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Short Marriages – Do You Come Out With What You Put In? Getting the Benefit of Your Contributions

19/01/2021

Watson & Watson recently successfully concluded a property dispute between two previously married people who both came into the marriage with significant assets -  Watson & Watson acted on behalf of the husband. 

Background and Initial Contributions  

Both the husband and wife had their own homes at the time they met.  The wife also had other investment properties.  The wife wanted the husband to sell his home and “invest” in her larger property.  The husband was reluctant to sell his home but ultimately agreed to the wife’s request and sold his home. 

The husband obtained an interest in the wife’s property and went onto the title of the property but not as an equal owner as that of the wife.  The husband later found out that the wife needed cash to meet debts she had incurred before the marriage. The husband and wife were both the owners but not in equal shares.  The husband had a smaller percentage share than the wife.  The husband used the money he received from the sale of his house to “buy” into the wife’s property. 

Further Contributions

During the course of the marriage the husband made significant contributions over and above the initial cash injection.  These contributions were to improve the jointly owned property and to improve the wife’s other properties and investments. 

The marriage failed and the parties needed to work out a financial/property settlement.  The wife asserted that the husband should only receive the exact amount of money that he brought into the marriage and invested in the jointly owned home.  The wife asserted that the marriage was a short marriage that the husband should not receive more than he had “invested”. 

The difficulty for the husband was that he had sold his own home and then paid the sale proceeds to the wife.  He did not have the money available to buy his own home.  The husband had changed his position at the wife’s request and to his detriment.

Watson & Watson acted on behalf of the husband and supported and maintained the husband’s position that the entitlement to be received by him, should be just and equitable and that his contributions should be taken into account.

The wife asserted that the principles applying to a short marriage should determine the outcome of the case.

What is a Short Marriage

A short marriage is generally said to be a marriage that is for a period of less than five (5) years.  The categorisation of a marriage as being a short marriage may depend on whether or not there had been a de facto cohabitation before the marriage.  The length of the marriage does have an effect on the outcome of property division. 

How Does the Court Determine Property Division

The Family Court or Federal Circuit Court must produce a just and equitable result for both parties.  The longer the marriage, the more likely the Family Court will move to provide a result closer to 50/50% but this is not always the case.  In a short marriage the Family Court is likely to make a closer examination of the exact financial contributions of each party to the acquisition, maintenance and improvement of assets and particularly, what each party brought into the marriage by way of initial contribution.  Initial contributions are very significant in short marriages as opposed to long marriages.  The longer the marriage the significance of initial contributions diminishes.  In short marriages the Family Court can be persuaded to simply return the parties back to the original position that they were in prior to the marriage.

How Will a Court Deal with Assets in Short Marriages

The Family Court/Federal Circuit Court will generally take a global approach to a property division.  The Family Court will pool all assets together and divide that pool between the parties. 

The Family Court/Federal Circuit Court can adopt a different approach known as an “asset by asset” approach and look at the contributions made by each of the parties to particular assets. 

In the case conducted by Watson & Watson Lawyers, the wife said that the only asset that should be looked at was the house which was in joint names.  The husband asserted that there should be a global approach and that his contributions to the jointly owned property and other properties should be taken into account. 

Watson & Watson Lawyers were successful in obtaining a result that provided for the husband’s contributions to be taken into account and the husband obtained an outcome that was over and above the amount of money that he invested into the jointly owned property. 

If you are in the process of or are about to enter into financial/property settlement and are facing a similar scenario and want to know your rights and entitlement our experienced Family Law Solicitor can assist.  Please contact Richard Watson Senior Family Lawyers or his Personal Assistant Shereen Da Gloria to discuss your matter and seek the 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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