Fields and Smith  FamCAFC 57
In Fields and Smith the Full Court of the Family Court of Australia (Bryant CJ, Ainslie-Wallace J and May J) their honours set-aside a decision made by Murphy J in a “big money case” worth some $42million.
The parties were married at a young age (the wife was 18 and the husband 21). The marriage was some 29 years long and resulted in three children being born of the marriage (who were adults by the time the matter reached hearing.
The issue at hearing was the quantification of the asset pool. The wife sought a division on a 50/50 basis. The husband sought division of a 70/30 basis on the grounds of his “special skill” and business acumen. The major asset of the parties were property holdings and entities involved in a construction company founded by the husband in the course of the marriage. The wife was a homemaker though a shareholder in the husband’s construction company.
At trial, Murphy J rejected the notion of special skill in accordance with the authorities (Kane & Kane and Hoffman & Hoffman). The notion of a special skill has now been removed.
Murphy J however adjusted the property division on the basis of a 60/40 split in favour of the husband noting that the wife’s contributions as homemaker would have been diminished in the last third of the marriage given the children reached adulthood.
On Appeal, the Full Court of the Family Court of Australia affirmed the removal of the concept of “special skill” and further re-exercised discretion. On Appeal their honours found that the diminution of the wife’s contributions as homemaker had to be set-off against the husband’s own diminution in his involvement with his company. This was a marriage where the contributions were equal and “substantial and significant”.