Ex-partners no longer able to hide super easily

Couples who are separating will no longer be able to hide their super from ex-partners easily, under legislation that is set to take effect.

From 1 April, any parties to family law proceedings will be able to apply directly to the Australian Tax Office (ATO) to gain access to their ex-partner’s superannuation details.

The new process has been brought in to alleviate long delays and excessive legal costs faced by individuals trying to access an ex-partner’s super as part of a divorce settlement, but whose partner refuses to disclose his or her super balance.

Plain language application forms to discover and divide an ex-partner’s super balance have been introduced to streamline the process.

Read: Protect your super balance from stock plunges and rate rises

Superannuation is usually subject to the same rules during a divorce as any other asset, such as real estate or shares, and can be split between parties by a court order.

Previously, splitting superannuation involved completing a complex set of forms that were difficult to fill out without expensive legal help. The forms also differed in content and wording across different funds.

The measures apply to partners of any gender or income, but the previous rules disproportionately disadvantaged women and low-income earners – two groups with a lot of overlap.

The previous rules meant the legal costs of splitting an ex-partner’s super were often greater than the share the person would receive in the balance.

Read: More Australians set to receive super contributions

Industry fund HESTA, whose members are more than 80 per cent female, will be the first to introduce the form but others are expected to follow.

“This universal, simplified process will go a long way towards ensuring equity in super outcomes when relationships end, but we need more super funds to come on board,” says HESTA CEO Debby Blakey.

“Dividing super assets to date has been an unnecessarily long and complex process, often requiring expensive legal advice that can unfortunately result in many women, especially those from low-income households or who are experiencing disadvantage, walking away from their fair share of super assets.

“Given super is often the largest or only asset in the relationship for low-income families, it means many women are potentially losing their only income in retirement beyond the Age Pension.”

Read: Most super balances below what’s needed for retirement: APRA

The streamlined system is being implemented as a key recommendation of the Small Claims, Large Battles report, compiled by the Women’s Legal Service Victoria (WLSV) in 2018.

“We identified, through our report, that women missing out on their share of superannuation after separation was contributing to poor economic outcomes, including long-term poverty and homelessness,” WLSV CEO Serina McDuff says.

“With women aged over 55 the fastest-growing group of homeless people in Australia, we prioritised creating change in this area so we could positively impact women’s economic futures.”

Could this new legislation help you claim what you’re entitled to? Or should your super details be kept private once you are divorced?

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Written by Brad Lockyer

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