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Special Contributions and Family Law: Hoffman and Hoffman [2014] FAMCAFC 92

Hoffman and Hoffman [2014] FAMCAFC 92 was an appeal to the Full Court of the Family Court of Australia after a Federal Magistrate had determined an approximately $10 million property division between a husband and wife of 50:50.

The husband appealed this decision on the basis that the Federal Magistrate was bound to apply the principle of “special contributions”. The husband argued that the failure to consider this was an error of law and “that his “special skills and entrepreneurial flair” in property “acquisition, development and value adding” were instrumental in the parties having the real property which they did at the time of trial.” Hoffman at [7].

This appeal was dismissed by the Full Court of the Family Court, finding that there is no binding rule of law about “special contributions”. The Full Court highlighted the statement by Fogarty J in In the Marriage of Waters and Jurek (1995) FLC 92-635 that “homemaker contributions are to be given as much weight as those of the primary breadwinner.” Hoffman at [50].

The Full Court deemed that “there is no principle or guideline (or, indeed, anything else emerging from s 79), that renders the direct contribution of income or capital more important – or “special” – when compared against indirect contributions and, in particular, contributions to the home or the welfare of the family.” Hoffman at [52].

O’Ryan J’s finding in D & D [2005] FamCA 1462 – that “…the notion of special contribution has all been a terrible mistake … what I have to do is identify and assess the contributions made by each of the parties without any presumption of entitlement” – was seen to be the true position of the Court. The Court stated that their task is to “make findings as to the nature, form, characteristics and duration of each and all of the contributions made by each of the parties referenced to s 79(4).” Hoffman at [61]. The significance of the marriage’s duration was highlighted as a crucial factor influencing the evidence relevant to determining each party’s contributions.

The Court highlighted the extraordinarily wide discretion inherent in s 79 (4) of the Family Law Act 1975. Each case is considered by the Court individually, with the intention to do what is just and equitable in the unique situations of each case.

The process of property settlement can be complex, stressful and have significant financial consequences. Brander Smith McKnight’s family lawyers have the legal expertise and experience to guide you through this process and assist you in getting a fair outcome.

For more information or if you seek any assistance, please contact our office.

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