Have You Been in a Relatively Short Term Marriage and are Wondering How the Law Will Treat Your Contributions Made During Your Relationship?

In December 2017, the Full Court of the Family Court of Australia delivered judgement in the case of Anson & Meek [2017] FamCAFC 257 where the Husband had brought an appeal against a decision of the primary/trial judge which provided an adjustment to the Wife out of the property pool so that the Husband received 60 per cent of property situated in Australia and the Wife 40 per cent.

The property distribution related only to the parties’ Australian assets where the major asset was a farming property which the Husband purchased prior to the marriage contributing the whole of the purchase price. The Husband’s interests in property held outside Australia were not subject to alternation between the parties but was taken into account

The parties married in April 2008 and separated in March 2013. The primary judge found that the Wife regarded that from late 2005 she was in a committed and exclusive relationship with the Husband. There were no children of the relationship.

The Husband’s appeal challenged both the primary judge’s assessment of contributions made by the parties and her assessment pursuant to section 79(4)(e) of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (“FLA”) which requires that the Court considers factors under section 75(2) FLA which effect future needs so far as they are relevant.

The Husband maintained that the primary judge’s assessments were “outside an acceptable range particularly having regard to the short term period of cohabitation and the overwhelming financial contribution made by the Husband”. (Grounds 1 and 3)

The Husband also challenged the primary judge’s findings that:

  • “the increase in value of the farming property was because of the joint [and apparently] equal contributions made by the parties during a short period of cohabitation in circumstances where the property was an initial contribution of the [husband]”. (Ground 2)
  • the Wife’s earning capacity had diminished and she had lost income and income-earning opportunities as a result of the marriage. (Grounds 4 and 5)

The value of the Husband’s assets held outside Australia at trial was over $1.7 million. The value of the farming property, which was the single most valuable asset of the Australian property pool that was to be divided had increased from $1,070,000 to $1,860,000 during the marriage, an increase of $790,000.

Regards grounds 1 and 3, on appeal, Murphy J considered that the primary judge had only taken into account the equal contributions of each party made during the relationship but that the primary judge had not taken into account  other relevant considerations being that:

  • the increase in value of the farming property covered a period of some 8.5 years which included the period of cohabitation and a further period of approximately 2.5 years post separation (which represented about 30% of the cohabitation period).
  • Whilst contributions of the Wife made during the cohabitation period were also relevant to the increase in value over the whole of the 8.5 year period, the contributions made by the Husband during that post separation period when the Husband occupied the farm were to be assessed as favouring the Husband.
  • The Husband’s capital contribution had permitted entry into the market and it was market forces which permitted the increase in value. There was no evidence that any specific contribution /s made by the parties impacted upon the increase in the value of the farm.

Murphy J considered that the primary judge had failed to take account more broadly of the contributions made by the parties during the post separation period which in this case was a significant period when compared to the length of the marriage.

In our next article we will consider other grounds of the appeal by the Husband.

Contact our experienced family law team at LGM Family Law for advice specific to your circumstances and allow us to assist you to resolve your family law issues.