We get this question, or a variant of this question very commonly. Part of the stages of a property division in Australia is considering each party’s future earning capacity. In response, people often have some ideas about how they might maximise the funds they receive.
Someone might ask whether they should quit their job, as getting 5% more of a million dollar pool of assets seems attractive. Or they might decide not to start looking for work very hard during the course of the proceedings. Sometimes opportunities come up and clients think about whether they should postpone taking up those opportunities. It can happen that there is deliberate contact to reduce your earnings just to try to get a bigger slice of the pie. Sometimes clients are, unfortunately, not completely honest with their lawyers or with the Court, and may be earning cash from jobs that they do not declare.
In all of these situations, the Court is obliged to look at your earning capacity, not necessarily what you are earning right here and now on paper. A skillful lawyer will be able to identify a pattern of earnings you’ve had, and if those earnings suspiciously drop around separation, you will have to have an excellent answer for why that happened for your Judge. You may be compelled equally to reveal to your ex-partner and the Court what attempts you have made to get a job, and your efforts in that regard (or otherwise) could become a significant issue.
Not only that, but by not working if you are otherwise able to, and not earning what you genuinely are able to for the work you do, you are depriving yourself for potentially years of litigation while you await a decision, all while gambling on whether a Judge will find your actions to have been believable. It’s not a bet I would risk my house on!
My view is that you should take the work you can get, can reasonably perform with your health and skills, for fair pay. You will have more money in your pocket from salary and appear as an honest, sensible person to any Court looking through your affairs.
This is of course a general observation and you should always seek advice specific to your circumstances. If you suspect your former partner isn’t playing by the rules, or you need advice about your reported earnings, call our lawyers on 03 9614 7111 to speak with someone now.