IT’S BEEN A BIG YEAR FOR PROPERTY!
2019 brought with it a range of NEW perspectives on property matters in the Federal Circuit Court. Simply reading the Family Law Act doesn’t give a crystal clear picture of how the court perceives a property issue that it has to rule on. Cases are unique and have variables and circumstances where Judges use the legislation as a base but then make what are called ‘common law’ decisions. In other words, these are decisions based on a judge’s reading of the Family Law Act (or any other relevant legislation) PLUS that Judge taking into consideration the unique circumstances of the matter before the court.
Sometimes judges in landmark cases or appeal proceedings make decisions which change the way a law can be interpreted or viewed. These are called decisions of precedence and once such a decision is made with that level of authority, it becomes the basis for how future decisions in a particular area of family law are made until the next decision of precedence overtakes it. The common law is constantly evolving while the legislation changes at a slower pace until it it changed by the parliament.
Let’s turn it over to our trusty court stickybeak Elroy the Eagle to update you all on some interesting decisions relating to property and spousal maintenance in the Federal Circuit and Family Courts from June till December in 2019.
Firstly let me wish you all a feather-full 2020 and may you start the year soaring high with a tremendous squawk.
Ok… enough of the bird humour 😉
2019 had some interesting and unusual moments for the court as they were presented with the usual challenging matters to adjudicate over. Frazzled Judges are thinking of bringing back wigs to compensate for all the lost hair pulled out in dealing with matters regarding property and money.
After all, money does make the world go round.
WHERE FAMILY VIOLENCE AFFECTS A PARTIES SCOPE TO CONTRIBUTE
Court did not err in relying on family violence findings in earlier parenting decision in support of a Kennon contribution weighting, where the husband did not object at trial and where there was an abundance of other evidence of violent conduct of the husband
Remember Eaglets, to successfully raise a Kennon argument, the Court must be satisfied that: there was a course of violent conduct by one party towards the other which occurred during the marriage or relationship; and. this conduct had a significantly adverse or negative impact on the party’s contributions to the marriage.
EXPERT EVIDENCE ON PRIZED BOOK COLLECTION INADMISSIBLE
Property – Valuation – Affidavit of bookseller adduced by husband to value his book collection held inadmissible as expert evidence – Affidavit of wife’s alleged expert who was unavailable for cross-examination was inadmissible too – Order made for sale of books.
DENTAL BILLS AND SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE
Spousal maintenance – Urgent lump sum maintenance granted for wife’s urgent periodontal and dental work for which she was being pursued for payment – Section 75(3) (as to disregarding pension) not relevant – Periodic maintenance application adjourned for interim hearing.
PROPERTY AND A LONG MARRIAGE – REZONE INCREASES VALUE
Husband’s initial contribution of land soared in value due to rezoning – Judge erred in assessing contributions – Increase in value was “unrelated to the efforts of the parties” – Williams  FamCA 313 “somewhat overstated” importance of an increase in value of an initial contribution, at the expense of all contributions by the parties throughout their relationship.
SHORT AND SWEET RELATIONSHIP …AND PROPERTY
Property – Short childless cohabitation – Initial contribution of entire small pool – Judge’s crediting of interim maintenance payments to appellant against her property settlement (resulting in no settlement being payable) was in error – Contributions reassessed at 90:10 – No adjustment under s 90SF(3).
TRANSFERRING PROPERTY TO RELATIVES
Property – Wife fails to prove that a property the husband transferred to his sister and brother-in-law shortly before the parties’ marriage was held on trust for the husband – Court accepts evidence of husband and transferees that the transfer was for good consideration.
PROPERTY – SOLE USE OF THE BEACH HOUSE
Property – Sole use and occupation – Application by husband for sole occupancy of a “currently vacant” beach house occasionally used by his estranged children dismissed – Applicant financially able to rent alternative accommodation but did not want to do so.
No sand between that fellow’s toes I’m afraid!
PROPERTY AND CRAZY INVESTMENT LOSSES BY SPOUSE IN LONG MARRIAGE
Property – 45 year marriage – Elderly parties – Wife’s $1 million mid-marriage inheritance – Pool of $1.74 million included $360,000 notionally added back for wife’s reckless investment losses (not considered under s 75(2)(o) as the waste was identifiable) – Proceeds of life insurance policies paid to husband’s estate added back too – Contributions assessed at 65:35 in wife’s favour.
Property – Valuation by single expert appointed by parties was disputed by wife – Wife was refused leave to rely on shadow expert’s report (her instructions to whom were tainted) – Wife failed to use shadow expert to guide her questioning of the single expert, instead seeking to call him as an adversarial expert.
HUSBAND WITH NO WILL
Property – Husband died intestate (no will) – Wife appointed both as legal personal representative by Supreme Court of NSW and legal personal representative of husband’s estate by the FCC pursuant to s 79(8)(a) of the Act and FLR 6.15.
WHEN YOU DON’T CONTRIBUTE MUCH
Property – Small pool – Wife was of low intellect and contributed very little – Contributions assessed as 75:25 in favour of husband – Finding that wife would never be able to work – Adjustment of 25 per cent in her favour under s 75(2).
QUICK SALES AREN’T FAIR
Property – Court erred in dismissing husband’s application for injunction against wife, where parties’ daughter had told him of imminent sale – Injunctions made pending determination of husband’s s 79A application.
Property – Husband granted sole occupancy of his pre-marital property – Conflict between elderly parties – Wife had ready access to alternative accommodation – Husband’s financial support of her was to continue – Wife also ordered to remove her caveat.
VALUING OVERSEAS PROPERTY
Property – Real estate agent husband’s evidence as to the value of a jointly owned property in China was inadmissible pursuant to s 76 of the Evidence Act (the opinion rule) – Such evidence did not constitute an admission (adverse to his interest in the case) within the meaning of s 81 of that Act to which weight could have been given.
LATE SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE APPLICATION? – NO WORRIES!
In Blevins  FCCA 1923 (11 July 2019) Judge Baker heard an Initiating Application filed in March 2019 for spousal maintenance of $400 per week, filed 23 years after the parties separated and 21 years after their divorce. The parties were 69 and 71. A final order for maintenance had been made in 1999, requiring the husband to pay $750 per month until 8 July 2009 … In 2009 a further final order was made for lump sum maintenance of $275,000.
BIG INITIAL CONTRIBUTION AND PROPERTY SPLITS (9 YEAR MARRIAGE)
Property – No error in 80:20 contribution assessment to reflect husband’s initial contribution of $4.97 million (and wife’s $500,000) of a $12.5 million pool –
A nine year cohabitation here eaglets.
SHORT DE FACTO RELATIONSHIP NEEDS INJUSTICE
Property – De facto threshold – Applicant partner for less than 2 years found to have made “substantial contributions” by assisting with renovations but fails to establish “serious injustice” if the order sought were not made.
PROPERTY RISES AND SPLITS
Property – Rise in value of property resumed by government treated as windfall for both parties – Trial judge erred by equating periods of separation to the ending of the de facto relationship for the purpose of assessing contributions –Contributions continued during the many separations.
INHERITANCE AND SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE
Spousal maintenance – Applicant wife had inherited $1.6m in 2009, partly spent on property purchases – $520,00 retained in cash, term deposits and shares – While an applicant need not exhaust all capital so as to satisfy s 90SE(1) thresholds, the property of this applicant was such that she was able to support herself – Application for interim maintenance dismissed.
DIVORCE IN DUBAI NOT CONTESTED
Property – Wife’s application for property and spousal maintenance orders permanently stayed on appeal where she had failed to contest divorce proceedings in Dubai (in which she could have applied for property settlement and alimony) – Res judicata can arise notwithstanding differences between laws.
SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE RELEASE…DENIED!
Financial agreements – Clause purporting to release husband from future spousal maintenance held to be void as it did not specify the amount provided for maintenance as required by s 90E of the Family Law Act.
Property – Court erred by failing to hear and determine wife’s application for declaration as to her one-half equitable interest in family home which husband inherited from his father after trial but before judgment – Further error where inadequate weight given to wife’s contributions.
And there it is folks.
So keep in mind Eaglets that every case before the court is different and the law can only guide the judge particularly if your matter has some complexity or untried element to it.
See you soon with more updates from the court battlegrounds and don’t forget that crack team at the Legal Eagle are always happy to assist self-representers with court preparation and low cost document drafting from applications to affidavits.