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How Mike, 56, handled his super in a divorce

Published 22 January 2019

When he divorced for the third time, Mike’s priority was to ensure the relationship remained amicable, writes Sylvia Pennington.

When their marriage ended in 2009, a conciliatory approach – combined with pragmatic planning before they’d joined forces – made dividing their super a straightforward matter for 56-year-old On Your Side Investments real estate strategist and author Mike Harvey and his former wife.

The Gold Coast couple met in 2004 through dating site RSVP, and became engaged following a whirlwind romance. Finances were blended when they tied the knot.

“We were a blended family,” Harvey says. “My two kids were with me four days a week, and she had a six-year-old daughter. We were fully committed, so we decided very early on to combine our finances as well.

“I had my own property I lived in, which they moved into, and my wife had her own property, which she sold. We went on to renovate another property, which was to be our perfect home, and also bought an investment property in Hobart, where we were living at the time.”

Documenting their existing assets

The pair documented their respective assets at the time of their marriage, following a frank conversation about the ‘what ifs’ of life and love.

“It wasn’t the first rodeo for either of us,” Harvey says. “We were desperately in love and we thought we’d be together for the rest of our lives, but we said, ‘Just in case something weird happens and we separate, let’s make up a spreadsheet with the assets we brought in’ – what our respective houses were worth and so on.

“What’s more, we wrote that we would make ‘giving’ the basis of any split, rather than – as we see in most cases – what we would ‘take’.”

Harvey had been married twice before, and his new partner had been married once and engaged on another occasion, so they’d both experienced similar issues in the breakdown of committed relationships.

“We’d genuinely been in love at the time, but we knew circumstances and life can change and we were practical about that,” Harvey says.

Where super fits in a divorce

At the time of their separation five years later, Harvey had around $80,000 in his superannuation account and his wife had around $60,000.

Superannuation splitting laws introduced in 2001 made it possible for superannuation interests to be divided, as part of family law property settlements.

Despite this, the pair chose to divide their marital home and two investment properties between them, and leave their retirement savings out of the equation.

“We both believed that by selling property, agents make money and you lose – especially if you’re trying to sell quickly – so we didn’t want to put everything on the market,” Harvey says.

“My ex-wife was keen to keep the family home – she’d settled into the local community, and her daughter was in school – and we had enough equity in that to give her a level of comfort. I was happy to take over the highly leveraged investment properties and some shares.

In the end it came pretty close to a 50–50 split of their assets, excluding their super.

“Neither of us had an awful lot of super, and factoring it into the split would have been too cumbersome and involved so, for simplicity’s sake, we decided to leave it as it was,” Harvey explains.

Discussions with their lawyers confirmed that this was a reasonable tack to take, under their circumstances.

“Something the courts look at is how much each of you added to your super in the time you were together,” Harvey says. “Our super accounts grew at roughly the same pace. If anything, my former wife probably added more to hers, because she was working full-time and I was in business for myself for two of those years and not making regular contributions.

“If the difference between our balances had been significant – say, $400,000 versus $100,000 – then that may have been something to talk about, but for us it wasn’t big enough to be an issue.

“At the end of the day, we wanted to dissolve the marriage and maintain a good post-marriage relationship, and we didn’t want to get down to that nitty-gritty.”

Maintaining a good relationship after divorce

The pair’s amicable approach was consistent with another resolution they’d agreed on when creating their pre-marriage spreadsheet.

“We wrote down what the rules would be if we broke up,” Harvey recalls, “and we summed it up with the words ‘On your side’. We wrote a list of all assets including furniture, vehicles etc and each decided what to GIVE to the other, until there was not much left to really decide upon.”

Their priority was – and still is – to remain positive and to speak well of one another.

“It’s something I’d recommend others do too,” Harvey says, “because in the end you both feel better about it, and the children see the example that even when there is hurt and sadness, kindness and care is more important.”


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