Field & Basson –  FamCAFC 32
This is an appeal on the division of the property made by the courts between a husband and wife following their divorce.
The wife, aged 47 and the husband, aged 48, were married in 1994 and separated in 2009. The wife brought assets amounting to $373,471 to the marriage, including five properties, furniture, a car and cash. The husband brought to the marriage assets amounting to $45,000, including a car, cash and one property plus a superannuation of over $2,000. Both worked at the time of the marriage and the wife had additional income from her investment properties.
The couple developed a business together and as it grew, the husband resigned from his employment and received his superannuation, which had a gross value of almost $107,000. The husband and wife both worked in the business and the husband helped maintain and renovate the wife’s properties. They also took out a loan on the business, and the loans were secured through mortgages on two of the wife’s properties. The business was not successful and in 2011 the husband found employment elsewhere and only the wife remained working at the business. In December 2011, the wife suddenly shut down the business.
The Federal Magistrate
The Federal Magistrate gave orders for a property settlement in March 2012. The judge calculated the assets and liabilities of the couple, including the business, their debts and all of the properties. The Federal Magistrate took into consideration each partner’s contribution – both financial and nonfinancial – to the asset pool. He also adjusted the wife’s contributions since she had the greater responsibility for child care and the husband earned more money. He concluded that the wife should receive 87.5% of the net assets and the husband should receive 12.5% of the assets.
The wife made it clear that she did not want to sell any of the property in order to pay off the debts. In order to end the joint property relationship, the judge ordered that all of the business stock as well as the jeep should be transferred to the husband, and the wife retains her property and the debt.
Husband appeals – division of property not weighted correctly
The husband claimed on appeal that the judge erred by giving more weight to the wife’s contributions than to the husband’s. The appeals court began it’s response by explaining that they cannot interfere with the discretion of a lower court judge unless the decision was “plainly wrong”. It is not enough to say that the appellate court would have come to a different decision in order to overturn the lower court decision.
The appeals court rejected the husband’s first claim on appeal that too much weight was given to the wife’s initial contributions. The Federal Magistrate clearly stated in his decision that both parties contributed equally but the wife brought in “significantly greater initial contributions”. The husband never articulated the basis of his claim, other than to bring several other cases, which he then asked the judge to ignore.
The appeals court also rejected the husband’s claim that a weighting of 25% to the wife was incorrect and that more weight should have been given to his non-financial contributions. The husband provided no information that would demonstrate that the Federal Magistrate, who detailed how he came to his assessment, was “plainly wrong” in the conclusions he reached. The appeals court cited earlier cases which also translated the “qualitative” contribution of an asset to a “quantitative” number. The appeals court found that the judge described his reasoning and used his discretion appropriately.
Finally, the appeals court rejected the father’s claim that the Federal Magistrate assumed first that all sides contributed equally and only then made adjustments. The Federal Magistrate clearly delineated the contributions from each side and the weight of these contributions and only than concluded that they were equal (other than the wife’s significantly greater initial contributions).