Superannuation, also known as ‘super’, is a way of saving money for retirement while people 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 an ex-partner is refusing to disclose information about their superannuation as part of family property proceedings, people can apply to family law court registries to request information about their ex-partner's super from the tax office.

There is more information about superannuation splitting on the Attorney General’s website.

If someone needs legal advice, contacts for Women’s Legal Services, Legal Aid and Community Legal Centres can be found in the Directory.

Early access to super

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

To apply for the early release of super, people need to contact their superannuation fund and provide evidence of their 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 The minimum amount that can be withdrawn is $1,000 and the maximum amount is $10,000.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 in paid employment for people over 18 and for people under 18 if they work more than 30 hours per week. This means employers must pay a percentage (11%) of ordinary earnings into a super fund on their employee's behalf. 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.