The Government has announced that it will develop an electronic information-sharing mechanism between the ATO and the Family Law Courts to allow superannuation assets held by relevant parties during family law proceedings to be identified swiftly and more accurately. The measure was included as part of a broader financial support package for women announced on 20 November 2018.
Superannuation is often the most significant asset in a separated couple's property pool, particularly for low-income households with few assets. Parties to family law proceedings are already legally required to disclose all of their assets to the court, including superannuation, but in practice parties may forget, or deliberately withhold, information about their super assets. As it stands, where parties to family law proceedings are not forthcoming about their assets, costly and time-consuming information-gathering exercises can be required just to identify superannuation accounts – let alone to establish their balances.
The non-disclosure of super assets can often disproportionately disadvantage women due to a significant disparity in super savings between men and women. A lack of financial disclosure by a former partner can result in a woman receiving a smaller share of property than they would otherwise be entitled to. A recent study by the Women's Legal Service Victoria also found that two-thirds of surveyed clients faced delays caused by a former partner failing to make the necessary financial disclosures.
Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert said the ATO will receive $3.3 million in funding to develop an electronic information-sharing system for super assets in family law proceedings. Giving the courts access to super information held by the ATO is expected to result in faster and fairer family law property settlements. Getting full visibility of super assets in family law matters can be complex, time-consuming and costly, often requiring parties to go on "fishing expeditions" using subpoenas and other formal court processes, with no guarantee of success, Mr Robert said.
According to the Government, the proposed ATO information-sharing system will make it easier to identify lost or undisclosed super assets. It will help parties in family law proceedings, particularly women, avoid the cost and complexity involved in seeking superannuation information from multiple super funds, or subpoenaing employment records. The Government considers that allowing the ATO to provide this information to the Courts will reduce the need for such exercises and ensure more just and equitable superannuation splitting outcomes.