Evaluation of the Small Claims Property Pilot – Priority Property Pools Under $500,000 (PPP500)

Content type
Research report

November 2022

Executive summary


This report sets out the findings of the Evaluation of the Small Claims Property Pilot/Priority Property Pools under $500,000 (now known as the PPP500 Pilot and referred to as such in this report). The PPP500 Pilot is a three-year program designed to provide access to simpler, quicker court processes for the resolution of post-separation property matters for litigants with net asset pools of $500,000 or less (including superannuation). The Melbourne, Parramatta, Brisbane and Adelaide registries in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (now the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, FCFCoA) are piloting the program. The pilot and the evaluation are funded by the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department under the Women’s Economic Security Package (WESP).

The evaluation of the program extends over two years, commencing in 2020 and concluding in 2022. There are 23 evaluation questions guiding this evaluation research and the evaluation methodology is based on three primary data sources:

  1. administrative data extracted from the court’s CaseTrack administrative system
  2. data from family law court files collected by the evaluation team (PPP500 files: n = 417; non-PPP500 comparison files: n = 364)
  3. qualitative interviews with parties (n = 4) and professionals (n = 33).

    The evaluation also involves:

  4. a selection of case studies drawn from each pilot site based on the court file and qualitative interview components of the evaluation to provide in-depth insights into the operation of the PPP500 Pilot in particular contexts
  5. a social return on investment analysis based on the administrative, court file and qualitative interview datasets to measure the financial, economic, and social impacts of the pilot
  6. an empirically informed recommendation on the definition of a small value property pool that should be applied if the PPP500 Pilot is to be maintained on an ongoing basis.

Ethical clearance for the implementation of this research was received from the Australian Institute of Family Studies Human Research Ethics Committee and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Research and Ethics Committee (now Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Research and Ethics Committee).

Objectives of the PPP500 Pilot and entry criteria

According to the Attorney General’s Department (AGD) which funded the PPP500 and the evaluation, the objectives of the PPP500 Pilot are to develop and trial a more accessible, simplified and quicker method of resolving small claims family law property disputes up to the value of $500,000. According to the AGD, expected benefits under the pilot included:

  • greater access to judicial decisions regarding family law property division following separation, especially for parties experiencing family violence or economic abuse, where there is inequality in bargaining power or risk of economic hardship arising from an unresolved property dispute, and for self-represented litigants
  • improved financial wellbeing and stability, including alleviated economic hardship and financial stress, especially for parties experiencing family violence or economic abuse, or where there is inequality in bargaining power or risk of economic hardship arising from an unresolved property dispute
  • reduced complexity in the process required to obtain a judicial decision
  • quicker judicial decisions
  • fairer and enforceable outcomes for parties who resolve their dispute through consent orders
  • better financial disclosure.

The eligibility criteria for the PPP500 Pilot provide for applications for property/financial orders only to be filed on or after 1 March 2020 in Melbourne, Parramatta, Brisbane or Adelaide registries where:

  • the value of the net property of the parties (including superannuation interests) is (or appears to be) under $500,000; AND
  • there are no entities (such as a family trust, company, or self-managed superannuation fund) owned or in the effective control of either party that might require valuation or expert investigation; AND
  • neither party in the proceedings seeks orders: for parenting or any other order pursuant to Part VII of the FLA pursuant to the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 and/or the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988, or by way of an enforcement of an order or obligation whether a parenting or financial obligation UNLESS
  • the court makes a declaration or notation that the case is designated as a PPP500 case.1

The PPP500 Pilot involves two streams. One is a registrar-led limb where parties may resolve their post-separation property and financial arrangements by consent with the assistance of a judicial registrar. The other is a judge-led limb with the option to progress to a judicial determination in cases where parties are unable to reach resolutions by consent (FCFCoA, 2021; FCFCoA, Practice Direction 2, 2020).


Access to simple, quick and affordable property settlements, including for vulnerable parties

In relation to the question of whether the PPP500 Pilot provided greater access to simple and quick outcomes, court administrative data show that there has been strong uptake of the PPP500 pilot (with PPP500 matters ranging from 12% to 22% of all property applications over the data collection period). There has also been a discernible reduction in mainstream court filings in property and financial matters during the pilot period. In 2020, 8,182 applications (property alone and property and children) were lodged with the court and these applications numbered 8,123 in 2021, representing a cumulative decrease of approximately 300 applications on each of the three years preceding the PPP500 Pilot. It is difficult to determine whether this reduction is attributable to the pilot, as it is possibly due to the effects of the COVID pandemic. Other possible influences may include the rollout of property mediation in the Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) and the AMICA program for online dispute resolution implemented by National Legal Aid. However, the evaluation team is not aware of any publicly available data or evaluation of these measures so any influence is difficult to assess.

Analyses of court file data illustrate that resolution time frames were substantially lower for PPP500 matters compared with non-PPP500 matters. On average, matters in the PPP500 sample were resolved in 5.3 months compared with 7.7 months in the non-PPP500 comparison sample, reflecting a time saving of one-third for the matters in the PPP500 sample. Analyses accounting for the variation in the time period captured in the PPP500 Pilot sample and the non-PPP500 comparison sample, limiting the focus to cases resolved within a 21-month period, indicate the average duration of non-PPP500 cases was still 7.1 months compared with 5.3 months for PPP500 cases.

The accessibility of the PPP500 Pilot is also underscored by the administrative data and the court file data noted above that showed parties were more likely to access the PPP500 without legal representation as compared to parties in non-PPP500 comparison matters. It is noted that in relation to the court file data, these differences were only statistically significant with respect to respondents, noting that men were more likely to be respondents than women. Nevertheless, the qualitative data from professionals and parties illustrated the pivotal role played by legal advice and representation in ensuring that the parties experienced the process as simple and easy to follow and were accurately informed and that power imbalances were mitigated.

The court file data also illustrate that vulnerable parties including those with allegations or evidence of family violence are accessing quick property settlement outcomes in PPP500 matters, with a pathway to judicial determination where required. There were allegations or evidence of family violence in a quarter of Year 1 PPP500 Pilot matters, rising to a 29% for Year 2 files. Women were the alleged victim in 19% of Year 1 PPP500 files and 23% of Year 2 PPP500 files. In PPP500 files, the most common forms of violence alleged against male perpetrators were threats of harm against family members and threats to damage or destroy property (42%), followed closely by the perpetrator physically harming the children, the other party or themselves (40%). Allegations concerning actions related to preventing knowledge of or access to family money were raised against 18% of male perpetrators in PPP500 files. Forms of violence involving social isolation were raised against 13% of male perpetrators in the PPP500 sample. Notably, almost one-quarter of female parties in the Year 2 PPP500 subsample and almost one-fifth in the Year 1 subsample raised arguments linking a history of family violence with an impact on future needs. It is noted that factors such as absence of affidavit material on PPP500 matters may be relevant to the lower level of allegations or evidence of family violence for PPP500 matters compared to non-PPP500 matters, where almost two-thirds of the female parties raised these concerns.

The qualitative data from both parties and professionals also provide further insight into whether parties, including parties who have experienced family violence or who are otherwise experiencing an inequality of bargaining power, have greater access to simple, quick and affordable property settlements. Both parties and professionals participating in the qualitative interviews reflected positively on the PPP500 process providing access to a low-cost legal process. Some parties and professionals described the process as simple and easy to use and the forms manageable and many professionals indicated that the PPP500 Pilot provided parties with access to a option to resolve their post-separation property/financial arrangements in circumstances where other options had failed, or where it would not have been feasible to pursue a property settlement due to the prohibitive costs, delays and stress associated with engaging in the standard litigation process.

In relation to vulnerable parties in particular, most professionals suggested that the registrar-led limb of the PPP500 Pilot operated effectively to support vulnerable and disadvantaged parties, including those affected by family violence and who have ongoing safety concerns, and how this assisted in alleviating economic hardship for vulnerable parties. Others drew attention to aspects of the registrar-led limb that they considered were less effective in supporting vulnerable parties. Some participating parties reflected on the unique challenges they experienced as self-represented litigants and a small number of professionals reflected on the limitations of the judge-led limb in supporting vulnerable parties, including the capacity for judicial officers to respond when parties were engaging in vexatious litigation practices.

Increase in orders by consent and by judicial determination

When considering whether the PPP500 Pilot supported an increase in orders by consent and judicial determination in small pool property matters, the data from the court files show greater levels of settlement during proceedings for Year 1 PPP500 matters when compared to non-PPP500 matters, with 10% of non-PPP500 matters concluding by judicial determination compared with 2% of Year 1 PPP500 files. Conversely, judicial determination outcomes were a greater feature of Year 2 PPP500 files, comprising 8% of these files. The data also show that 93% of Year 1 PPP500 matters resolved in the registrar-led limb of the process. A lower proportion of non-PPP500 comparison files resolved during the process (88% achieving full resolution). The corresponding proportion of 75% was lower again for Year 2 PPP500 files. Administrative data collected by the court also show that of those matters that had resolved, 78% had resolved without any judicial involvement and 22% required some judicial involvement. The data also show that most matters that had been progressed to the judge-led limb resolved by consent with only 6% referred to a judge for hearing. Together these data show that a greater proportion of PPP500 matters resolved by consent compared to matters in the non-PPP500 comparison sample.

Data from cases studies involving parties of cases proceeding from the registrar-led limb to the judge-led limb show how the PPP500 Pilot program was able to support resolution of property matters by consent, with all or some of the disputed issues resolved at the registrar-led stage. These case studies also showed how the matters tended to be resolved in a shorter time frame or with less complex legal processes at the registrar-led stage from the perspective of interview participants and some professionals. Nevertheless, the case studies that concluded in the judge-led limb, along with the reflections from professionals’ experiences, underscore the importance of parties having access to a judicial determination where that is required. This was particularly acute in circumstances characterised by domestic violence or an inequality of bargaining power for other reasons. The contrasting case studies from cases commencing prior to the introduction of the PPP500 program show how parties can experience greater costs and delays associated with property/financial proceedings without access to a registrar-led process.

Processes supporting financial disclosure

The administrative data and interview data each provide insight into the extent to which the PPP500 process supports financial disclosure. As one marker of financial disclosure, the administrative data show that financial summaries or financial statements were almost always filed in PPP500 matters, with these filings marginally higher than in non-PPP500 matters.2 The court file data also indicate that, overall, there is improved disclosure in the PPP500 process as compared to the non-PPP500 comparison process, with applicants in the Year 2 PPP500 files were more likely to disclose superannuation in their name only than the non-PPP500 comparison applicants to a statistically significant extent (88% cf. 77%). The data also show that Year 1 PPP500 respondents were more likely to disclose superannuation assets in their own names than non-PPP500 comparison respondents to a statistically significant extent (73% cf. 60%).

The qualitative data also provided insight into whether the PPP500 processes supported financial disclosure. Some parties and professionals observed that the financial summary form was simpler and more cost-effective for financially vulnerable parties including those who were self-represented as compared to the financial statement and affidavit in mainstream cases. Nevertheless, the parties interviewed for this evaluation did raise concerns about whether their former partner/spouse had made full and frank financial disclosure. There were also a range of reflections that professionals shared in relation to financial disclosure more generally. Some professionals reflected positively on the processes in the registrar-led limb and the skilled registrars implementing them as supporting earlier and more comprehensive financial disclosure in these in small pool property matters. Other professionals identified limited difference between mainstream processes and the PPP500 processes on the question of financial disclosure. There were also those professionals who reflected that financial disclosure was less of an issue in PPP500 matters because of the size and lower level of complexity of the PPP500 asset pools, but there were also some professionals who expressed frustration at the challenges where parties failed to make full and frank financial disclosure, including circumstances where judicial involvement may be necessitated. Particular challenges in this regard were identified where parties were self-represented or where parties lacked access to relevant documentation in circumstances characterised by family violence or because they lacked computer literacy or access to technology.

Asset profiles and financial and non-financial contributions

Overall, the average mean value of net assets was similar across both PPP500 and non-PPP500 matters: $297,927 for Year 1 PPP500 files; $309,251 for Year 2 PPP500 files; and $309,985 for non-PPP500 comparison files. More specifically, the court file data show that superannuation was the most frequently identified asset across all file types (86% of Year 1 parties; 87% of Year 2 parties; and 77% of non-PPP500 parties). Parties in PPP500 matters were more likely to nominate their homes as assets than non-PPP500 comparison group parties; however, the variations in the financial forms to be completed by the parties may contribute to this difference.

When financial and non-financial contributions were considered, men were more likely to make claims involving higher financial contributions than women and women were more likely to make a claim of homemaker and parenting contributions such as caring for children, performing household tasks, and other caring contributions (between 78% and 86% of women compared with 57%–68% of men). Conversely, a higher proportion of men claimed contributions other than homemaker and parenting, such as improving property or designing or decision making to improve property. These data show that 39%–54% of men made at least one of these claims compared to 27%–44% of women.

The data on claims made about additional considerations and future needs relating to care of children, income prospects and/or illness health issues were limited but the available data show that, overall, a higher proportion of women in PPP500 matters made at least one of these claims (12%) compared with 4% of men. There was little difference in the prevalence of each claim made between PPP500 and non-PPP500 files for both genders, except for claims about illness/health issues by women, this proportion was higher in non-PPP500 files (7%) compared with 3% in PPP500 files.

Outcomes in PPP500 Pilot matters: improvements in financial wellbeing

Quantitative data from the court files, together with qualitative data from the interviews with parties and professionals and from the case studies, together with the social return on investment analysis, are illustrative of improvements in the financial wellbeing of parties participating in the PPP500 Pilot program. These improvements firstly stem from the parties’ access to a simple, quick and affordable process to resolve post-separation financial arrangements, as outlined above, enabling parties to formalise their post-separation arrangements in enforceable court orders and to sever the financial relationships in circumstances where access to a court process would not otherwise have been feasible or cost-effective.

The improvements in financial wellbeing are also evident in the tangible outcomes for parties participating in the PPP500 in a range of categories indicated in the court file data. When considering outcomes in terms of the distribution of net assets, although analysis by gender overall shows outcomes with a 54%/46% average asset division in favour of women across each of the samples, analysis of the court file sample shows that in Year 2 PPP500 files, the mean allocation to the applicant was 51% in the atypical scenario where the male was the applicant and 55% in the typical scenario where the female was the applicant. In the non-PPP500 comparison files, the allocation was 45% to the applicant in the atypical scenario and 52% in the typical scenario. The Year 2 PPP500 data suggest that when women were applicants in the PPP500 matters, they were more likely to secure a greater percentage of the net asset pool than female applicants in the non-PPP500 comparison sample, with the average percentage of net assets at 55% in those Year 2 PPP500 matters compared to 52% of female applicants in the non-PPP500 comparison sample. The findings also demonstrate that in PPP500 matters, male applicants are less likely to receive asset allocations in the lowest range (0%–39%) compared with male applicants in the non-PPP500 comparison sample.

When considering outcomes in the registrar-led limb as compared to the judge-led limb, it is important to note that the data indicate that women were more likely to receive a higher percentage of the net assets where their matter resolved in the judge-led limb to a statistically significant extent (59% cf. 51%), while males were more likely to receive a higher average percentage of the net assets where their matter resolved in the registrar-led limb (49% cf. 41%). Of note, women were more likely to receive a percentage asset split in the 70%–100% range in the judge-led limb to a statistically significant extent (24% cf. 11%).

In this context, it is important to acknowledge the variation in registrar-led limb and judge-led limb cases, with the average duration of registrar-led limb matters being 4.8 months compared to 7.9 months for judge-led limb cases with this difference being statistically significant. It is also notable that judge-led limb matters were almost twice as likely to involve allegations or evidence on file relating to family violence compared to registrar-led limb matters, with this difference also being statistically significant. These data, together with data from the qualitative interviews, suggest that some parties are settling their matters in the registrar-led limb to avoid the cost, stress and uncertainty of continuing to pursue their matters in the judge-led limb.

Looking specifically at outcomes in PPP500 matters according to court registry location, the data show that women secured a higher average percentage of net assets in Melbourne (55%) and Parramatta (55%) compared to 51% in Brisbane and 52% in Adelaide, although caution should be exercised when interpreting these data given the small sample sizes for Parramatta.

In relation to the transfer of property interests between parties, the most common outcomes in both samples involved the respondent female keeping the real property and a payment being made to the applicant male. The next most common outcome involved property being sold, with payments (or debt) apportioned between the parties. Where applicants were female, the average payment granted to the applicant reflected 83% of funds from the net proceeds of sale in PPP500 matters and 81% in non-PPP500 matters. Where applicants were male, these average proportions were 44% (PPP500) and 45% (non-PPP500). Also of note, female applicants in PPP500 matters were more likely to retain the real property without making a payment (10%) than in non-PPP500 comparison matters (5%).

Fair and enforceable outcomes

Data from both the quantitative and qualitative elements of this evaluation provide insight into the fairness and enforceability of outcomes in PPP500 Pilot matters.

The findings in relation to the assessment of contributions and additional considerations relevant to determining ‘just and equitable’ property/financial settlements demonstrate a general pattern where claims made in relation to homemaker contributions were associated with a higher division of net assets. For women in PPP500 files, those who detailed homemaker contributions received an average of 53% of the net asset pool compared to 48% of those who did not detail homemaker contributions. A similar pattern held for PPP500 men, with an average net asset division of 50% for those detailing homemaker contributions compared to 42% where no such contribution was detailed. For non-PPP500 women, the pattern was similar, with an average net asset division of 54% for those detailing homemaker contributions compared with 48% for those not detailing such contributions.

Analysis relating to claims made about caring for children of the relationship show that the pattern evident in relation to general homemaker contributions was even more marked, with caring for children contributions associated with higher shares, most notably for women. However, in PPP500 files, women who raised a caring for children contribution claim gained an average net asset allocation of 56% compared to 59% for women in non-PPP500 files, but this difference was not significantly different in a statistical sense. For men in PPP500 files, a caring contribution claim was associated with a 47% average net asset division compared with 40% for men who did not raise such a claim. Claims made in relation to other non-financial contributions indicate that where women in PPP500 matters raised these contributions, on average, they received 54% compared to 51% for those who did not.

The analyses also show that the division of net assets granted in PPP500 matters was similar for women with or without allegations of family violence, with an average division of 53% where there was an allegation of family violence, compared with 52% where there was no allegation of family violence. Where there was an allegation of family violence on file, 16% of female parties had an asset split in the 70%–100% compared with 13% where there was no such allegation. A more marked difference was noted in non-PPP500 files, where female parties were granted an average division of 59% where there was an allegation of family violence on file compared with 49% where there was not an allegation. Factors that may be relevant in this context included the absence of affidavit material in PPP500 matters; parties engaging in the PPP500 simplified process potentially including families with less complex dynamics; and higher rates of self-represented parties in the PPP500 that might mean court forms were prepared without the benefit of legal advice.

Data from the qualitative interviews with parties and professionals also provide insight in relation to the achievement of fair and enforceable outcomes. Parties were mixed in their assessment of whether the outcomes in their PPP500 matters were fair. Having access to a legal process, thereby empowering disadvantaged parties, was characterised as being fair. However, parties were reluctant to describe the outcomes as fair where they considered the financial implications of their orders. In this context, it is noted that only around a quarter of parents participating in Wave 3 of the LSSF reported that they considered the outcome in their property settlement to be fair (Qu et al., 2014, Table 6.15). Almost half of the professionals participating in the qualitative interviews indicated that the PPP500 Pilot facilitated fair outcomes, citing the requirement for registrars and judges making orders for property settlement to be satisfied that the orders were just and equitable. Professionals also cited the requirements relating to early financial disclosure as supporting fair outcomes. Other professionals were hesitant or expressed ambivalence about whether outcomes could be described as fair or preferred to describe outcomes as within the range of outcomes that may be ordered by the court or that they were commercial outcomes or the PPP500 process was ‘as fair as it can be’, meaning that outcomes were not considered to be any fairer within the pilot, when compared with the mainstream court processes. This group of professionals highlighted the key to fair outcomes was legal representation for parties, which was not available to all parties accessing the pilot.

The affordability of the PPP500 legal process was endorsed by professionals who reflected positively on the PPP500 as enabling them to achieve commercial outcomes for parties with limited resources. Both parties and professionals noted the subjectivity of the concept of fairness and considered the ‘bigger picture’ where the financial and emotional/psychological costs and stress of litigation are avoided. Some professionals compared the outcomes achieved in the PPP500 Pilot to those generally achieved by other processes available to this client base, suggesting that while the ‘fairest’ outcome would be achieved by progressing to judicial determination, the ‘best’ outcome for many parties accessing this pilot is an outcome that provides them access to a legal process where they have the opportunity to retain as much of their limited funds as possible. Emphasis was also placed on the benefit to parties of obtaining enforceable court orders in PPP500 matters. However, the sustainability of outcomes in the PPP500 Pilot was difficult to determine given the relatively short duration of the pilot, with some parties reflecting on their experiences where their former partner was yet to comply with the orders. Some professionals considered that parties were less likely to experience issues with enforcement of orders if they were provided with the opportunity to achieve an agreement by consent, with the requirement of early financial disclosure in the PPP500 Pilot process identified by some professionals as being crucial to facilitating sustainable outcomes for parties with small property pools. Access to court orders that could be enforced were identified as encouraging sustainable resolutions in so far as they compel compliance with an arrangement as compared to agreement in the absence of court orders.

Adjustments to support effective implementation

The evaluation evidence indicates several places where adjustments could improve the effective implementation of the pilot on a long-term basis.

The role of legal advice and representation in enabling parties to navigate the legal process and to make informed decisions in relation to settlement options were critical considerations relevant to the effective implementation of the PPP500 Pilot. If changes were made in this regard, increased resources would be required either to the court or to legal aid commissions or community legal centres to support the provision of these additional services.

The national expansion of the PPP500 Pilot was also identified as a means of enhancing the achievement of just and equitable outcomes for all parties with small property pools. Some professionals also reflected on the need to strengthen the interrelationship between the PPP500 Pilot and the LAC Trial to ensure that parties could be effectively referred to either the LAC Trial or PPP500 program.

Professionals considering the effective implementation of the PPP500 also raised the expansion of the eligibility criteria to enter the program. Some professionals recommended flexibility in relation to parties with concurrent parenting proceedings, observing that being exclusively focused on property/financial matters disadvantaged parties who had experienced family violence. These professionals indicated that the focus on property and financial matters in isolation of the care arrangements for children limited the PPP500 Pilot’s ability to ensure just and equitable outcomes, particularly for vulnerable parties with small property pools. The inclusion of superannuation holdings within the $500,000 limit for small pool property matters was also identified as an area requiring reconsideration, as well as flexibility in regard to other exclusion criteria relating to parties with small businesses operating in company structures (see further below).

In addition to suggestions relating to the delegation of increased powers to enable registrars to manage and appropriately respond to non-compliance without referral to a judicial officer, professionals also reflected on the potential for additional resourcing in the registrar-led limb to provide court-based support parties to navigate the PPP500 process and to facilitate access to mediation or arbitration options. On the other hand, some professionals called for the consideration of additional streamlining of the PPP500 process to reduce the number of court events and the time between the conciliation conference and final hearing, together with further simplification of the documentation required to be filed by parties in the PPP500 Pilot, and encouraging parties or their lawyers to file the financial summary in the first instance. Amendment of the financial summary was also suggested to include a section focusing on family violence in order that the registrar managing the case be better appraised of the vulnerable party’s circumstances.

Definition of small value property matters

Based on:

  • the consideration of data from a representative sample of property-related matters finalised in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia indicating that the median value of net assets from the non-PPP500 comparison sample of property matters finalised between 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years was $546,241
  • ABS household wealth data indicating that the median net value of assets for Australian households is $579,200
  • insights from qualitative interviews with professionals indicating that the current eligibility criteria may mean that financially disadvantaged and vulnerable clients would be excluded from the PPP500 program in the context of rising house prices and parties’ increased superannuation holdings
  • the objectives of the Women’s Economic Security Package (WESP) and the PPP500, in particular, in providing access to affordable property settlement outcomes for vulnerable parties.

it is recommended that consideration be given to a small value property definition for the further implementation of the PPP500 that includes net assets up to $550,000 and excludes the valuation of superannuation assets in the calculation of the net property pool for the purpose of entry into the PPP500 program.

Volatility in the real estate market and variations between states and territories are factors that are also indicative of the need to periodically review the definition of small value property matters for an effective implementation of the PPP500 program on an ongoing basis.

Economic and social benefits of PPP500 Pilot

The SROI analysis indicated that for every $1.00 invested in PPP500, $3.88 of social value was generated for the PPP500 Pilot stakeholders. Most of the social value was generated for the parties (95%). Increased non-financial benefits from legal proceedings (improvements in wellbeing) comprised 81% of the social value. The SROI ratio was robust to alternative assumptions. The one-way sensitivity analysis showed that the SROI ratio was above 1 under alternative assumptions. Together, the results suggest that the PPP500 Pilot is both a prudent and efficient means of assisting parties to resolve their post-separation property and financial arrangements.

It is important to acknowledge that there are a number of limitations to this SROI. The quantitative and qualitative elements of this evaluation have illustrated that the benefits that were identified as objectives of the WESP that established the PPP500 Pilot that could not be monetised in this SROI analysis included parties’ access to:

  • a simple, timely and cost-effective court-based dispute resolution option where other dispute resolution options are not feasible and resolution is unlikely in the absence of this court-based intervention
  • a case-managed court process that empowers disadvantaged parties by addressing power imbalances while supporting parties to resolve their disputes on the basis of improved financial disclosure (including in relation to superannuation holdings)
  • court orders that:
    • address outstanding property and financial arrangements to allow parties to re-establish themselves post-separation (e.g. through the liquidation of assets, superannuation splitting and/or the refinancing of and indemnification against debt), which may in turn reduce reliance on social security benefits
    • formalise these post-separation property and financial arrangements providing a record of the finalised arrangements that can be enforced by the court if required and that mitigates against attempts to reopen the matter or to issue future proceedings
  • reduced time, stress and anxiety associated with legal proceedings and the exposure to ongoing family violence, with these effects experienced by parties and their children and other family members and the parties’ lawyers during protracted litigation
  • outcomes that supported improved emotional wellbeing of parties and their children in addressing unresolved post-separation property and financial arrangements and formally ending the financial relationship of separated and divorced parties.

Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that due to the limitation of available data, the costs and benefits of non-finalised cases could not be estimated with the potential for this to impact on the analysis. If non-finalised PPP500 matters required more time to resolve than non-PPP500 matters, this would affect the calculation of reduced savings with respect to legal fees, improvement in life satisfaction and the reduction or prevention of income loss. It is also important to acknowledge the possible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on the operation and outcomes of the PPP500 Pilot.


In conclusion, the findings of this evaluation support the implementation of the PPP500 Pilot on an ongoing basis with a national rollout. It is an efficient way of assisting parties with modest property pools to resolve post-separation financial matters. With a slight adjustment to the entry criteria based on exclusion of superannuation, the suggested definition is in line with average wealth profiles in the population.

1 Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCoA), Practice Direction 2 of 2020 – Case Management – Family Law (Priority Property Pools under $500,000) Financial Cases

2 It is noted that absent financial statements and financial summaries may relate to matters where leave was being granted to file an application without a financial statement/financial summary or matters that were requisitioned and the document filed shortly after the initiating application, or they may reflect a data entry issue.



This report was commissioned and funded by the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department (AGD).

The authors would like to acknowledge the support and assistance provided by the AGD, in particular by AGD Family Law Branch officers Rachel Field, Jonathan Paniagua, Michael Coan, Deborah Kim, Tilly Junker and Rachel Rogers, together with Family Law Branch Heads Kathleen Denley and Rebecca Mills, and previously Julie Taylor, Tracy Grzadka (Brennan), Sarah Christensen, Michelle Paine, Madeleine Parker, Hannah Matthews and Kelsey Brewer.

Particular thanks to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, including Amanda Morris, Jordan Di Carlo, Leif Jones, Belinda King, Janine Galea, Michael Tham, Greg Johannesen, Lee Careswell, Steven Bell and Kristy Freeme, Jaimol Poovakkulathuchacko, Christopher Cole, Julie Greig, Sandy Quinn and Keira Bradley and Michael Raine and former court officer Jessica Strout, for all of their support in implementing the fieldwork components of this evaluation during the challenges of COVID-19. We also thank the members of the research and ethics committees at both the AIFS Human Research and Ethics Committee and the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Research and Ethics Committee. We also acknowledge the extensive contributions of our court file data collection officers Sarah Abell, Ruth Amdur, Minoh Arsalah, Bhavna Balram, Ashlee Barnett, Jade Castle, Samantha Chung, Rebecca Cleaver, Ashton Darracott, Matthew Deetlefs, Daniella De Vonte, Tegan Doherty, Sheridan Duck, Annie Garland, Hannah Greenwell, Oshanie Hettiarachchige, Chi Hoang, Ruben Kudeborg, Kaitlyn Laverick, Fiona Le, Kasharni Lehmann-McCall, Josh Logan, Natasha Maxwell, Amanda Nyunt, Julie Oyediran, Angus Patterson, Troy Ramsey-Axelsson, Ali Raza, Isobel Riggall, Chloe Roberts, Ashley Smith, Madeleine Stevens, Toni Traicos, Malissa Tuiatua, and Amy Warren. We also extend our particular thanks to the professionals and parties participating in the qualitative interviews without whom this research would not have been possible.

We would like to acknowledge and thank Dr Sharman Stone, AIFS Director; Dr Rae Kaspiew, AIFS Research Director, Systems and Services; Dr Chris Schilling, AIFS Research Director, Demographics and Data, Dr Michael Alexander, AIFS Chief Operations Officer; and our colleagues Tracey Young, Lisa Carroll, Cindy Hetherington, and Katharine Day for their communications and editing support, and librarian Gillian Lord for her contributions to our literature review. We also extend our sincere thanks to Andrew Whitecross, (former Acting Director of AIFS); Kelly Hand, (former AIFS Deputy Director (Research); and former AIFS Director Anne Hollonds for their advice and support throughout this research. We also acknowledge and thank former AIFS Senior Research Fellow Diana Warren for her design and initial engagement in the Social Return on Investment Analysis and thank former Senior Research Officer Dinika Roopani and former AIFS Research Fellow Dr Georgina Dimopoulos for their tremendous contributions to the data collection and data cleaning activities respectively. We also extend our thanks to former Communications Officer Hop Nguyen for his valued contributions.

Views expressed in this publication are those of individual authors and may not reflect those of the Australian Government or the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Featured image: : © GettyImages/SDI Productions


Carson, R., De Maio, J., Qu, L., Kaspiew, R., Stevens, E., Sakata, K. et al. (2022). Evaluation of the Small Claims Property Pilot – Priority Property Pools Under $500,000 (PPP500): Final report. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.