No, the happy couple have not separated…yet. However, if they did, they would have to negotiate a family law property settlement so they can go their separate ways.
In a relatively short relationship such as Harry’s and Megan’s, the starting point for settling property matters is that they each take what they brought into the relationship. The longer the relationship, the more important becomes the contributions each party makes during the relationship to the build-up of their property pool.
Short relationships however do not merely focus on what each party brought in. A court must also consider what are known as “adjustment factors”. These include the health of the parties and whether there are any children of the relationship.
Some couples in short relationships are tempted to only have an informal property settlement as it is cheaper and quicker. This can cause problems later and leave a party’s assets exposed to a further claim in the courts. All separating couples should consider having a legally binding property settlement. This means a property settlement which is finalised either by a court order, or a binding financial agreement.
When a property settlement is legally finalised a party is usually unable to ask for a further property settlement. However if there is fraud or coercion a party may ask the court to reopen the property settlement.
If a legally binding property settlement is not obtained, then a de facto party has two years from the end of the relationship to ask a court for a property settlement. Married couples have 12 months from when a divorce is made final. Any property that either party has at the time the court makes the property settlement order is part of the pool to be divided. Any property that either party has accumulated since separation is also part of the pool.
Unfortunately, many couples separate after only a short period of time. If they do, they should seek legal advice about how best to finalise property arrangements. Hopefully, Harry and Megan will never have to go down that path.