Separation or divorce can be emotionally and financially traumatic. With nearly one in three marriages ending in divorce*, and the number of single-parent families in Australia increasing, it’s important to understand the impact relationship breakdown can have on your finances and your ability to save for retirement.
Financially, divorce affects men and women differently, depending on how assets are divided and where dependent children are living.
Impact on income and assets
- The median age for divorce for men is 44.8 years* and for women 42.2 years*, and almost half involve children.
- Typically, men’s living standards decline as women tend to be awarded the family home. On the other hand, a woman’s access to the same level of income can drop sharply if the husband was the main wage earner.
- Divorced women with dependent children find it particularly difficult to maintain their income after a divorce. Keeping super saving going with a limited income can be a big challenge.
Relationship breakdown and your financial future
There’s also a longer-term financial impact for both men and women who separate or divorce, which can continue into later life.
For example, households with men and women aged 55 to 64 years, who have never divorced, earn around $10,000 a year more than households headed by divorced single men and women of the same age†.
With less money in the household budget, there’s less opportunity to contribute to long-term savings like super.
* Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 'Divorces', cat. no. 3310.0, viewed 21 August 2015, http://www.abs.gov.au/
† Wellbeing of older Australians, Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2010. Separation and divorce.
Ben and Caroline separated two years ago. After two decades and two children together, it took a few months of talking to work out how to divide their property and assets. Under their agreement, Caroline kept the family home and stayed the main carer for the children. Ben received half of Caroline’s super and transferred the money to his super account. He works full time and the children stay with him five days a fortnight. Ben’s cost of living goes up because he has to cover his own day-to-day living expenses, as well as contributing to the costs of raising the children.
For Caroline, life is a challenge as she returns to work full time to pay the mortgage, as well as caring for the children. After getting financial advice, she followed a detailed budget to deal with her new income and expenses, and contributes extra to her super to catch up for the super split.
Things you can do
As part of adjusting to your new situation, there are a few important things you can do to stay on a good financial track.
Assess your financial situation
The first step is to get a clear picture of your financial situation. Gather all the financial information about your assets and debts, such as bank accounts, super balances, bills, financial commitments and other legal documents.
Consider getting financial advice
The thought of making important decisions can be overwhelming. A financial adviser can provide you with knowledge and guidance to help you feel more confident about the decisions you make.
Here’s how they can help:
- talk to you about splitting your assets (including super)
- help you decide what to do about adjusting your super contributions going forward
- advise on investing any super payment you may receive.
Get legal help
A lawyer can help you through the process of dividing all your assets, including your super, in the property settlement, and represent you in court if necessary.
What happens to super?
Under family law, when a marriage or de facto relationship breaks down, super can be split under a superannuation agreement reached by the two people involved. If an agreement can’t be made you can have the court determine the settlement.
Before you decide what to do, get legal advice. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and responsibilities, and explain how the law applies to your case.
Your partner has the right to request information about your super from your super fund, provided they have a genuine reason for needing the information. If an agreement is made to split your super, your partner will be asked where their part of your super should be paid.
Your partner’s super
Similarly, you can request information about your partner’s super from their fund. If your partner’s super is split, you’ll have the following choices when the super becomes available:
- add the money to your Rest account
- transfer the super to another fund
- take the super as cash if you’re eligible for a cash payment.
The process of splitting super
Request information about the super accounts
Before you can work out how to split the super you both have (or whether to split it at all), you need to find out how much super is available.
Decide how you will split the super benefits
- Prepare a written agreement with the help of a lawyer.
- The agreement must be accompanied by a signed certificate, stating both you and your former partner have taken independent legal advice about the agreement.
- If you and your former partner have reached an agreement from the outset, you can file an application for consent orders in the Family Court, together with a consent order recording the agreement.
- If you can’t reach an agreement with your former partner, you’ll need to file an application with the Court for a court order. Registry staff can tell you what you need to do.
You can download a super information kit from the Family Court website to help you.