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Late inheritance pre-separation included in pool

Late inheritance pre-separation included in pool

Meehan & Meehan

Contributions

      1. The outstanding and overwhelming contribution to the above property pool was from the wife’s late father’s bequest to her in November 2013 in a total quantum of $2,964,362 comprising of real property, shares and cash.
      2. At the commencement of the relationship in 1999, the wife owned the property at Property G, albeit not improved to its current state. She paid $33,000 for the property and had made some relatively minor improvements. I prefer the wife’s evidence that the property was unencumbered at that time, although, not unusually, a title search shows an undischarged mortgage. She controlled her own and the family finances. I accept that it is a common practice for a mortgage to remain registered despite the liability being extinguished. This property is still owned by the wife and now has a near completed stone residence. There is some dispute between the parties as to the value of the property as at the date of commencement of cohabitation. The wife estimates $80,000 but without substantiated support. The husband produces a land tax certificate showing unimproved value at $17,000. I note the wife paid $33,000 for the property.
      3. The wife also owned a property at Property F, Western Australia which was sold in 2000 netting her some $18,000. Her unchallenged evidence is that she owned a motor vehicle valued at $4,000, a trailer valued at $2,000 and savings of $6,000.
      4. The husband was an undischarged bankrupt as at the date of commencement of cohabitation.
      5. In 2006 the wife’s father gifted her $80,000 which was put to the improvements of the Property G property.
      6. The dispute between these parties and much evidence at the trial was in respect of the husband’s contributions during the relationship and particularly his work on the construction of the stone residence at the Property G property. In her affidavit at [26] and [27] the wife deposes:
        Mr Meehan and I both collected stone for the building of a stone house the majority of which was done by the end of 2000 when neither of us were working. The stone foundations began in (omitted) 2000 and I paid for the cost of the concrete slab to be poured by professionals in 2001. The funds that I obtained from the sale of my property at Property F, Western Australia assisted with this cost. Over the next 10 years Mr Meehan then worked on average less than half a day a week undertaking the laying of stone for the construction of the stone house. All other work I contracted out and financed.

 

We did construct a four-bedroom, two bathroom, double story house of which the laying of the stone work was undertaken by Mr Meehan. 90% of all other work was done by contractors being three builders, two plumbers, two electricians, a roofer, concreters, steel fabricators, tilers and carpet layers the cost of which was financed by myself with the assistance of my father the late Mr H. In 2006 my father contributed the sum of $80,000 to assist with the cost of fitting out the home.

  1. Nevertheless, in a letter of which I can comfortably find the wife to be author albeit an undated letter but one clearly penned sometime prior to separation, she gives a little more credit to the husband’s efforts when saying:
    I want to transfer the home into your name alone. This can be done when the house is signed off by council. You built it, it is your house.
  2. The wife worked throughout the relationship from 2000. The husband was not remuneratively employed. I generally accept, however, that there was at least a tacit agreement between the parties that the wife would work and the husband would work on the home. I generally prefer the husband’s evidence as to his efforts in this regard. True it is that the home remains unfinished albeit in a liveable state. I also accept that qualified tradesmen were employed. The husband, however, was able to highly particularise his efforts. He made appropriate concessions as to the wife’s own efforts and contributions. He adduced evidence which was not challenged to corroborating his efforts. I am content therefore, that the husband was generally engaged in the building of the home together with a role as homemaker and parent therefore allowing the wife to pursue her employment. This is not to under rate the effort of the wife. I accept that she was also at times engaged in both assisting with the building of the home, in caring for the children and as homemaker.
  3. By reason of the designated and agreed roles and their efforts during the relationship, I am satisfied that they contributed overall equally save and except that the wife made a contribution of some significance by way of the gift to her from her father of $80,000 which was put towards the construction of the house. The wife should also receive credit for her superior initial financial contributions which are although now some 18 years ago, retain value and weight noting that the property development at Property G was owned by her prior to the commencement of the relationship[5].
  4. The children both currently live with the wife although X initially stayed with the husband following separation. The wife has been financially responsible for the children without child support assistance from the husband. The wife has paid the school fees during 2016 and half of the 2017 school fees. I see this as a post-separation contribution by the wife.
  5. I must then consider the wife’s inheritance and its contribution to the property pool. It obviously represents the majority of the value of that pool. It was received relatively late in the relationship in November 2013. Nevertheless, it is one contribution among many and varied contributions made by these parties to a 17 year relationship and the Court is aware of the caution noted by Kay J in Aleksovski & Aleksovski [6]:
    The Judge must weigh up various areas of contribution. In a short marriage, significant weight might be given to a large contribution. In a long marriage, other factors often assume great significance and ought not be left almost unseen by eyes dazzled by the magnitude of recently acquired capital … just as early capital contribution is diminished by subsequent events during the marriage, late capital contribution which leads to an accelerated improvement in the value of the assets of the parties may also be given something less than directly proportional weight because of those other elements.
  6. Noting the discretion in the Court to altering of property interests, some trial judges have actually or effectively excluded or quarantined inheritance’s received late in relationship or post-separation. I do not consider that option available to me where the inheritance was received some two and half years prior to separation and where there is evidence of some direct contribution by way of his labours of the husband towards those assets and also, of course, where there are significant other contributions by the parties of a financial and non-financial type during the relationship. Such property should therefore be included in the pool and not be protected simply because it emanated from an inheritance. It remains, however, a contribution by the wife and a significant and weighty one to be considered alongside all of the other contributions of these parties.
  7. Other than remaining real estate, the wife put $450,000 from her inheritance to the corpus of the husband’s (omitted) Retirement Fund. She purchased the Jeep Cherokee motor vehicle for $62,000 and added a gymnasium to the Property G property at a cost of $52,000.
  8. This is a relatively long relationship of some 17 years duration. The wife made initial contributions which continue to attract some weight. She contributed a year lump sum of $80,000 during the relationship by gift from her father. She contributed from the inheritance in a sum of just under $3 million. The husband’s contributions were of a non-financial type. He contributed his labours to the building of the stone house. He contributed as homemaker and parent. Taking all of these matters into account but with considerable weight to the wife’s contribution of her inheritance by reason of its quantum and timing, I propose to alter the property interests of the parties on the basis of contributions as to 90% the wife and 10% the husband.

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