Property Settlements – What Does the Family Court Consider When Dividing Property?
Divorce or separation can be a challenging and emotionally draining time, especially when it comes to dividing assets and liabilities. In Australia, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) governs property settlements, and the Family Court follows a four-step process to determine a fair and equitable division of property. Understanding this process is crucial to comprehending why certain orders are made and why it is necessary to follow this structured approach. In this article, we will explore the four steps that the Court implements when deciding property settlement matters.
Step 1: Identifying and Valuing all Assets and Liabilities
The first step in the property settlement process is to identify and value all the assets and liabilities accumulated during the relationship. This includes both tangible and intangible assets such as properties, vehicles, investments, superannuation, and even debts. An accurate valuation is essential to ensure a fair distribution later in the process.
Step 2: Contributions Made During the Relationship
The second step involves looking back at the contributions made by both parties during the relationship. These contributions can be financial, such as income earned, savings, and property purchases, as well as non-financial, such as homemaking, child-rearing, and support provided to the other party’s career or education. The Court recognizes and evaluates these contributions to determine their respective significance in building and defining the asset pool.
Step 3: Future Needs and Means
The third step in the process considers the future needs and means of each party. Factors considered include the age, health, income, earning capacity, and financial resources of both individuals. The Court examines whether one party requires additional support due to disparities in financial circumstances or earning capacity, ensuring that each party can maintain a reasonable standard of living post-separation.
Step 4: Just and Equitable Division
The final step is for the Court to assess whether the proposed division of property is “just and equitable.” While the terms “just” and “equitable” are not precisely defined in the Family Law Act 1975, they refer to the weight that the trial judge assigns to the factors mentioned above. The Court considers the unique circumstances of the case, giving due consideration to the first three steps and determining a division that is fair and reasonable under the circumstances.
Navigating through property settlements during a divorce or separation can be complex and emotionally challenging. However, understanding the four-step process employed by the Family Court can provide clarity and insight into why certain orders are made. By identifying and valuing assets, evaluating contributions made during the relationship, considering future needs and means, and ensuring a just and equitable division, the Court aims to achieve a fair and reasonable outcome for all parties involved. If you find yourself in such a situation, seeking professional legal advice is highly recommended to ensure that your rights and interests are protected throughout the process.