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Family Law in Canberra – Breadwinners vs homemakers: who contributed more?

By February 24, 2015No Comments

It can be confusing to know how different contributions to a relationship are assessed in family law property matters.  Sometimes people are under the impression that financial contributions by the main ‘breadwinner’ are likely to be viewed as more important than contributions made by the homemaker and/or full-time parent. Other people think they need to prove how much of their taxable income went to family needs versus the other parent’s. However, this is not in fact how the courts have typically assessed contributions.

In relationships where one person has earned the majority of the income, while another person has been the stay-at-home parent or homemaker (or simply earned less because they are in a lower-paying industry), it has long been regarded as being unfair if the breadwinner was to be given a financial advantage on divorce, when he or she has only actually been able to go out and work thanks to the non-financial contribution of the homemaker. Further, some industries such as the banking sector simply pay more than other industries such as the cleaning or childcare sector. As such, the indirect contributions made as a homemaker and/or parent, and the financial contributions of a lower-earning spouse have been viewed in the courts as being equal to contributions made by a main breadwinner. Both of you simply made your best efforts for the family unit, and you divided up your roles. Overall, it was a team effort.

However, note that in some special caes, there is a potentially different view of how these contributions are assessed. In a recent case (Ritter & Ritter), the court viewed one party’s contribution as being superior to the other party because the main breadwinner was also found to have also done the majority of homemaker and parenting work.   

While all contributions made—financial or non-financial—are clearly valuable, couples might wish to consider the outcome of the Ritter case when they are deciding how to arrange their affairs. Proving who has performed more domestic duties is a difficult thing to assess objectively and often relies on one word against the other, with the courts tasked with determining which story is the more credible. However, if one party is to stay at home and look after children by agreement in a marriage, they should not be disadvantaged in terms of what percentage of the property pool they would receive on divorce. If, however, you are staying ‘home with the kids’ but also employing nannies, gardeners, cleaners, pool staff, personal assistants and so on, then the court is likely to query what the stay at home mum may have contributed.

For advice on how various contributions to a relationship are assessed in family law property settlements, and whether a pre-nup (called a binding financial agreement) might be useful in ensuring that regardless of what role is played, that the outcomes are pre-determined , please contact one of the friendly solicitors here at Alliance Family Law for an initial no-obligation 30 minute chat.


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