The exchange of financial information and documents is a standard first step in most matters as it allows a Balance Sheet to be drawn up and for the parties and their lawyers to establish what is available for division in the family law matter.
The obligation for each party to have the necessary information available to make an informed decision is enforced in the Family Law Rules 2004.The Rules require each party to a marriage to provide full and frank disclosure in regards to property matters. This means that each person has a positive obligation to provide or make available all relevant documents within their custody and control. This includes documents regarding all sources of earnings, interest, income, property and other financial resources. The duty of disclosure is an ongoing duty until your matter has been finalised.
The Rules provide that if a party does not disclose a document as required the party:
- is unable to rely on the document as evidence in their hearing or trial without permission from the other party or Court
- may be guilty of contempt for not disclosing the document, and
- may be ordered to pay costs.
In addition to these consequences the Court may stay or dismiss all or part of the party’s case or in the alternate use the Court’s discretion to attribute a value of the undisclosed assets (and usually to the detriment of the non-compliant party).
Now before handing over everything from the last 20 years, it is important to get legal advice as there are several exceptions worth noting. The duty of disclosure only extends to “relevant” documents and documents that relate to a party of the marriage, not third parties.