Settling property disputes through the family law courts can be an expensive exercise.
Often the most costly aspect of property settlement proceedings is meeting the high standard of disclosure which is required by law.
The Family Law Rules 2004 require that parties to property settlement proceedings make full and frank disclosure of the party’s financial circumstances, including but not limited to:
- Any interest in property;
- Any interest in property owned by a company or other entity that is wholly or partially owned or controlled by a party;
- Any income earned by a company or other entity that is wholly or partially owned or controlled by a party;
- Any trust which a party may control, directly or indirectly, or have an interest in;
- Any property which has been disposed in the 12 months immediately before the parties separated or that has been disposed of since separation; and
- Any liabilities.
In practice, this will mean that all or some of the following documents need to be produced:
- Taxation returns and payslips;
- Bank statements;
- Superannuation statements;
- For real property:
- Certificates of title;
- Statements showing when properties were sold or purchased and for what amounts;
- Appraisals and valuations; and
- Mortgage statements.
- For companies and trusts:
- Company and trust taxation returns and financial statements; and
- Company memorandums and articles of association.
This is not a complete list and often the number of documents which you need to disclose will exceed those listed above.
If a party fails to disclose certain documents, then that party will not be able to rely on that document in seeking orders for property settlement from a court. The party may also be found guilty of contempt of the court and may also need to pay the costs of the who is seeking to obtain the documents.
In order to minimise your legal costs, prior to your first meeting with your lawyer you should begin to collect and organise documents such as those listed above. This will reduce the amount of correspondence regarding disclosure between you and your lawyer, and also your lawyer and your ex-partner’s lawyer. For example:
- If you do not have copies of your taxation returns on hand, you should obtain copies from your accountant.
- If you have medical issues which affect your ability to work, you should obtain copies of your medical records from your doctor.
- If you are responsible for the payment of a mortgage, you should obtain bank statements which show this from the time you commenced payment until the present day.
- If you pay rates and utilities for a home, you should collect and organise the invoices you have showing this.
- If you do not have a copy of your most recent superannuation statement on hand, you should contact your super fund to obtain a copy.