Are financial & homemaking contributions treated differently?

Following the dissolution of a long term marriage or relationship, as family lawyers, we see time and time again one spouse claiming that because they were the primary ‘breadwinner’ or financial contributor, they should be entitled to a greater percentage when it comes to a division of the matrimonial asset pool.

A recent matter – Hoffman & Hoffman (not the parties’ real names) – before the appeal division of the Family Court (“the Full Court”) involved a husband, a financially successful businessman, claiming a greater percentage of the property settlement because he had allegedly produced more wealth than that of his wife. Mr Hoffman argued the couple’s $10 million fortune should be split 70/30 in his favour to reflect his “special contribution“, “skill” and “entrepreneurial flair“. Mr Hoffman claimed his wife, who raised their four children and did paid work over the course of their marriage spanning four decades, was “indifferent” to his successful financial ventures and “preferred to play mah-jong and read books“.

Judge Brewster of the Federal Circuit Court (the judge at first instance) rejected Mr Hoffman’s argument. He said the concept of “special contributions” was not a part of the Family Law Act. He said the case of Mallet v Mallet (a 1984 High Court case on contributions), was “infected with gender bias” and it was “standing in the path of a just and equitable outcome”.

Judge Brewster also said comparing financial and non-financial contributions was like “comparing apples and carrots”. Further, it was “offensive” for homemaking and parenting to be regarded as“menial” work.

Mr Hoffman appealed the decision to the Full Court where, in July 2014, Deputy Chief Justice Faulks, Justice Murphy and Justice Watts dismissed the appeal. Their Honours said the concept of special contributions had been a “terrible mistake“.

Even though the law does not recognise any hierarchy of contributions, it is appropriate for the court to consider a party’s direct contribution to generating wealth, noting a 50:50 split was not the starting position for parties coming out of a long term marriage to begin negotiating an assets split.

If you are going through a relationship or marriage breakdown, contact us at Taylor & Scott Lawyers for expert family law advice. Our Family Law team is able to assist you explore options at law. We specialise in property settlements and divorce, where no case is ever too difficult, simply because we know the law and are regularly before the judges who make the decisions. Please call us now to make an appointment, and afford yourself some peace of mind. You deserve it!

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