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What happens to my super if I separate from my partner?

What happens to my super if I separate from my partner?

Going through a separation can be a difficult time in life and dealing with money often makes it even trickier. But it’s important to know what to expect when it comes to your personal finances so you can be prepared for your next chapter.

If you’re separating from your spouse or de facto partner, one thing you’ll need to consider is how you plan to split your assets (also referred to as property).

There are a few ways you can go about this, and the right choice for you may ultimately depend on the state of your relationship. According to The Attorney-General's Department, you and your former partner can choose to:

  • reach a decision on how your property should be divided without court involvement;
  • reach a decision and formalise it by applying for consent orders in the Family Court, or;
  • apply to a court for financial orders if you cannot reach an agreement together.

The court will decide how to divide assets (and debts) on a case-by-case basis.

Superannuation is included in this division, as it is considered a type of property. However, splitting super does not convert it into a cash asset, as it will still be subject to super laws.

You and your former partner will have three main options to choose from when deciding what happens to your super:

  1. Split your super – This option can come about from a mutual agreement or court order and involves the division of super benefits in the same way as other assets are divided.
  2. Factor in super – You may decide to factor in your super balances in your overall division of funds but divide other assets to avoid touching your super.
  3. Postpone your decision – You and your former partner can decide to defer the process of dealing with your super until a later stage, such as retirement. According to Industry Super Australia, this approach isn’t often used, but may be appropriate if either of you are in a defined benefit account, where it is more difficult to determine the value of the super. You can request for a flag to be placed on the accounts to prevent withdrawals being made before matters are settled.

Regardless of which option you take, you’ll need to know the total value of yours and your former partner’s superannuation. If your former partner declines to share this information, you are entitled to request it from their fund by submitting a form via the Family Court of Australia.

It may be worth consulting a family lawyer regardless of the state of your relationship with your former partner to ensure you are dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

Will I be charged any fees for splitting or flagging funds?

It’s important to note that you may be charged a number of fees to cover administrative costs for splitting or flagging your super funds. One reason that some fund members might decide to take the option of factoring in super balances but dividing other assets may be to avoid these fees and charges.

You may be charged a fee for:

  • Applying for information including your former partner’s super balance
  • Processing a payment split
  • Placement of a payment flag
  • Removal of a payment flag

If you need assistance with separating other aspects of your finances, consider checking out MoneySmart’s divorce and separation financial checklist.

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Fact Checked -

This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Alex Ritchie before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about superannuation

What are personal contributions?

A personal contribution is when you make an extra payment into your superannuation account. The difference between personal contributions and salary sacrifices is that the former comes out of your after-tax income, while the latter comes out of your pre-tax income.

How do you claim superannuation?

There are three different ways you can claim your superannuation:

  • Lump sum
  • Account-based pension
  • Part lump sum and part account-based pension

Two rules apply if you choose to receive an account-based pension, or income stream:

  • You must receive payments at least once per year
  • You must withdraw a minimum amount per year
    • Age 55-64 = 4%
    • Age 65-74 = 5%
    • Age 75-79 = 6%
    • Age 80-84 = 7%
    • Age 85-89 = 9%
    • Age 90-94 = 11%
    • Age 95+ = 14%

If you want to work out how long your account-based pension might last, click here to access ASIC’s account-based pension calculator.

Is superannuation paid on unused annual leave?

If your employment is terminated, superannuation will not be paid on unused annual leave.

How much extra superannuation can I add to my fund?

There is an annual limit of $25,000 for concessional contributions – that is, money paid by your employer and extra money you pay into your account through salary sacrificing. There is also a limit on non-concessional contributions. Australians aged between 65 and 74 have a limit of $100,000 per year. Australians aged under 65 have a limit of $300,000 every three years.

Who can open a superannuation account?

Superannuation accounts can be opened by Australians, permanent residents and temporary residents. You’re automatically entitled to superannuation if:

  • You’re over 18 and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month
  • You’re under 18, you work more than 30 hours per week and you earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month

What are the age pension's age rules?

Australians must be aged at least 65 years and 6 months to access the age pension. This eligibility age is scheduled to increase according to the following schedule:

Date Eligibility age
1 July 2019 66 years
1 July 2021 66 years and 6 months
1 July 2023 67 years

Can my employer use money from my superannuation account?

No, your employer can’t touch the money that is paid into your superannuation account.

What fees do superannuation funds charge?

Superannuation funds can charge a range of fees, including:

  • Activity-based fees – for specific, irregular services, such as splitting an account after a divorce
  • Administration fees – to cover the cost of managing your account
  • Advice fees – for personal investment advice
  • Buy/sell spread fees – when you make contributions, switches and withdrawals
  • Exit fees – when you close your account
  • Investment fees – to cover the cost of managing your investments
  • Switching fees – when you choose a new investment option within the same fund

What are reportable employer superannuation contributions?

Reportable employer superannuation contributions are special contributions that an employer makes on top of the regular compulsory contributions. One example would be contributions made as part of a salary sacrifice arrangement.

How much is superannuation?

Superannuation is currently 9.5 per cent – which means that your employer must pay you superannuation equivalent to 9.5 per cent of your salary.

The ‘superannuation guarantee’, as it is known, has been at 9.5 per cent since the 2014-15 financial year. It is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.

How does the age pension work?

Most Australians who are of retirement age can qualify for the age pension. However, depending on the size of your assets and post-retirement income, you might be entitled to only a reduced pension. In some instances, you might not be entitled to any pension payments.

What happens if my employer falls behind on my superannuation payments?

The Australian Taxation Office will investigate if your employer falls behind on your superannuation payments or doesn’t pay at all. You can report your employer with this online tool.

How do you access superannuation?

Accessing your superannuation is a simple administrative procedure – you just ask your fund to pay it. You can access your superannuation in three different ways:

  • Lump sum
  • Account-based pension
  • Part lump sum and part account-based pension

However, please note that your superannuation fund will only be able to make a payout if you meet the ‘conditions of release’. The conditions of release say you can claim your super when you reach:

  • Age 65
  • Your ‘preservation age’ and retire
  • Your preservation age and begin a ‘transition to retirement’ while still working

The preservation age has six different categories:

Date of birth Preservation age
Before 1 July 1960 55
1 July 1960 – 30 June 1961 56
1 July 1961 – 30 June 1962 57
1 July 1962 – 30 June 1963 58
1 July 1963 – 30 June 1964 59
From 1 July 1964 60

There are also seven special circumstances under which you can claim your superannuation:

  • Compassionate grounds
  • Severe financial hardship
  • Temporary incapacity
  • Permanent incapacity
  • Superannuation inheritance
  • Superannuation balance under $200
  • Temporary resident departing Australia

Can I carry on a business in an SMSF?

SMSFs are allowed to carry on a business under two conditions.

First, this must be permitted under the trust deed.

Second, the sole purpose of the business must be to earn retirement benefits.

What compliance obligations does an SMSF have?

SMSFs must maintain comprehensive records and submit to annual audits.

How do I wind up an SMSF?

There are five things you must do if you want to close your SMSF:

  1. Fulfil any obligations listed in the trust deed
  2. Pay out or roll over all the superannuation
  3. Conduct a final audit
  4. Lodge a final annual return
  5. Close the fund’s bank account

What are concessional contributions?

Concessional contributions are pre-tax payments into your superannuation account. The payments made by your employer are concessional payments. You can also make concessional contributions with a salary sacrifice.

What are government co-contributions?

A government co-contribution is a bonus payment from the federal government into your superannuation account – but it comes with conditions. First, the government will only make a co-contribution if you make a personal contribution. Second, the government will only contribute a maximum of $500. Third, the government will only make co-contributions for people on low and medium incomes. The Australian Taxation Office will calculation whether you’re entitled to a government co-contribution when you lodge your tax return. The size of any co-contribution depends on the size of your personal contribution and income.

When is superannuation payable?

Employers must pay superannuation at least four times per year. The due dates are 28 January, 28 April, 28 July and 28 October.

How do you calculate superannuation?

Superannuation is calculated at the rate of 9.5 per cent of your gross salary and wages. So if you had a salary of $50,000, your superannuation would be 9.5 per cent of that, or $4,750. This would be paid on top of your salary.

The ‘superannuation guarantee’, as it is known, has been at 9.5 per cent since the 2014-15 financial year. It is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.