Spousal maintenance denied by High Court
By Nicola Berkovic, Legal Affairs Correspondent, Sydney, for The Australia
“She argued her multi-millionaire former husband should provide her with $30,000 a year for clothing and shoes, another $30,000 a year for cleaners and $98,800 a year for holidays, but now an Australian mother of two will get nothing in spousal maintenance following a High Court defeat.
The trial judge had originally ruled the woman, in her 40s, should receive an interim amount of $10,833 a month from her husband — who had net assets of $21 million — pending the court’s final decision.
However, the High Court ruled on Wednesday that she did not qualify for any spousal maintenance because she was able to support herself “adequately”.
This was because her father in his will had included a “wish” — although not a formal bequest — that she should receive $150,000 a year from the family’s group of businesses, and if she divorced, a $16.5 million lump sum.
The group was described in evidence as among the top 100 private companies in Business Review Weekly’s annual list.
The woman had told the court she had not received any income or capital payment from the estate of her late father.
However, the High Court agreed with the Full Family Court that there was nothing in the evidence to suggest that the owners of the business would not have complied with her father’s wishes if she had asked them to do so.
They had given her two luxury cars, suggesting they had a good relationship.
Four of the High Court judges said her argument that she was not able to support herself adequately had “an air of unreality”.
“Throughout the proceedings … the wife was on notice of the risk of a finding being made that she would have received the annual payment of $150,000 if she had asked,” the judges said.
“The fair inference is that she chose to run that risk, hoping that it would not eventuate and conscious that such evidence relevant to that finding as she might adduce would not assist her case.”
However, Justice Michelle Gordon disagreed, finding that the woman “had no right to any payment” from the business owners.
She said although they had given her gifts in the past, there was no evidence they had a “good relationship”.
She said the wife’s request for a copy of her father’s will had been rejected, and it was not until more than four years after his death that she learnt of his wishes during the proceedings against her former husband.”