Stereotypes of couples endlessly fighting over property during divorce and relationship breakdown are essentially an urban myth, a report commissioned by the Australian Institute of Family Studies suggests.
The first large-scale study of post separation property division in a decade involved 9,000 separated parents from around Australia and revealed a pragmatic approach to resolving property settlements when getting divorced.
The majority of separating couples surveyed did not have large amounts of money to divide and therefore reached an agreement between themselves relatively quickly in order to avoid lengthy fights over property and escalating divorce costs.
The survey found that the most common reason for accepting a settlement was wanting to move on. About two-thirds of those who reported receiving an unfair settlement said they had accepted this because they wanted to ‘get things over with.’
Nearly half of parents – 43 per cent – were able to reach agreement on the division of property and assets within a year of ending their relationship. When the couple had more wealth to divide the settlement time was extended, with 40 per cent of couples holding more than AS $500,000 in assets taking more than two years to finalise an agreement.
Senior Research Fellow Dr Rae Kaspiew said the findings were based on a sample of married and cohabiting parents who had been separated about five years. She said parents across all income levels had generally sorted out their own affairs, with 39 per cent of settlements achieved through discussions and 18.8 per cent ‘just happening’ without specific action.
A further 29.3 per cent were handled by a lawyer, 7.1 per cent went to court and 4.2 per cent went to mediation.
However, the involvement of lawyers rose as the assets in question increased in value. When assets were under AS $140,000, most cases were handled through discussion but once values rose above AS $140,000, more cases went to a lawyer.
“We found that close to half had finalised their property division within a year although this took longer if couples had more assets to divide,” she said.
The report found that more than 60 per of fathers and mothers considered that their property division was fair, but a substantial minority, between 30 and 40 per cent, thought their settlement had been either somewhat unfair, or very unfair.