After separation, some people want to focus on parenting arrangements first and deal with property later. There are some possible reasons for this:
1. dealing with numbers is boring or intimidating to many people, and it can be very complex if businesses or trusts are involved
2. there can be a lot of information that you need to find and put together and it’s easy to put off
3. some of the information required can be challenging to obtain if you don’t have a good filing system
4. time with the children has a far greater emotional impact
In general, it’s considered best to get a prompt start on property settlement. If you can’t settle the matter between yourselves and wind up going to court, the judge might consider that all contributions made up until the trial (over a period of several years) must go into the pool. There are several precedents for this. And remember that asset value is that at the time of trial, not separation.
Even if you don’t have significant assets, if there is an imbalance between your superannuation accounts then an adjustment might be called for, with a transfer from the larger fund to the lesser. This can only be done with a binding financial agreement (with each party represented by their own lawyer) or court orders. The language used is specific and must be perfect, so using a lawyer is recommended.
Always check with a lawyer regarding property settlement. You do not necessarily need to engage a lawyer to represent you, but legal advice is extremely important. Many lawyers will provide an initial free consultation, and there are free legal services available in each state and territory. Just google ‘free legal mysuburb’ (replace mysuburb with your suburb).
Before you see a lawyer, get your information together so you don’t waste any time or money. You will want to list all assets and debts and obtain an estimated or actual value for each. Assets include property, cars, caravans, investments, superannuation, bank accounts, estimate of value of contents of the home, work tools, hobby tools, ride on mowers, jewelry. Then list all debts, such as loans and credit card balances. List contributions made before the marriage (if you brought significant assets into the relationship), contributions made during the marriage (tax returns help), gifts from parents, inheritances, lottery winnings, etc.. Since you’ll need to agree on valuations it might be a good idea to share this task with your former partner.
It’s easier for the lawyer if you can document everything in a spreadsheet.
If you’d like a spreadsheet that will help you think through assets and liabilities let me know in the comments below.