When a couple separates, there is always a potential for disputes over assets

Section 79 of the Family Law Act attempts to deal with how the financial assets of a couple are determined by an examination of both the direct financial contributions as well as indirect and non-financial contributions which have been provided by one or other spouse over the period of the relationship.

Direct contributions

Direct contributions, such as earnings, are usually the most important in any determination of the asset pool and how it should be distributed, but there are a number of important ways that each partner’s actions may have contributed indirectly to the size of that asset pool or to the way in which one member in the relationship was able to earn an income.

The nature of these indirect or non-financial contributions are very heterogeneous and include such things as gifts of money to one or other of the children, decorating the family home, landscaping it or improving it in one way or another.

Indirect financial contributions

Indirect contributions also may be considered when one partner has made it easier for the other to work for longer periods or earn more money because they are freed from ether homemaking and domestic chores or caring for children.

In all cases where indirect or non-financial contributions have been made, it is up to the court to interpret the relative contribution regarding how it has increased the common asset pool, the distribution of which is central to the financial dispute which has been brought before it. These contributions are not given a specific monetary value but must be considered when making a decision about the division of the asset pool.

One of the landmark rulings which has helped shape the law was the Whiteley case in 1992. The decision over the division of the property of Barry and Wendy Whiteley considered the considerable non-financial contributions of Wendy Whiteley to the success, and therefore the financial earnings, of her husband Barry, who worked as an artist.

The contributions were specified as her role throughout the marriage in supporting and encouraging her husband in his work as well as her contribution as an artistic model for her husband, business support, mother and homemaker.

Comments that had been made by Barry Whiteley acknowledging the role that his wife had made in the course of his artistic career were taken into consideration by the court in their assessment of the contributions made by Wendy Whiteley.