The Full Court of the Family Court recently handed down its decision in the case of Grier & Malphas (2016) Fam CAFC 84.

The parties had a relationship of a little under 9 years. There was one child, aged 8. When the parties began living together, neither had significant assets. During the course of the marriage, the husband built up substantial assets, based on cleaning businesses and real estate. The net assets for distribution between the parties at Trial totalled $6,793,896. 

The trial findings

The Trial Judge found that, because of the husband’s skill in building up financial assets during the marriage, he should receive 60% of the assets and the wife 40%. 

The wife then appealed to the Full Court of the Family Court.

The appeal findings

It was the view of the Chief Justice, Her Honour Dianna Bryant, that “the assessment of contributions in favour of the husband in percentages of 60% to him and 40% to the wife cannot be maintained and is plainly wrong”. 

Her Honour spoke of “the wife’s equally significant contributions, both to the businesses … as a parent and homemaker.” 

Also of relevance was the wife’s high income from her employment in the early years of the building up of the parties’ assets.

The Full Court of the Family Court sent the case back for re-trial and we do not yet know the result of that re-hearing. However, it seems clear that the outcome of the further Trial will be significantly different from that of the first, as the Full Court made it clear that the husband’s contributions in building up the businesses into significant assets at the time of the first Trial was not to be considered superior to the financial contributions made by the wife from her own income and in her homemaker and parenting roles. 

The decision follows a line of recent cases which overturned the previously long-held view that, where one party had been the “rainmaker” and built up substantial assets, they should be specially rewarded by the Courts.

Interestingly, at the end of the Judgement, the Court says, “Cold comfort though it is to the parties, we nevertheless first wish to express our profound regret that this Judgement is being published some 20 months after the Appeal was heard.” 

The continuing delays in the Family Court process have reached the stage of embarrassing the Judges and the Chief Justice’s recent call for a $6,000,000 injection into the Family and Federal Circuit Courts will, hopefully, not fall on deaf ears, now that the Federal Election is over.