When going through a divorce, many people think of dividing assets such as property, money and debts. But a study conducted in October 2019 has revealed that many Australians are unaware that they are entitled to a portion of this major asset.
The study, conducted by UMR, surveyed 1082 people and found that more than half of them were unaware that superannuation benefits could be divided when couples separated.
The study, commissioned by Industry Super Australia, found that only 53 per cent of women and 65 per cent of men who had involved lawyers, a court or used mediation, were aware of how or if superannuation could be split.
Two-thirds of the people surveyed by UMR believed that it was important for women to be able to easily apply for a share of their former partner’s super. Despite this view being shared by many legal and industry experts, the process is both difficult and scarcely known.
Chief executive at Super Australia, Bernie Dean, agrees. “The last thing anyone needs in a stressful time like divorce is to be confronted with a complex and costly process to get assets they may be legally entitled to.”
“Women sacrifice their super by taking time out of the workforce to raise a family. When that family breaks down it’s only right they’re able to access their fair share of their partner’s super,” said Mr Dean.
Since 2002, superannuation has been legally considered a divisible asset. Despite this, Courtney Mullen, from Australian Family Lawyers, said that many people overlooked superannuation during a divorce. “A very common misconception with people is that [superannuation] is not something to look at,” she told The Canberra Times.
Ms Mullen, who is based in Canberra, said: “Without a doubt superannuation savings are a significant part of any property settlement when filing for divorce. But in Canberra this can be a very large nest egg when you consider the generous super arrangements for public servants.”
Lawyer Tania Clarke, from Women’s Legal Service Victoria, agrees, noting that many of the women who come to her for legal advice are surprised to learn that they are entitled to a share of their former partner’s superannuation.
“We support financially distressed women, many of whom have experienced family violence,” said Ms Clarke. When asked if they had any property, few of her clients considered their former partner’s super. “They are dealing with a myriad of issues and the last thing on their mind is that they can go for a property split.”
“For many women, superannuation is the only asset they can claim from their former partner,” said Ms Clarke. However, despite reforms underway in the industry, she notes that dividing super is generally a difficult and expensive process.
“Dividing superannuation assets through the family law system is unnecessarily complex and often requires costly legal advice,” said Debby Blakey, chief executive officer of industry fund HESTA, who is working on the reforms. “This results in many women, especially those from low-income households or who are most vulnerable, simply walking away from their rightful share of super assets.”
HESTA, working alongside Women’s Legal Service Victoria, hopes to streamline the process, making is more accessible, efficient and affordable.
Did you know that superannuation is a divisible asset? Do you think that people should be able to claim a share of their former partner’s superannuation?
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