What’s Mine is Yours? Family Inheritance and the Family Court’s Assessment of Equal Financial Contributions

In Roverati [2021] FamCAFC 89 the Full Court of the Family Court considered a 33 year marriage between a 60 year old husband and 58 year old wife that produced two children.

On appeal, the husband argued that an equal assessment of contributions gave insufficient weight to an inheritance he had received during the marriage, which was much larger than an inheritance the wife had received.

In 2003, the wife received an inheritance of about $50,000 via a quarter interest in a property, which was put in a trust and did not generate income for the benefit of the parties. In 2006, the husband received an inheritance from his father that he said was worth $445,486, the wife conceding it was worth at least $404,619 and that it generated rental income for the parties. The net property pool was calculated to be $1,317,405.

The majority, Strickland and Ryan JJ, found that the essence of the husband’s complaint was that the judge in the first instance implicitly concluded that both inheritances were similar in nature, and as a result his Honour erred by giving no or insufficient weight to the inheritance received by the husband.

The majority held that “An analysis of the inheritances demonstrates that the husband’s inheritance was far greater in value than the wife’s … It can immediately be seen that the husband’s financial contribution in this regard was significantly more than the wife’s, and that is without taking into account the income subsequently derived therefrom, and the increases in the value of the assets over time, let alone the use made of that income and those assets.”

In re-exercising the discretion of the Court to assess the financial contributions of the parties, the majority considered that “the significant financial contribution by the husband of his inheritance, and its use” led to a finding that the respective contributions of the parties should be assessed at 55/45 in the husband’s favour. 

In dissent, Austin J said that  “ … Although the capital value of [the husband’s] … inheritance was much greater, it had to be weighed holistically against all other contributions made over some 33 years … Without being exhaustive, other material contributions included the wife’s superior capital contribution at marriage …, the wife’s longer history of paid employment …, and the wife’s superior contribution as a homemaker and parent …”

Justice Austin further contended that “In the end, although not argued in this way, the husband was really only left with the contention that the primary judge’s failure to give sufficient weight to his inheritance amounted, in effect, to a failure to exercise the discretion entrusted to the court … which high hurdle, in my view, he could not jump.”

If you find yourself in difficulties with separation at the present time and require legal advice, contact our Family Law team today. 

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is general and is not intended to be advice on any matter. It is for information only and is not legal advice. In the event of a legal problem, you should seek legal advice.

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