As previously discussed in our article ‘Initial contributions in a relationship and their impact on a property settlement’, contributions to a relationship are assessed at three points in time: prior to living together, during the relationship, and post separation. In this article, we look specifically at contributions made during a relationship and how they are taken into consideration by the Court.

What are contributions during a relationship?

Contributions are what each party brings in, adds, or contributes to the relationship. These can be both financial and non-financial in nature. Additionally, they could include work done in a parenting capacity, or contributing to the welfare of the family as a home-maker.

Contributions during a relationship are considered to be any contribution made during the period of cohabitation (living together). The length of a relationship is also likely to affect the weight given to these contributions.

For an overview of contributions before a relationship, see: “Initial contributions and their impact on a property settlement.”

Where the relationship has been a long one (12+ years), contributions will generally be given equal value, unless there is significant evidence to the contrary, or where there are special contributions (for example, inheritances) received late in the relationship.

To give you a better understanding of the weight given to contributions made during a relationship, particularly those of a “special” nature when determining a  settlement, we look at the case of Roverati & Roverati [2020] FCCA 561 that was later overturned on appeal.

Background of the case

In the matter of Roverati, the parties involved (Husband and Wife) were married in 1983, and separated in 2016. They began living together at the time of their marriage, and so the length of the relationship was 33 years. They had two children together, both of whom were adults when the matter was before the Courts.

The parties had an asset pool comprising of:

  1. the former matrimonial home;
  2. a second or investment property;
  3. the Roverati Family Trust Investments;
  4. the Investments in F Street, Suburb G Trust;
  5. the Funds held by a third Trust and being a trust from which the Husband ran his business;
  6. the Wife’s interest in the D Street Trust;
  7. cash in the bank;
  8. company shares;
  9. a Motor vehicle;
  10. superannuation; and
  11. nominal liabilities.

Based on the above, the Trial Judge found the value of the asset pool to be $1,570,407.

Weight given to inheritances received during the relationship

In this matter, both parties had several Trusts, which contained funds from inheritances received by each of the parties during the relationship.

  • The D Street Trust held a property received as an inheritance by the Wife, and her three siblings, which was leased. Despite the property being leased, the wife never received any financial benefit from the D Street Trust (and didn’t expect to receive any future benefit).

  • The F Street, Suburb G Trust initially held a property, as well as cash funds of $11,650 that had been received by the Husband from his Late Father’s Estate. The property was retained as a rental asset by the Trust. This Trust made distributions to both parties totalling $79,108.51 during their relationship, which were either re-invested or applied to living expenses.

  • The Roverati Family Trust was established using the sum of $35,433, which was a compensation payment received by the Husband and $8,682 in funds received by the Wife from her Late Grandmother. The Husband thereafter transferred assets to the value of $161,103 into the Trust, which were also funds he had received from his Late Father’s Estate. Since its establishment, the Roverati Family Trust had made distributions to the parties of $127,718.36, which were reinvested or used for household expenses.

Applications made by both the Husband and the Wife

In this case, neither party sought any adjustments for future needs and so this became a purely contributions case.

The Wife sought:

  1. 55% of the non-superannuation assets of the parties;
  2. 50% of the parties’ superannuation.

The Husband sought a 60% division of the non-superannuation assets in his favour based on contributions alone, but otherwise agreed with the Wife’s position as to an equal division of the superannuation.

The Court’s decision on Contributions

The Trial Judge, relying on decisions made in previous cases (Petruski and Balewa[1]) and (Bolger v Headon[2]) decided that a holistic approach to contributions should be adopted, particularly given the varying levels of both financial and non-financial contributions made by both parties during the long relationship.

As such, the Court ruled that the asset pool would be divided on a 50/50 basis resulting in each party taking $658,702.50 worth of non-superannuation assets. The Trial Judge also made an Order for an equalisation of the parties’ superannuation interests resulting in a payment to the Wife from the Husband.

The Appeal: Roverati & Roverati [2021] FamCAFC 89

The Husband appealed the decision of the Trial Judge as to the equal division of the non-superannuation asset pool.

The matter came before the Appeal’s Division of the (now former) Family Court of Australia. The Husband’s grounds of appeal included:

  1. The learned primary judged erred in assessing the contributions of the parties in giving no weight, or insufficient weight, to the inheritance received by the husband.
  2. The learned primary judge failed to consider the use to which the parties’ respective inheritances were applied in assessing the parties’ contributions.
  3. In assessing the contributions of the parties, the learned primary judge gave inadequate reasons.” [3]

Given that the appeal grounds related to a failure or failures by the Trial Judge in making their final decision, the Court on appeal had to determine whether there was an error of law or mistake made, before they could reverse the decision made by the Trial Judge.

The Appeal decision

Given that the appeal related specifically to the inheritances received by each party, the Appeal Court had to consider each of the inheritances and how they were applied.

The Court accepted the findings of the Trial Judge regarding the values of each of the parties’ inheritances and how they were applied during the course of the relationship. However, the Appeal Court disagreed with the Trial Judge’s original findings that the contributions made were equal in nature.

In considering the value of the inheritances received, it was noted that the Husband’s inheritance of $404,619.64 was far greater than the $50,000 inheritance received by the Wife, and that is without taking into consideration any income derived from, or increase in value of, these inheritances, or how these were applied.

The Appeal Court also found that the way the inheritances of both the Husband and the Wife were applied during the relationship were not of equal value, given that:

  1. the Wife had not derived any income from her inheritance, as any income received bypassed her and went directly to the Children;
  2. the Husband’s inheritance had generated an income for the parties which was either reinvested into the asset pool or used for expenses; and
  3. that the Husband actively managed the investments.

The Appeals Court found that the Trial Judge had not given “any consideration to the use of the inheritance of the parties”[4] as 30% of the parties’ net asset pool was made up of the Husband’s inheritance.

Based on these findings, the Appeal Court assessed the contributions as 55% to 45% in favour of the Husband.

What does the outcome of this matter tell us about contributions in a relationship?

In circumstances where financial contributions during a relationship are made, and as in the case of Roverati where inheritances were received by both parties, it does not automatically mean that because both parties in a relationship have contributed in a similar manner that these contributions should be treated equally – despite the length of the relationship.  

There are many other factors that are taken into consideration when assessing contributions in a relationship, which can include:

  1. the value of the contribution or inheritance.
  2. the benefits received from the contribution or inheritance.
  3. how the contribution or inheritances are applied; and
  4. the proportion of the net asset pool that is attributed to or arising from the inheritance or contribution.

Need assistance on a family law matter regarding contributions?

If you would like legal advice regarding contributions in a relationship, our Sydney family lawyers are here to help. Give us call on 02 9262 4003 for a confidential discussion or submit an online enquiry.

[1] [2013] FamCAFC 15 at [49].
[2] [2014] FamCAFC 27 at [28].
[3] Roverati & Roverati [2021] FamCAFC 89 at [11].
[4] Ibid at [44].
The content of this article is intended as a general guide to the subject matter. For specific legal advice about your individual circumstances, please contact our experienced lawyers.

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