During financial proceedings before the Family Court, each party has a duty to disclose documents, evidencing their financial position so that a family law property settlement can be negotiated. It is likely that you will have to exchange and come into possession of your former partner’s bank account and credit card statements, taxation returns, pay slips and superannuation statements.
In addition, when parties have financial proceedings before the Family Court, they are required to file a document called a Form 13 Financial Statement. Sometimes, the information provided by a party on the Form 13 Financial Statement can be different to what that party has told the Child Support Agency about their financial circumstances.
Sometimes, parties think it is okay to provide documents that they have received from the other party to other people or the Child Support Agency. This is incorrect and you may find yourself in trouble if you share documents obtained in Family Court litigation or Family Law negotiations, for other purposes unless the Family Court has given you permission to do so.
The reason why you cannot provide your former partner’s documents outside of the Family Court proceedings is because of the Harman principle, or Harman Undertaking as it is sometimes referred to.
So, what is the Harman Principle?
The Harman Principle (or Undertaking as it is referred to at times), was established in 1983 in the case of Harman v Home Department State Secretary  1 AC 280. Basically, the Harman Principle is an implied obligation that parties to proceedings will not use documents obtained in litigation for any other purpose.
The reason that the Harman Principle exists is to encourage parties to Family Court proceedings to provide full and frank disclosure, without fear of it being used against them in other proceedings.
Since the Harman Principle, the Family Court has also made special rules about the use of documents, which applies to all parties in Family Law matters. If you would like to review the specific rule for yourself, it is Rule 203 of the Family Court Rules 2021.
Only the Family Court can discharge the Harman Principle in Family Law matters, meaning that even if the other party gives their permission for the documents provided by them to be used for another purpose, the Family Court still needs to provide their authority for the documents to be used outside the Family Court proceedings.
If you were to use the documents obtained during the Court proceedings, for another purpose then it is likely that you would be found in contempt of court. The punishment for contempt of court is imprisonment, a fine, or both.
The above is not intended to be legal advice.
If you need advice in relation to proceedings in the Family Court of Western Australia, please contact us on (08) 9221 2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment to speak to one of our solicitors.