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How to Force a Property Settlement

How to Force a Property Settlement

How to Force a Property Settlement

Navigating a property settlement after a relationship breakdown can be a complex and emotionally charged process, particularly when one party is reluctant to participate or intentionally delaying the proceedings. In such situations, it may become necessary to explore legal avenues to force a property settlement in Australia. This comprehensive guide will provide you with an understanding of the legal framework, strategies, and potential remedies available to compel your former partner to engage in the property settlement process.

Take Home Message

Navigating property settlement during a relationship breakdown can be complex and emotionally charged, especially if one party is reluctant or intentionally delaying the process. In Australia, the legal framework for forcing property settlement is governed by the Family Law Act 1975, which outlines principles and procedures for fair distribution of assets and liabilities. Before resorting to court proceedings, it is advisable to explore Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods like mediation, collaborative law, and arbitration. If ADR attempts fail and the former partner refuses to participate, court proceedings may need to be initiated. During court hearings, various factors such as contributions to the property pool, future needs, child welfare, and maintenance considerations are taken into account when determining the division of property. Strategies to compel cooperation include open communication, compromising, involving professionals, setting deadlines, and highlighting consequences of non-compliance.

Key Points:

  • Legal Framework:
    • Governed by the Family Law Act 1975.
    • Court has power to make orders regarding property interests.
    • Time limitations for initiating proceedings.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR):
    • Methods include mediation, collaborative law, and arbitration.
    • Compulsory mediation before certain legal proceedings.
  • Initiating Court Proceedings:
    • Filing an application with the Federal Circuit Family Court Australia.
    • Court may issue enforcement orders for non-compliance.
  • Factors Considered in Court:
    • Contributions to the property pool, future needs, child welfare, and maintenance considerations.
  • Strategies for Cooperation:
    • Open communication, compromising, involving professionals, setting deadlines, and highlighting consequences of non-compliance.

Understanding the Legal Framework for Forcing a Property Settlement

In Australia, the division of property between separating or divorced couples is governed by the Family Law Act 1975. This legislation outlines the principles and procedures for achieving a fair and equitable distribution of assets and liabilities accumulated during the relationship.

Under Section 79 of the Family Law Act, the court has the power to make orders regarding the alteration of property interests between the parties. This includes the transfer of existing property interests, the creation of new interests, or the termination or variation of existing interests.

It’s important to note that there are time limitations for initiating property settlement proceedings. Generally, the parties must commence proceedings within 12 months of their divorce becoming final or, in the case of de facto relationships, within two years of separation. However, the court may grant an extension in certain circumstances.

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Exploring Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Before resorting to court proceedings, it is strongly recommended to attempt to resolve the property settlement through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods. ADR can provide a more cost-effective, efficient, and amicable approach to resolving disputes, while also allowing the parties to maintain greater control over the outcome.

a. Mediation

Mediation is a commonly used ADR process where a neutral third-party mediator assists the parties in reaching a mutually agreeable settlement. The mediator facilitates discussions, explores potential solutions, and helps the parties identify areas of compromise.

In Australia, it is compulsory for parties to attempt mediation (known as Family Dispute Resolution or FDR) before initiating certain legal proceedings, such as applying for parenting orders, unless there are exceptional circumstances (e.g., family violence, urgency, or legal risk).

b. Collaborative Law

Collaborative law is another ADR method that involves both parties and their respective lawyers working together to negotiate a settlement outside of court. This process is based on open communication, full disclosure of relevant information, and a commitment to resolving issues without resorting to litigation.

c. Arbitration

Arbitration is a more formal ADR process where an independent third-party arbitrator is appointed to make a binding decision on the disputed issues. The parties agree to abide by the arbitrator’s award, which has the force of a court order.

If ADR attempts are unsuccessful or your former partner refuses to participate, you may need to consider initiating court proceedings to force a property settlement.

Initiating Court Proceedings

If your efforts to resolve the property settlement through ADR have failed, or your former partner is consistently uncooperative or delaying the process, you can initiate court proceedings by filing an application with the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA).

a. Filing the Application

To commence proceedings, you will need to file an Initiating Application (Family Law) with the FCFCOA. This application outlines the orders you are seeking from the court, such as orders for the division of property, spousal maintenance, or the appointment of a trustee or receiver.

b. Serving the Application

Once the application is filed, you must serve a copy of the application and supporting documents to your former partner, informing them of the legal proceedings. This service must be conducted in accordance with the court’s rules and procedures.

c. Responding to the Application

Your former partner will have the opportunity to respond to the application by filing a Response and potentially seeking their own orders or making cross-claims.

d. Court Hearings and Evidence

The court will schedule hearings to consider the evidence and submissions from both parties. During these hearings, you and your former partner (or your respective legal representatives) will have the opportunity to present your case, including financial statements, valuations, and other relevant documentation.

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Interim and Enforcement Orders

While the property settlement proceedings are ongoing, the court can make various interim and enforcement orders to protect the parties’ interests and ensure compliance with the legal process.

a. Injunctions and Freezing Orders

The court may issue injunctions or freezing orders to prevent the dissipation or disposal of assets during the proceedings. These orders can prohibit the sale, transfer, or encumbrance of specified assets until the final property settlement orders are made.

b. Appointment of a Trustee or Receiver

In cases where there is a risk of asset dissipation or mismanagement, the court may appoint a trustee or receiver to take control and manage the assets until the property settlement is finalized.

c. Enforcement Orders

If your former partner fails to comply with court orders or engages in contemptuous behavior, the court can issue enforcement orders, such as fines, seizure of assets, or even imprisonment in severe cases of non-compliance.

Factors Considered by the Court

When determining the division of property, the court will consider various factors outlined in Section 79 of the Family Law Act, including:

a. Contributions to the Property Pool

The court will assess the financial and non-financial contributions made by each party to the acquisition, conservation, or improvement of the property pool during the relationship.

b. Future Needs

The court will consider the future needs of each party, taking into account factors such as age, health, income-earning capacity, and the care of children.

c. Child Welfare

The court will prioritize the best interests of any children involved and ensure that their welfare is adequately provided for in the property settlement orders.

d. Maintenance Considerations

The court may also consider the need for spousal maintenance or child support payments as part of the overall property settlement.

Strategies for Compelling Cooperation

While legal proceedings can compel your former partner to participate in the property settlement process, there are also strategies you can employ to encourage cooperation and potentially avoid costly and time-consuming court battles.

a. Open Communication

Maintaining open and respectful communication with your former partner can help identify and address any underlying concerns or misunderstandings that may be contributing to the delay or reluctance to participate.

b. Compromising and Negotiating

In some cases, compromising on certain issues or making concessions may be necessary to reach a resolution and encourage your former partner’s participation in the process.

c. Involving Professionals

Engaging the services of experienced family lawyers, accountants, and financial advisers can help ensure that your interests are protected and that the process is conducted efficiently and professionally.

d. Setting Deadlines

Establishing reasonable deadlines for the exchange of information, valuations, and negotiations can help maintain momentum and prevent unnecessary delays.

e. Highlighting Consequences

Clearly communicating the potential consequences of non-compliance, such as enforcement orders, fines, or even imprisonment, may motivate your former partner to engage in the property settlement process.

Protecting Your Interests

Throughout the property settlement process, it is crucial to take steps to protect your interests and minimize the potential for further complications.

a. Documenting Communications

Keep a record of all communications, including emails, letters, and phone calls, related to the property settlement. This documentation can be useful if legal action becomes necessary.

b. Preserving Assets

Take reasonable steps to maintain and preserve assets, such as ensuring mortgage payments are made, insurance policies are kept current, and assets are not sold or disposed of without proper legal authority.

c. Seeking Financial and Legal Advice

Consult with financial advisers and experienced family lawyers to understand your rights and obligations, as well as the potential consequences of any actions or decisions related to the property settlement. At Mediations Australia, we can help.

d. Focusing on Your Well-being

The stress and uncertainty of a property settlement process can take a toll on your mental and emotional well-being. Seek support from friends, family, or professional counselors to help manage the emotional impact.


Forcing a property settlement in Australia can be a complex and challenging process, particularly when one party is reluctant or intentionally delaying the proceedings. However, the legal framework and remedies available provide mechanisms to compel cooperation and achieve a fair and equitable division of assets and liabilities.

By understanding the legal framework, exploring alternative dispute resolution methods, and taking proactive steps to protect your interests, you can increase your chances of reaching a favorable resolution. Engaging experienced legal professionals and seeking professional advice throughout the process is crucial to ensure that your rights and best interests are protected.

While the path to a property settlement may be complex, it is essential to remain resolute and persistent in pursuing a fair outcome. With the right legal strategies, open communication, and a willingness to compromise when necessary, it is possible to overcome the challenges and reach a satisfactory resolution that allows both parties to move forward with their lives.

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