In the whirlwind of a divorce there seems to be a form for everything. Every step, every decision, every time you contemplate even making a decision is marked by emotion, yes, but also … paperwork.
I remember one form in particular – a four-page, oddly written, very wordy form about superannuation. I remember this one because, despite working at industry super fund HESTA, I couldn’t understand what this document was asking of me. I handed it to my lawyer and, for a pretty penny, she helped me to complete and lodge a claim for property that was rightfully mine.
A ground-breaking research report conducted by the Women’s Legal Service Victoria in 2018 shows that my experience is not unique – and dealing with that confusing form is just one comparatively small barrier many women face when navigating the unnecessarily complex process of splitting super assets.
The Small Claims, Large Battles report exposed how women’s financial insecurity is heightened by the lack of fast, affordable pathways to resolve family law property disputes. In fact, many women are simply walking away from their entitlements, further perpetuating the gender disparity in retirement savings. This inequity is particularly apparent where superannuation might be the only major asset of the marriage – or certainly the most valuable.
Like any good amateur social researcher, I checked this research with my divorced girlfriends and common themes emerged: “We didn’t split super but we decided I would keep the house, so I think it works out.” “I don’t think he has much in super, we didn’t include it.”
The process to identify super is opaque and complicated. It can be difficult to compute the value of this asset. And in some cases, super is also well hidden. If you’re trying to leave an abusive relationship, splitting super is close to impossible. It can be achieved through a court order but that can often bring insurmountable challenges – how would you afford a lawyer and how do you find the super? It’s a completely understandable ‘throw-your-hands-in-the-air-and-walk-away’ type of situation.
At HESTA, we’re not willing to accept that as the only option available to many women. We are people of purpose and so, together with the fabulous Victorian Women’s Legal Service, the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, Women in Super and some pro bono help from Mills Oakley lawyers, we set to finding solutions.
We got all the boring but necessary super stuff out of the way, simplifying forms and streamlining processes. But, like so many areas of reform, the real change comes at the system level. This is always harder but always worth the fight because systemic change is democratic, authentic, and sustainable.
Then, last week some good news. The Parliament passed a long-awaited Bill that allows the tax office to release superannuation information to a family law court on request – meaning women can more easily get their fair share of super assets when relationships end. No more hiding super.
This is an important step on the road to greater equity of retirement savings, one more step in the steeplechase. Goodness I hope we can see the finish line soon.