As police, advocates, social workers, and mental health professionals all can attest, domestic violence takes a tremendous toll on victims. In addition to lasting physical and emotional scars, it often creates financial hardship as well. In some cases, this is because the physical injuries inflicted by perpetrators render the victim incapable of working or unwilling to do so. In some cases, the victims can and do work, but the abuse they’ve suffered affects their job performance. This in turn can lead to disciplinary action or termination. Finally, domestic violence can also make it harder for the victim to find gainful employment.
Even so, the ways in which domestic violence affects property settlements in divorce can vary greatly depending on the specific circumstances of each case. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this complicated, yet important issue.
A benchmark case
The Full Court of the Family Court set legal precedence for the consideration of domestic violence as a factor in property settlement claims with its ruling in In the Marriage of Kennon. In this particular matter, the divorcing couple had been married for four years and did not have any children.
The court ruled in pertinent part: “… where there is a course of violent conduct by one party towards the other during the marriage which … [has] had a significant adverse impact upon that party’s contribution to the marriage, or, … [has] made his or her contributions significantly more arduous than they ought to have been, … [this can be taken] into account in assessing the parties’ respective contributions within s 79.“
The court added that there must be evidence that the violence “occurred during the course of the marriage and had a discernible impact” on the victim’s contributions in order to be “relevant.”
When all was said and done, the court did amend the property settlement in the wife’s favour because of the extent to which domestic violence affected her contributions. However, the specific percentages associated with the adjustments are unknown.
Because the decision set a legal precedence, adjustments to property settlements based on similar findings are now called “Kennon” adjustments.
Quantifying the effects of domestic violence
In ensuing cases, the court has tried to calculate values for adjustments based on the impact that the domestic violence had on the victim’s contributions. In a case styled as Kozovska & Kozovski, the court adjusted the assets meant for the wife by 10 percent. They did so based on the domestic violence she endured at her husband’s hands, and the resulting impact on her contributions. In another case, Dixon & Dixon, the assets allocated to the wife were adjusted by 20 percent. This adjustment was also attributed to the impact the domestic violence she endured had on her contributions.
Another case in point
For clarification, let’s consider another case.
In this particular matter, the husband and wife were both in their 40s and had been together for nine years. The wife had two kids, both of whom were teenagers, from a prior relationship. The couple’s asset pool consisted of a house valued at $470,000. Both parties claimed that they made initial contributions, although the husband disputed his wife’s assertion on this point. The parties also disagreed on the use and the amount of compensation received after the husband was injured in a serious motor cycle accident.
However, the real issue at the crux of the matter was the wife’s assertion that she and her children were victims of ongoing violence throughout the relationship. The husband denied any physical violence occurred. After the couple separated, the husband breached the Intervention Order his wife sought because of the domestic violence. He ultimately went to prison for more than three years for violating the Intervention Order and other offences. Soon after he got out of prison, he again breached the Intervention Order by calling and threatening his wife.
Based on the evidence presented, the court awarded a 7.5 percent adjustment to the wife. This was because the domestic violence perpetrated by her husband made it harder for her to continue contributing to the household. The court also made a 10 percent adjustment in the wife’s favour because she was solely responsible for caring for the kids, and the effects of the abuse limited her ability to work.
There’s always an exception…
Of course, there are always exceptions to the “rules.” Take the matter of Belmore & Belmore , for example. In this particular Family Court case, the husband and wife had been married for more than 30 years and had several children. Of significance here is that the husband was convicted of a serious assault on his wife and punished accordingly, and there was evidence of additional domestic violence. Even so, the court did not feel it could justify an adjustment in favour of the wife based on Kennon.
Here’s why. The most serious assault, which resulted in the husband’s incarceration, occurred after he and his wife separated. Only violence that occurs while the couple is together can be used as the basis for a claim for a property settlement adjustment based on Kennon.
Clearly, this is an important but complicated issue. If you have been the victim of domestic violence, you are getting divorced and you are concerned about how the violence could affect your property settlement, getting the proper legal advice is essential. Contact our Gold Coast lawyers by phone, email or through our website, today.