Short Relationships & Family Law Property Settlements

By 23 May 2019Family Law

What is regarded as a “short relationship”?

The expression short relationship is often used to describe a marriage or de facto relationship which has lasted for less than five years.

Some issues which typically arise in the context of short relationships are:

  • Where one party has contributed a substantial sum at the commencement of the relationship whilst the other party has contributed relatively little.
  • Where an asset brought into the relationship by one party experiences a significant growth (or decline) in value during the relationship.
  • Where one party’s earning capacity far outweighs the other party’s earning capacity, and the lower income earner has had the benefit of an increased standard of living for a short period of time.

Initial Contributions

A significant initial contribution made by one party to a relationship will generally be given greater weight in short relationships. Take for example, where one party owns a house with a small mortgage at the commencement of the relationship. How much weight will be given to that contribution will depend on matters such as:

  1. How the asset was treated and used during the relationship; and
  2. Whether the other party has contributed to any increase of value of the asset (i.e. renovations or mortgage payments).

Financial Contributions and Non-Financial Contributions during the Relationship

Where there is a short relationship, the Court will examine in detail, the parties relevant financial, non-financial, homemaker and caregiver contributions.

Is it ‘just and equitable’ to make an Order?

In all property cases, the Court must determine whether it is just and equitable to make an Order. This was made clear in the High Court case of Stanford & Stanford [2012] HCA 52. In longer relationships, this requirement is easier to satisfy. In short relationships however, it  may be that the assets remain as they were prior to the commencement of the relationship, with no further contributions being made by either party. In those circumstances, it may be that no order is necessary to alter the ownership of any asset. The end result may then be that each party keeps what they brought into the relationship.

Case Example: Short Relationship with large initial contribution and a child of relationship

In the case of Rose & Mitchell [2016] FCCA 771 the parties lived together for just over three years. The asset pool was modest and mostly consisted of the equity in the marital home the husband owned prior to the marriage. The judge found that the parties had both made contributions during the marriage and the wife had “the major burden of looking after their child”. The judge assessed the parties’ contributions as 90% to the husband and 10% to the wife. The wife was awarded a further 15% for her future needs, laying particular emphasis upon the wife’s future parenting responsibilities. The final outcome was that the husband received 75% of the asset pool and the wife received 25%.

Applying for a Divorce and married for less than two years

You and your spouse must be separated for 12 months and one day before being eligible to apply for a Divorce.

If you have been married for less than two years, the Court requires you and your former spouse to attend an appointment with a counsellor to discuss the possibility of reconciliation. The counsellor will then provide a counselling certificate that states he/she has discussed the possibility of reconciliation with you and your spouse. You will then file this Certificate together with your Application for Divorce.

The two years is calculated from the date of marriage to the date of applying to the Court for a divorce.

If you are thinking of obtaining a divorce or require assistance to finalise a property settlement or parenting matters with your former spouse or partner, phone our office on (02) 6051 5100 to book an initial appointment with one of our Family Law Solicitors.