New guide navigates debt issues for separating couples

By Melissa Coade

Friday October 1, 2021

Michaelia Cash is set to introduce the government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission bill into parliament before the end of the year.
Michaelia Cash is set to introduce the government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission bill into parliament before the end of the year. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

As part of its commitment under the Women’s Economic Security Statement 2020, the federal government has produced a resource to help separating couples understand their legal options about legacy debts tied to their failed relationship. 

The guide includes information about family law and consumer credit law, as well as referral services that can help a couple ‘proactively manage’ the dissolution of their partnership. It also offers guidance on how to divide responsibility for joint and other debts belonging to a couple, without having to resort to having the issue settled in court (where possible), and what rights exist during the different stages of separation. 

Minister for women senator Marise Payne and attorney-general Michaelia Cash announced the new guide in a joint statement released on Thursday. They said the resource had special focus on how to protect victims of financial abuse from the unfair division of assets and debts. 

“One party, often the woman, may assume sole responsibility for joint and other debts due to a fear of credit default, bankruptcy, harassment from collection agencies or eviction,” Payne said, also referring to the difficulty of resolving debt-sharing problems if a woman was also suffering from family violence.

By explaining how debts are dealt with under family law, the document outlines individuals’ financial and legal responsibilities, and where they can go to get more help. 

The A-G said that she hoped the guide would help prevent cases where one party was left to unfairly shoulder joint and other debts.

“Separating couples may not understand that consumer credit law options can assist when dealing with debts as part of a family law property dispute. 

“This guide puts relevant information together for users,” Senator Cash said. 

The ministers added the government delivered the guide as part of its ongoing commitment to supporting women’s safety and wellbeing in their homes, communities, workplaces and online. Its development was also informed by the preventing financial abuse project under the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022.


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