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Build your bridge: demolishing legal, personal and professional barriers for women

Tanya Lavan provides a fantastic summary of our recent event: ‘Build your bridge: Demolishing legal and personal barriers for women’ on 31 January 2019

I formed the panel of experts along with Aneeka Munshey, Emma Robertson and Paula Hart at the event run by R.B. Flinders on 31 January 2019 entitled ‘Build your bridge: Demolishing legal and personal barriers for women’. Whilst there was a holistic approach to the presentation, my focus was on Family Law.

I seek to summarise that presentation in the hope that it assists Family law clients in breaking down those barriers.

What are the legal, personal and financial barriers facing women at various life stages that relevant to Family law:

  1. On average women will face a 30% decline in their standard of living after separation, men face only a 10% decline and it will take a women an average of six years to return to the income she received during the relationship, while men after separation tend to increase their income. Women also have a greater reliance upon Government benefits after separation, being half as likely as men to exit the social welfare system.
  2. The statistics in Australia surrounding lack of financial literacy (35% for women compared to 50% for men), household unpaid work (80% for women and 20% for men), initiation of separations without knowing your rights and leaving the former matrimonial home, belongings, children and starting again (80% for women and 20% for men).
  3. There is also sexually transmitted debt (it’s a thing).
  4. Loss of income earning capacity, career prospects and lower superannuation contributions as a result of exiting the workforce to raise children and provide support as the primary caregiver for the Family.
  5. This is without mentioning the impact of Family violence upon women who experience a greater risk of homelessness as a result of being isolated from support systems, employment, friends, Family and also having little financial access to relationship income and assets.
  6. At the end of all of this fighting for child support if your former partner doesn’t pay, is self-employed or doesn’t file a tax return, fighting for a property settlement if you have no idea what the asset pool is or have no access to funds results in many women just accepting whatever they can and walking away.
  7. The most staggering statistic I found was that roughly 80% of people that need to attend a lawyer do not as they don’t know what their rights are or what a lawyer can help them with. This may include not knowing whether you can relocate, not knowing about maintenance, child support and that property settlements include superannuation. I’m hoping that this summary will at least assist with this.

Unfortunately it’s very common in family law matters for one party in a relationship to focus on the finances and the other to focus on the household and other things. I’ve had primary income earner males and females assign all responsibility to their partner for managing finances only to find out in future either prior to or after separation that the home is fully mortgaged and there is credit card debt and no savings. I’ve also had stay at home parents focus solely on the family and running a household only to find at separation that their partner has spent everything they were earning and there is nothing for division.

What are my rights, entitlements and options?

If you are in de-facto relationship or you are married you may have an entitlement to a property settlement.

This includes all assets, liabilities and superannuation interests in your name or your partners name or in which either of you have an interest. This may include your home, investment property, trusts, business, motor vehicles, shares, savings accounts, overseas assets, debts including credit cards and also superannuation. It may also include an inheritance or gift from family, an asset you had prior to the relationship or a debt that the other person accrued without your knowledge (sexually transmitted debt). They may need to be valued or the valuations agreed upon.

You’ll need to know the contributions made to the asset pool, who had what at cohabitation and any gifts inheritances or windfalls during the relationship. You’ll also need to know what we call ‘future needs’ which is the income earning capacity of each party and the likely care and support of a child under the age of eighteen or other person.

With all that information a lawyer will be able to give you advice as to a likely range that you will fall within for a property settlement, whether you would be entitled to maintenance (this can be de-facto or spousal), what you might expect in terms of child support and the likely parenting spend time arrangements between both parents and the children.

This means that you can obtain advice as to a likely settlement during a relationship without your partner knowing that you want to separate. It will allow you to take your time and consider your options without stressing that you need to leave to protect an asset or inheritance for example or that you should stay as you can’t afford to go.

If you don’t have all the information I have outlined, your lawyer can either request your partner disclose this, or issue an application in Court seeking their disclosure. Once it’s all obtained you’ll receive an opinion from your lawyer and will hopefully be able to settle quickly.

Knocking down barriers: Family law tool kit

You need to know your finances at all times, make sure you know passwords to all bank accounts, make sure you know the value of your property and mortgage, have conversations with your partner about income, spending, savings, credit cards and make sure you are on the same page about these things. If you aren’t then speak to somebody about this, this can be a financial advisor or a Family lawyer either jointly or separately. A financial advisor could meet with both of you, go through your finances, prepare budgets, explain the details of your financial situation to both members of the relationship and this is a common tool also used at separation.

Improve your financial literacy (this is the ability to make informed and effective decisions with your financial resources). If you need assistance contact a financial planner, I have referred clients to Paula Hart in the past. Otherwise if your budget prohibits, look at money smart, services provided by WIRE, the WLSV or download the barefoot investor on Audible. There are multiple options for any budget.

If during the relationship you have very different ideas about how you want to spend money, how you want to live, how you want to save or you want to protect an inheritance, gifts from parents or assets you had prior to the relationship, then have that conversation, you don’t need to agree on everything but it pays to know how to protect yourself if you have different views. If you do have different goals and you want a safety net to make sure your inheritance, asset, savings or hard work is protected then you can enter into a Financial Agreement. This can specify that certain assets or a share of assets belong to you and not your partner.

Share the work load around the house to reduce your mental load and allow you to increase your paid employment, financial literacy and balance. If you need help in doing this I recommend speaking either jointly with your partner or separately with a counsellor, Sandy Hirschfield of Real Resolutions, a Life coach or wellness expert such as Emma Robertson of Healthy, Sexy, Happy, Life or Debbie Zita.

If you are experiencing family violence then you need a safety plan so that you can leave, with the children, to access funds from a mortgage redraw, secure a rental property, access funds to cover your expenses so you are not reliant upon your partner or benefits. Look for family violence assistance from CBA, NAB, Windermere, Centrelink grants and VOCAT. Safesteps also offer a 24 hour family violence helpline and assist with homelessness and obtaining benefits and grants. You should also know about Safety Notices and Intervention Orders (where your partner may be removed from the home). Call 000 in the event of any threat to safety.

With 80% of separations initiated by women you should know your rights and entitlements prior to leaving if at all possible. Attend upon a qualified family lawyer and preferably a collaborative lawyer to get advice about what you should do and how. You do not want to leave everything including your children behind and end up settling for less than what you are entitled to financially in terms of property settlement, maintenance or child support. You also need to know whether you can relocate to be closer to your Family and the amount of time you will likely have your children.

Finally if you have children and want to know about spend time arrangements you should speak with a lawyer trained in collaborative law. They are arguably more likely to take a child focused approach to resolving a dispute and also more likely to refer you to a counsellor trained in resolving parenting disputes at a significantly lower rate than that charged by a lawyer.

IF YOU NEED A REFERRAL JUST ASK!

I invite you to look at my Instagram page – Family law tool kit where I provide referrals to many practitioners that assist both family lawyers and also family law clients. I also invite you to look at my online blog where I answer what I hope are important and burning questions for those looking at separation or family law.

If you do need anything else don’t hesitate to call me on 0439 184 220 or email me at tlavan@rbflinders.com.au.

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About the author

Tanya Lavan
Principal Solicitor - Family Law

Tanya heads up the firm's family law practice along with Daniel Myers. Originally from New Zealand, Tanya completed a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Commerce and Administration before moving to Melbourne in 2007. Being able to practice in both jurisdictions has resulted in the conduct of a number of international relocation matters to New Zealand.

Tanya has focussed on Family Law sin...

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