Is domestic violence relevant in a property settlement?
Can a court adjust property in favour of victims of domestic violence?
Evidence of domestic violence during a relationship does not commonly influence the outcome of property settlements.
However, in some circumstances, domestic violence can be relevant to deciding the value of the contributions of a party who was a victim of that violence.
The relevant principle which was originally espoused in the case of Kennon, is as follows:
“where there is a course of violent conduct by one party towards the other during the marriage which is demonstrated to have had a significant adverse impact upon that party’s contributions to the marriage, or to put the other way, to have made his or her contributions significantly more arduous than they ought to have been, that is a fact which a trial judge is entitled to take into account in assessing the parties’ respective contributions within s79.”
In summary to the question, is domestic violence relevant in a property settlement, where one party’s contributions are made significantly more arduous due to the other party’s domestic violence, that party may be entitled to a greater share of the property pool.
The Kennon principle was recently considered in the case of Gillard & Gillard & Anor.
Case Study: Gillard & Gillard & Anor  FamCA 841
In the recent decision of Gillard & Gillard & Anor, the Family Court was required to determine an application for property settlement wherein Ms Gillard argued that she was entitled to a greater share in the property pool because her contributions were made significantly more arduous due to family violence.
In this case, Mr Gillard (66) sought a 50/50 division of the assets and Ms Gillard (64) sought a 70/30 division of the assets.
Both the children gave evidence of Mr Gillard’s violent history towards them and towards their mother. Ms Gillard’s treating psychiatrist also gave evidence that her exposure to domestic violence by Mr Gillard had been the primary cause for her depression and anxiety. The court found that Ms Gillard’s contributions as homemaker and parent were made significantly more arduous by reason of the family violence perpetrated on her by Mr Gillard and the resultant physical and psychological effects on her.
An adjustment was made on account of this of 7.5% in Ms Gillard’s favour.
Case Study: Friar & Friar and Anor  FamCA 689
In another recent case of Friar & Friar and Anor, the family court found evidence that there were violent assaults while Ms Friar was heavily pregnant with the parties’ children, threats to Ms Friar with both a knife and a gun, multiple allegations of rape, the wife was forced to strip naked in public under threat of violence to her extended family and was dragged by the hair and her hair was ripped out. Justice Murphy determined that the overall contributions were 60%/40% in Ms Friar’s favour as her contributions as homemaker and parent were made significantly more arduous by reason of her exposure to serious family violence and the impact of that violence upon her.
Take home message: is domestic violence relevant in a property settlement?
Unfortunately family violence is prevalent in many if not most matters before the family law courts.
Violence in a relationship is not usually enough to persuade a court to make an assessment of contributions in favour of the victim, being an assessment different to what it would have otherwise made if there was no violence.
However, were there is a course of violent conduct towards one party to a relationship, which has made that party’s contributions significantly more arduous, that is certainly a relevant factor which a court is entitled to take into account in assessing the quality and quantity of the parties’ contributions during the relationship to a pool of assets.
If you are a victim of family violence you should seek immediate advice from a family law expert.
Are you still wondering, is domestic violence relevant in a property settlement? The answer is, sometimes.
For more information regarding your rights and remedies, contact our Petrie family law expert Courtney Barton for advice on your specific circumstances.