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Interim property settlement principles

Interim property settlement principles

  1. The principles as to applications for interim property provision are well settled, (Strahan & Strahan [2009] FamCAFC 166) and require a two-step process.
  2. Firstly, there must be circumstances enlivening the power to make an interim order. The test is not limited to “compelling circumstances” but whether it would be “appropriate” to make an interim order, with the “overarching consideration” being the interests of justice.
  3. In Strahan (supra), the Full Court said:
    1. In relation to the first stage, in our view, when considering whether to exercise the power under s 79 and s 80(1) (h) of the Act to make an interim property order the “overarching consideration” is the interests of justice. It is not necessary to establish compelling circumstances. All that is required is that in the circumstances it is appropriate to exercise the power. In exercising the wide and unfettered discretion conferred by the power to make such an order, regard should be had to the fact that the usual order pursuant to s 79 is a once and for all order made after a final hearing.
  4. Secondly, the Court is to have regard to relevant matters in s 79 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth).
  5. It needs to be kept in mind that the final outcome of property settlement should not be compromised by an interim property order. In Harris & Harris [1993] FamCA 49(1993) FLC 92-378 the Full Court stated that either the remaining property needs to be adequate to meet the legitimate expectations of both parties at the final hearing or the order that is contemplated needs to be capable of being reversed or adjusted if it is subsequently considered necessary to do so. (Emphasis added)
  6. It is important to have regard to an overall caution. In Harris (supra), the Full Court said:

As a generality, the interests of the parties and the Court are better served by there being one final hearing of s 79proceedings.

  1. In Strahan (supra), the Full Court said at [132]:

… regard should be had to the fact that the usual order pursuant to s 79 is a once and for all order made after a final hearing.

  1. It is now well settled that in property cases the Court must identify the existing legal and equitable interests of the parties in the property, the liabilities and financial resources of the parties at the time of the hearing and then determine whether it is just and equitable to make a property settlement order. Such a consideration should not be guided by an assumption that the parties’ rights to, or interests in, property are, or should be, different from those that then exist. The question is whether those rights and interests should be altered.
  2. There is no presumption that one or other party has the right to have the property of the parties divided between them or a right to an interest in marital property that is fixed by reference to the various matters in s 79(4). The Court needs to conclude that it would be unjust or unfair to leave property rights intact.
  3. In many cases this requirement is readily satisfied where the parties are no longer in a marital or de facto relationship and, thus, for example, the common ownership or use of property by husband and wife will no longer be possible or the express or implicit assumptions that underpinned existing property arrangements such as the accumulation of assets or financial resources by one for the benefit of both have been brought to an end with the relationship.

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