Superannuation, also known as ‘super’, is a way of saving money for retirement while you are working. For many people, super is one of their most valuable assets. This makes it an important consideration for intimate relationships.

On average, women retire with almost half the amount of super as men, despite living longer. This is the result of several factors including the gender pay gap and time out of paid work to have children.

Under the Family Law Act, superannuation is considered an asset. When couples separate, superannuation can be split either by:

  • an order of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (or Family Court of Western Australia for married couples in Western Australia); or
  • a superannuation agreement (if both parties can agree).

If your ex-partner is refusing to disclose information about their superannuation as part of your family property proceedings, you can apply to family law court registries to request information about their super from the tax office.

You can read more about superannuation splitting on the Attorney General’s website.

You may need to seek legal advice. Contacts for Women’s Legal Services, Legal Aid and Community Legal Centres can be found in the Directory.

Early access to super

You can only withdraw your money from super before you retire in certain circumstances, for example, if you are experiencing severe financial hardship, terminal illness, or require access on compassionate grounds.

To apply for the early release of your super, you need to contact your superannuation fund and will need to provide evidence of your situation.

  • Severe financial hardship: To be considered in ‘severe financial hardship’, you will need to have been receiving eligible government income support payments for 26 weeks continuously and be unable to meet immediate and reasonable living expenses. The minimum amount that can be withdrawn is $1,000 and the maximum amount is $10,000. The withdrawal will be taxed as a super lump sum.
  • Compassionate grounds: You may be allowed to withdraw some of your super on compassionate grounds. Compassionate grounds include needing money to make payments on a home loan or council rates so you don't lose your home.

In Australia, super is compulsory provided you are over 18 and earning more than $450 per month. This means your employer must pay a percentage of your ordinary earnings into your super fund. (The $450 threshold will be removed from 1 July 2022). Self-employed people are not required to contribute to super.

You can find out more about super from Moneysmart, Super Guru or your super fund.

Find out more about super at industry website, Super Guru. Find out how super works. Find a Community Legal Centre near you.