Special skills pertain to the particular skills of a person that contributed to the increase of the income of the relationship like entrepreneurial skills, business acumen, expertise, excellent performance at one’s work.
The claim of special skills in a property settlement process is a hotly contested issue in the field of family law in Australia. Special skills pertain to the particular skills of a person that contributed to the increase of the income or asset pool of the relationship. It is in the second step of the property settlement process that special skills become relevant.
Property settlement follows a four step process. The first step is identifying the assets and liabilities of the parties. The second step is to identify the financial and non-financial contributions of the parties. The third step is to identify the needs of the parties. Finally, the fourth step is to determine a just and equitable property settlement for each party.
In a property settlement case there are some parties who are claiming that their ‘special skills’ have significantly contributed to the increase of the asset pool of the parties. These ‘special skills’ may include entrepreneurial skills, business acumen, expertise, excellent performance at one’s work and exceptional homemaking.
Basically, the person who claims that he has special skills is doing so in order to get a higher or bigger share of the property settlement.It must be remembered that there is no legal basis for ‘special skills’. It is not mentioned in the Family Law Act 1975. What the law does mention are contributions that are financial, non-financial and homemaking.
The law has never mandated that those with ‘special skills’ should be awarded a more substantial property settlement than the other party. The notion of ‘special skills’ is not usually considered in a relationship of long duration. The traditional approach is that the courts would consider parties to have contributed equally in a long term relationship.
This is because during the long relationship the assets and contributions of the parties have already merged and combined such that their individual contributions may have increased or decreased by the joint efforts of the couple.
It is in a short term relationship that a party might be successful in his claim of ‘special skills’. One of the most common claims for ‘special skills’ allude to the entrepreneurial ability of a party. For example, a party will allege that his expert investment skills resulted to a huge sum of money.
The increase in wealth can be easily credited to a single party in a short duration relationship unlike if it is a long relationship wherein the increase can also be attributed to the other party’s contributions, current economy or just plain luck.
The law gives courts wide discretion in making a property settlement order. However, courts have always taken a conservative approach towards ‘special skills’ opting instead to treat it in the same way as other kinds of contributions. The danger with ‘special skills’ is that the homemaking contributions of the other party might be unfairly disregarded.
Unlike the matter of ‘special skills’, homemaking contribution is specifically named as one of the important considerations in a property settlement. So, the trend today is that while ‘special skills’ are acknowledged by the courts it is still fairly new territory and there is still no established doctrine for it.