A recent case in the family court involving spousal support is a good reminder that being granted spousal maintenance is not a given. Even if your ex-partner appears to have the capacity to pay, he or she won’t be forced to pay spousal support if the court deems you have the earning capacity to be able to support yourself.
Though all family court cases are unique, some are more unique than others. The facts of this case are quite salacious—the judge calling the circumstances “unusual” and “curious”— namely, involving a sex worker who married and divorced one of her longtime clients, and was now seeking spousal support.
Though the woman claimed during the proceedings that the man had actually “repulsed” her, at some stage there had been a romantic relationship which the man characterised as a “deep relationship of love and affection” and which led to a brief marriage, though they never lived together. (The woman was living with a de facto partner, the father of her child.)
Eventually the wealthy man bought his lover a $1.12 million house and himself a similar home nearby. The proceedings revolved to a large extent around the issue of whether the money for the woman’s home was a loan or a gift. (You can read our previous blog on loans and gifts here.)
The man sought to have the house transferred back to him, but the woman cross-claimed that the home was hers and further, that the man should pay her spousal support in a lump sum of $341,978. Not only was the woman’s application for spousal support rejected, but she was also ordered to repay the man $180,000, which will likely mean the sale of her house.
The couple, identified only by pseudonyms Mr and Ms Higgins, first met in 2006 aged 64 and 31 when she was charging $1500 a night as an escort. Their commercial relationship eventually turned into a “friendship”, and she ceased charging an hourly rate.
Throughout this phase of their relationship, Mr Higgins “feted” Ms Higgins by buying her clothes and shoes, paying for her Botox treatments, breast enlargement and lip injections. He also paid for her rent, clothing for her daughter and on occasion school fees, despite Ms Higgins living in a de facto relationship with the father of her daughter.
The woman told the court:
“He repulsed me in every way, but the life I led supported my family and I endured what the applicant did to me for the benefit of my [family],” she told the court. “I needed the money to support my family.”
She estimated that her income now is just $294 per week while her weekly spending is $2,625. But rather than order the ex-lover to pay the shortfall:
Justice Cronin said when people who live in expensive houses cannot support themselves, they “presumably rationalise their capital positions and live within their means”.
While the woman argued she had become dependent on the man, the judge remarked:
“Her dependence was a choice with which both parties were content”… “For so long as she kept him content, she benefited through the payment of her rent, various sums of money and gifts.”
Ultimately, the court found the woman had not given any consideration to “endeavours to obtain positions that might have been entirely within her skills and capacity, whatever they were”, and that there was no reason she could not find work of some kind.
Do you need assistance preparing a claim for spousal support, or another family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.