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Family Law Property Settlements During The Coronavirus Outbreak: What You Need To Know

For separating couples, who are already facing one of life’s most challenging events, questions about the potential implications of all this on family law property settlements are being raised.

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Coronavirus Outbreak

6 April 2020

By: Winning Wang

Just a few short weeks ago, the coronavirus (COVID-19) was an issue only at the edges of the Australian consciousness. Fast forward and few have been left untouched, as the crisis continues to evolve and significantly impact economies and almost every aspect of our daily lives.

For separating couples, who are already facing one of life’s most challenging events, questions about the potential implications of all this on family law property settlements are being raised.  

Family Law Courts:  For those with upcoming court dates, the courts continue to perform their function during these challenging times although a little differently in order to meet social distancing measures sanctioned by Government directives. Many hearings, conciliation conferences, and mediations are being conducted via videoconferencing or telephone. Priority is being given to the most urgent matters and non-urgent matters may be delayed or adjourned at the discretion of the Judge. Property disputes tend to be provided lower priority than parenting disputes. Parties will need to explore alternative dispute resolution options such as mediation or arbitration to resolve their dispute instead of waiting for an already strained court process.

Property Settlements:  If you have recently finalised a financial property settlement but have yet to implement the terms of the settlement and the outcome now seems impracticable or unfair because of the changing economic situation caused by COVID-19, it may be possible to vary the agreement but expert legal advice should be obtained promptly.

Superannuation:  Given the uncertainty and volatility in the share market at present with the ASX having fallen approximately 30% over the past month, undoubtedly this will have affected superannuation values. Any superannuation splitting orders included in agreements should therefore consider expressing splitting orders as a percentage rather than using a fixed sum to take into account the volatility in the economy.

Business Valuations:  Similarly, the values of businesses which have recently been valued based on 2019 financial year information may no longer be accurate as it does not take into account the 2020 financial year, where a business may have been adversely affected by the pandemic with temporary closure, reduced demand and supply and/or employee absences.  Equally, the valuation may not take into account a business that might be thriving and experiencing a rapid increase in demand, take for instance, toilet paper manufacturers, cleaning services that sanitise commercial and medical facilities, delivery services and fitness equipment companies. Careful consideration of the nature of the business and the 2020 financial year information should therefore also be considered to avoid grossly overstating or understating the value of a business.

Real Estate Valuations:  COVID-19 presents many challenges to the property market. While traditionally, the property market is not as volatile as other markets such as the stock exchange, we’re all in uncharted waters, the situation is rapidly evolving, and the effect on values on the real estate market, appears to remain relatively unknown. Parties are urged to seek expert legal and third-party advice on these issues.

Maintenance and Child Support:  The economic impacts of COVID-19 are widespread. Many are being made redundant or being forced to work reduced hours as a result. For those who are in receipt or paying child support or spousal/de facto partner maintenance, it may be appropriate to seek a reduction or increase to these payments because of the changes to your personal circumstances arising from COVID-19.

Self Care:  This is a very stressful and uncertain time for all and especially difficult for those going through a separation, taking time for self care is important, be it physical or emotional. Do things you enjoy – sing, dance, read a book, exercise, eat well and get plenty of sleep. Stay connected with family and friends.

The team at Farrell Family Lawyers remains available in a remote capacity and are committed to guiding clients through these unprecedented times. If you would like to speak to one of our team about how we can assist you, get in touch with us on (03) 8393 0144.

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