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Will the Family Court Look at Initial Contributions of a Party – Assets Brought by one Party into the Marriage?

13/07/2020

If a party brings real property or other significant assets into the marriage it is considered to be a very important contribution.  Property bought into a marriage is called an initial contribution.  The disparity in the comparable initial contributions by each party will be diminished by the length of the marriage or relationship or de facto relationship.  In other words, the significance of the initial contributions to the outcome of property division after a lengthy marriage or de facto relationship will be less significant the longer the marriage or de facto relationship.  The Family Court or Federal Circuit Court will not “reimburse” a party for the value of the assets that they brought in and then divide everything else.  The Family Court or Federal Circuit Court will look at indirect contributions, contributions made during the relationship and post separation contributions.  The decided cases show that the Court will balance contributions. 

The Family Court or Federal Circuit Court may be asked to:

(a)       Determine the value of the property at the time of commencement of the marriage or relationship; and

(b)       For what weight to be given to the initial contributions. 

Zappacosta v Zappacosta 1976

The Court found that the rapid acceleration of the value of a property due to rezoning was a mere windfall to which either party had a greater or lesser claim. 

Bremner v Bremner 1995

This was a 23 year marriage.  The husband owned a block of land at the time of marriage.  Both parties worked and the wife was the primary caregiver to the children.  The Court found that the initial contribution by one party may be eroded to a greater or less extent by later contributions of the other party.  This was even though those later contributions did not outstrip those of the other party. 

Pearce v Pearce 1999

The Trial Judge found that the husband’s initial contribution had eroded over a period of a relationship of 10 years.  On appeal the Court found that the husband was entitled to 70% of the assets on the basis of his initial contributions.  In the case the Court said it was not so much a matter of erosion but what weight should be attached in all the circumstances to his large initial contribution.

Spiteri v Spiteri 2005

The Full Court accepted that the husband had (by reason of his bringing into the marriage income producing assets) had made more contributions than the wife and that the husband was entitled to a larger award by reason of his superior initial contributions. 

Williams v Williams 2007

“Where the pool of assets available for distribution between the parties consists of say an investment portfolio or a block of land or a painting that has risen significantly in value as a result of market forces, it is appropriate to give recognition to its value at the time of hearing of the time it was realised rather than simply pay attention to its initial value at the time of commencement of cohabitation.”

Jabour v Jabour 2019 

At first instance the Federal Circuit Court found that the parties’ contributions during cohabitation were equal.  However, the Federal Circuit Court concluded that the husband by “bringing Property A into the relationship had made a significant contribution which needed to be appropriately recognised in the division of property between the parties. 

If you are proposing to enter into financial/property settlement with your spouse or partner and have any concerns regarding contributions brought into the marriage by either yourself or your spouse or partner and how it will impact your entitlement to an equitable financial/property settlement, please contact Richard Watson Senior Family Law Solicitor or his Personal Assistant Shereen Da Gloria to discuss your matter and seek appropriate advice.

This is only a preliminary view and is not to be taken as legal advice without first contacting Watson & Watson Solicitors on 9221 6011.

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