How the Family Court divides relationship property

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General principles

The judge will be guided by some general principles when they divide your relationship property:

  • men and women have equal status
  • each partner has made an equal contribution to the relationship so relationship property should usually be shared equally (50:50)
  • it usually doesn’t matter if 1 person is more responsible than the other for the break-up of the relationship
  • unpaid work, such as caring for children and running the home, is equal in value to paid work.

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Length of relationship

Together more than 3 years

If you’ve been married or in a civil union or de facto relationship for more than 3 years, relationship property will be divided equally, unless the court thinks that would be extremely unfair.

Together less than 3 years

If your marriage or civil union has lasted less than 3 years, the family home and contents will be shared based on what each of you has brought to the marriage or civil union if:

  • they were owned by 1 of you before the marriage or civil union began
  • they were received by 1 of you as a gift or under a will during the marriage or civil union
  • 1 of you made a far greater contribution to the marriage or civil union.

Most people who have lived together in a de facto relationship for less than 3 years will not be covered by the Property (Relationships) Act 1976, unless there’s a child involved or 1 person has made a significant contribution to the relationship.

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Dependent children

The Family Court must make sure any dependent children are looked after when it divides relationship property. This means the court may:

  • settle relationship property for the children’s benefit
  • postpone selling or handing over relationship property if it would cause undue hardship for the person who has day-to-day care of the children
  • ensure that both people have enough furniture to set up another home, especially if the children will be living there.

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Times when relationship property isn’t divided equally

If the income and living standards of 1 person is likely to be much higher than the other person’s after the relationship ends, the court can give more to the other person. The court can do this by:

  • ordering 1 person to pay maintenance to the other person (this means 1 of you will need to regularly give the other person money for a set amount of time)
  • giving 1 person a one-off amount of money or more of the relationship property or some of the separate property.

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