Supreme Court departs from 50/50 rule in lawyer’s divorce case

David Goddard QC had acted for the wife known only as Ms Scott.

In a win for women who stay home, the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a woman known only as Ms Scott, in a landmark relationship property case.

The five judges of the top court were asked how to divide property between Mr Williams, a partner at a law firm, and Ms Scott, who also trained as a lawyer. The names used in the decision are not the parties’ real names.

Ms Scott had spent much of her married life caring for the couple’s two children and supporting her husband at home and at work doing accounting services and legal work.

During their marriage the pair had built up a substantial pool of assets including a Remuera property which was subdivided into two, three commercial properties in New Lynn, a half share in another commercial property, a beach house in Omaha, a half share in a Fiji property and another property in Auckland, and Mr Williams’ interest in the law firm.

By the time the case had reached the Supreme Court the remaining outstanding issues were an order over the Remuera homes, the value of his business, and a lump sum payment under section 15 of the act.

While there is a presumption under the current law that when couples break up assets will be split 50/50, section 15 of the Property (Relationships) Act can award lump sum payments or the transfer of property to redress economic disparity.

This can happen when one person in the relationship builds up their career while the other stays home and supports the family.

Applying section 15, the Family Court had ordered Mr Williams pay Ms Scott $850,000, while the High Court changed the order to $280,000. The Court of Appeal had revised this to $470,000.

In this nation’s top court, a majority of Justice Susan Glazebrook, Justice Terence Arnold and Justice Mark O’Regan said the order should be $520,000. The chief justice Sian Elias thought the question should go back to the Family Court, while Justice William Young thought that the order should be $188,000.

On the Remuera properties issue, all five judges were in agreement that the Family Court order that Ms Scott keep the Remuera properties should remain. A majority of the court also agreed with the lower courts’ approach that the valuation of the legal practice should be restored.

The ruling comes as the Law Commission continues to consult on whether the current law achieves a just division of property when a relationship ends.

Public consultation is open until February 2018, with a final report to the government due in November 2018.


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4 Comments & Questions

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It's enough to put one off having kids, you would think. But alas they're still banging them out like there's no tomorrow. Good luck to them, they'll need it.

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What a great earn !
A No stress all expenses and holidays paid life with guaranteed tax free compensation for income you might "possibly" haven earned from a profession you chose to leave in order to have kids because you had had a gutsfull of the profession. Better than winning lotto
My problem with it is that I was born the wrong sex

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Moral of the story, stay single and avoid the money grabbing lawyers like the plague. The lawyers have made the price of true romance truly unacceptable.
The legal profession have the major input in drafting our relationship laws and do so in such a way that their involvement is "block chained" every step of the way, and once they are in.. A seriously nice earner.
A poultry 3 years sees you sign half your hard earned away, (family home), whether there are or aren't kids involved.
Contract out, they say. These get challenged (yeah great again for the legal fraternity), harsh and unconscionable terms etc etc, not to mention the danger of your life savings in your main asset, your house falling into the dangerous family home legal black hole. I did dishes and watered the petunias, and scrubbed the toilet once while we were together I deserve half of that.

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His and Hers,Hers and His. The general rule of thumb in any relationship.
A learned Judge once ruled that Equality was Equity. That meant the stay at home half of the two part relationship,were eligible for the same benefits whether they went to work or not. In this particular case the learned Judge ruled that the stay at homehalf were there to raise the offspring of the relationship.He then ruled that both parties were in fact equal for claims for matrimonial property settlements and ruled accordingly.
Now this new case seems to contradict the previous rulings by another judge ,on a different time ,and on a different case.
Sounds now that there cant be a precedent in law,and each claim in the future will have to be on its merits.Also much fun and games and cost up ahead for many claiments wanting a quick result.

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