Working through a property settlement… in the middle of a pandemic

By September 22, 2020Blog

One of the key things separating couples need to do when they’re working out who will get what, is to first work out what it’s all worth. Right now, this is more difficult than normal – thanks to the COVID crisis.

Property valuations are important when it comes to reaching a fair property settlement

To finalise a fair property settlement or division of assets, you need to know what’s there and what it’s all worth. While some things are easy to value, like cash in the bank, there are other assets that typically require a valuation – like property or a business. And then there are assets like superannuation and shares that’s value literally changes daily and is heavily affected by the broader economy.

How do you value assets in the midst of pandemic and global recession?

There’s no two ways around it – the COVID crisis has impacted the value of many, many different assets – including property, superannuation, businesses and other investments. In many instances the value of these things today is a lot lower than it was a year ago. At this stage, especially in Victoria where we are still under Stage 4 restrictions, it is near impossible to say what these assets are likely to be worth 6 months from now…

In this article we look at some of the most common assets that couples separating, or getting a divorce, need to value as part of their property settlement and discuss the different considerations and options.

Property

Valuing property is very difficult at the moment because we really don’t know what the impact of the pandemic will be on future property prices, rental incomes and demand.

If you’re planning on selling and splitting the proceeds…
Many couples are deciding to hold off on selling their property, or properties, due to the uncertainty of the property market. In these cases, they’re still finalising their property settlement agreement, but with the inclusion of a delayed sale date. Some are also putting in place mortgage freezes to help them manage the financial impact of delaying the sale.

If one person wants to hold on to the property….
It is a bit more difficult for those cases where one member of the couple wants to retain ownership of a property, or properties, as part of the property settlement. Here in Victoria where we’re still under Stage 4 restrictions, it isn’t possible to get access for a valuer to visit a property to perform a valuation as they normally would. While there are work arounds (video calls, drive by’s and data), I would encourage those in this position to wait (at least until Stage 4 restrictions are eased) to ensure that a fair and accurate valuation is obtained.

Superannuation

Superannuation is another asset that most separating couples have to consider and value as part of their property settlement. Most superannuation account balances have taken a hit since the WHO announced declared the pandemic. Another complexity is the fact that many Australian’s have withdrawn money from their superannuation accounts to help them ride out the financial impact of the pandemic.

While you can get a balance estimate at any time, the nature of superannuation means that the balance can change (sometimes significantly) from day-to-day and week-to-week. For this reason, you may look to consider delaying a superannuation split, until markets have recovered and there is greater economic certainty.

Businesses

Almost all businesses have been impacted by the pandemic. For this reason, many separating couples are choosing to delay the valuation or sale of their business, or businesses. While you can still get a valuation, it will be based on the performance of the business over the last three years and won’t take into account the impact of the COVID crisis on the impact. Because the long-term impact of the pandemic on many businesses is largely unknown, delaying the sale or valuation until there is greater certainty may be wise.

In these cases, couples can agree to delay the sale or valuation and enter into a financial agreement that allows them to continue to draw an income or benefits from the business in the meantime.

What does it all mean for couples who are separating or getting a divorce?

The economic impact of the pandemic and the current uncertainty makes it very difficult to finalise a fair property settlement. Where possible, we’re encourage couples to either:

  • Wait until there is a bit more certainty before finalising a property settlement
  • Agree on the method you will use to value or sell the different assets in the future and enter into a financial agreement now, based on future incomes.

If you’ve recently separated from your partner or a looking to put a property settlement in place, get in touch – we’re here to help you understand your options, how the law applies to your situation and offer valuable advice.