"War of the Roses" style divorce a myth

"War of the Roses" style divorce a myth

Media release — 30 July 2014

Stereotypes of couples endlessly fighting over property settlements during divorce and relationship breakdown have not been borne out by new data released today by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

In the first large-scale study of post separation property division in a decade – involving 9,000 separated parents from around Australia – a much more pragmatic approach to sorting out property settlements has emerged.

In a research presentation to the 13th Australian Institute of Family Studies’ conference on Friday, researchers report that on the whole, separating couples do not have large amounts of money to divide and mostly sort things out themselves fairly quickly, avoiding lengthy fights over property.

AIFS’ Senior Research Fellow, Dr Rae Kaspiew said the findings are based on a sample of married and cohabiting parents who’d been separated about five years, many of whom had young pre-school or primary school-aged children.

“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. For example, of those with more than $500,000, four in ten took more than two years to finalise settlement,” Dr Kaspiew said.

“By comparison, more than one third of parents with under $40,000 in assets had resolved property division at the time of separation, but even many of those with considerably more property to divide had sorted things out in less than a year’s time.

“Of those parents with assets to divide, the average property pool was $261,000. Married couples had generally accumulated more assets, compared to those cohabiting. Just over a third of those separating after marriage had assets of more than $300,000.

“This may partly be explained by the fact that people divorcing tended to have lived together for longer and to have come from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

“By contrast, a quarter of people separating after cohabitation had no assets, with just under a third reporting assets of less than $40,000.”

Dr Kaspiew said that separating parents across all income levels in the study had generally sorted out their own affairs.

“The majority of separating parents had resolved property settlements without resorting to lawyers and courts, contrary to stereotypes about separation and painful fighting over assets,” she said.

Research co-author, AIFS’ Senior Research Fellow, Dr Lixia Qu said that in terms of perceived fairness, the majority of both men and women judged their settlement fair.

“At least 60 per cent of fathers and mothers considered the property division was fair. However, a substantial minority – between 30 to 40 per cent – considered the settlement had been either ‘somewhat unfair’ of ‘very unfair’, Dr Qu said.

“Factors associated with reports of unfairness related to an individual’s eventual share of the settlement; who left the house; and whether they had experienced family violence.

“Debate about fairness also focused on people’s views of how much they had contributed to the relationship in financial terms, as well as the value placed on particular roles, such as the care of children.

“Women reported that they received 48 per cent of property assets, while men reported that they received 37 per cent of property assets. Both tended to under-estimate their own share of the property division.

“Overall, women tended to receive higher settlements when they were also caring for children most of the time.

“Women received less assets when they left the family house. Likewise, men also received less when they left the house. Women who reported experiencing family violence were more likely to have left the house than those who did not experience family violence.

“The most common reason for accepting a settlement was wanting to move on. Around two-thirds of those who reportedly received an unfair settlement said they had accepted it because they wanted to ‘get things over with’.”

The research presentation ‘Property division after separation: new insights’ by AIFS’ Senior Research Fellows, Dr Rae Kaspiew and Dr Lixia Qu will be presented at the 13th Australian Institute of Family Studies' conference Families In A Rapidly Changing World being held at the Melbourne Convention Centre from July 30 to 1 August.

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