A common scenario we see here at Divorce Lawyers Brisbane is when a long-term marriage breaks down and both parties begin guessing what contributions have been made to the relationship over time. Usually one party has stayed home to raise children and has not worked or worked only sporadically, while the other party has been financially responsible for the family.
One myth is that financial contributions to the relationship are worth more than a contribution of caring for children. Sometimes one party might argue that their particular skill set made special contributions to the relationship so that they are entitled to more in the property settlement at divorce.
How does the law look at contributions?
A recent case highlights this very issue, in which the husband submitted to the court that his financial contributions should be given more weight than the wife’s contributions of raising children.
The husband and the wife were respectively 54 and 51 years of age at the time of trial. The husband left school when he was 15 to commence a carpentry apprenticeship and the parties married in February 1979 when the husband was 21 and the wife 18. It is common ground they started with very little, the husband owning a block of land on which he had built a home with borrowed funds. Neither party contended at trial that that asset should have any effect on the ultimate property settlement after 29 years of marriage.
During the first eight years of marriage, the parties had three children. In addition to his full time work the husband built a home for the parties and thereafter built a new home on average every two years until the parties moved to the Gold Coast in 1990, approximately 11 years after their marriage. Whilst the husband was engaged in his work and the construction of their homes, the wife was fully engaged as a homemaker and parent. The capacity of the husband to use his skills as a tradesman to construct homes and sell them enabled the parties to acquire a capital base so that when they moved to the Gold Coast in 1990 they were able to commence their own construction company, Y Pty Ltd, with the capital they had acquired.
Y Pty Ltd was an exceedingly successful construction business in which the husband was the driving force but in which the wife was also involved directly in relation to some of the aspects of the business, and also as a director and shareholder. In 2006 the husband and wife agreed to sell some of their shares to four employees who had become important to the business and who they wished to retain for the benefit of the future of the business and its succession. As a result of this arrangement the husband and wife reduced their shareholding from 100 per cent to 84 per cent. Also in 2006 the parties began to purchase land in suburb T and on a portion of that land they commenced construction of the matrimonial home. At the time of separation the construction of the matrimonial home had not been completed. The wife completed the interior décor and furnishings after separation. In April 2008 the parties separated and they were divorced in June 2009.
At the time of hearing the children of the parties were all adults (aged 31, 30 and 25 respectively). They were self-supporting and were all working in the business.
The question in this case was one of contribution. Which spouse had contributed more to the relationship? The husband submitted to the court that he had made a “special contribution” and that these skills should be given significantly greater weight than those of the wife. Therefore, the question arises as to the weight to be given to the role of parent and homemaker in a long marriage after separation and when the children have left home.
In this case, the contributions of both parties over a lengthy period were substantial and significant. The wife’s contributions to the welfare of the family are in themselves significant contributions and the law does not suggest that one kind of contribution should be treated as less important or valuable than another.
The judge commented:
“Each of the parties contributed over a lengthy marriage to the acquisition, conservation and improvement of the assets which they owned at the date of hearing. In our view, to place greater weight on the contributions made by the husband in his sphere does not do justice to the wife’s contributions in the various capacities that we have outlined. Giving appropriate weight to the contributions of both parties and where the nature and form of their partnership was that of a “practical union of lives and property” that leads us to conclude that the contributions made by the parties should be treated as equal.”
Ultimately the court found that the net assets of the parties had a value of between $32,321,000 and $39,816,000, and that the assets should be split evenly at 50/50.
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For these reasons in our view it is appropriate for there to be an equal division of the assets of the parties.