Breaking up is hard to do, though not as hard as you might think - unless there's a lot of money involved.

New research on divorce and relationship breakdown shows a majority of separating or divorcing parents in Australia can divide up property without bringing in the lawyers and are reasonably happy with the outcome.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies report shows nearly half of parents - 43 per cent - were able to reach agreement on the division of property and assets within a year of ending their relationship.

However, when the couple had more wealth to divide the settlement time tends to blow out, with 40 per cent of couples with more than $500,000 in assets taking more than two years to finalise an agreement.

Senior research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Dr Rae Aspire, said the study is largely a good news result.

"For around 60 per cent it is a good news story in that they settle things themselves and they are mostly happy," Dr Aspire said.

"But there is a smaller proportion who don't seem to be able to agree easily and do have recourse to mediation, lawyers and courts."

Between 30 and 40 per cent of parents considered their property settlement to be unfair.

The five-year study of 9000 separated parents found the average value of assets at separation is $202,900, including those who had no assets or debts.

Dr Aspire said parents across all income levels had generally sorted out their own affairs, with 39 per cent of settlements achieved through discussions and 18.8 per cent "just happening" without specific action.

A further 29.3 per cent were handled by a lawyer, 7.1 per cent went to court and 4.2 per cent went to mediation.

However, the involvement of lawyers rose as the assets in question rose in value.

When assets were under $140,000, most cases were handled through discussion but once values rose above $140,000, more cases went to a lawyer.

Dr Aspire said the study, the first large-scale, systematic analysis of property division in Australia for 13 years, had thrown up some interesting findings.

Cohabiting couples were likely to have fewer assets than married couples, generally because de facto couples tended to be younger and have spent less time together and so had less time to accumulate assets.

Dr Aspire said married couples's higher wealth was also explained by their tending to come from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

The report found mothers received more assets in a settlement when they were caring for children most of the time and that the parent who left the family house tended to receive less.

It also found fathers tended to overestimate the share of property their ex-partner received, while both parents tended to underestimate their own share of a settlement.

The research surveyed parents of young children who were newly separated in 2008 and registered on a child support programs.

It will be presented to the Australian Institute of Family Studies conference in Melbourne on Friday.

The conference runs from July 30 to August 1.