Farmers Wants a Wife is back on our televisions, and apparently the farmers want a wife. But what they may not realise is that what they might need, is a family lawyer. You see, these farmers have assets (and no I’m not talking about their RM Williams boots and hats). They have vast, expansive and beautiful farms, with quite large houses situated on them.
But what would happen if these farmers were to enter into a relationship with their chosen ladies from the show, those ladies were to move out to the farms, and subsequently, the relationship was to fail? Yes, they could always try their hand at another reality television dating show, but what would happen with the farms? Could the chosen ladies, to use the colloquial term, make a claim? And if they could, what would they get?
As is often the case with the law, the answer is, it depends. What does it depend on? Well, a number of different factors, including the length of cohabitation, the contributions both the farmer and the wife made to the property and any future needs both the farmer and wife may have.
Can they make a Claim?
The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) enables parties to seek a property settlement following the break down of a marriage or de-facto relationship. So the first two criteria which must be met are that the farmer and wife were either married, or in a de facto relationship, and that they have separated on a final basis. They do not need to be divorced.
A de-facto relationship exists where two people who are not married or related to one another live together, generally for a period of at least two years, and in all the circumstances are a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis. In determining whether two people were in a de-facto relationship the Court will look at the following:
- The duration of the relationship;
- The nature and extent of their common residence;
- Whether a sexual relationship exists;
- The degree of financial dependence or interdependence, and any arrangements for financial support, between them;
- The ownership, use and acquisition of their property;
- The degree of mutual commitment to a shared;
- Whether the relationship is or was registered under a prescribed law of a State or Territory as a prescribed kind of relationship;
- The care and support of children;
- The reputation and public aspects of the relationship.
In the event that the length of the relationship is less than two years, the Court can still make Property Orders under the Family Law Act, if the Court is satisfied that one or both parties made substantial contributions and therefore not making any Orders would cause an injustice to one or both parties.
What will they get?
Once it has been determined that the parties were married, or a de-facto relationship existed, or that Orders should be made regardless due to contributions, the Court looks at the contributions made by each party to determine what split of the asset pool they should each receive. This includes both financial contributions (purchasing of properties, paying mortgages and household bills, buying groceries etc) and non-financial contributions (cooking, cleaning, caring for the children etc).
How the Court views the contributions made by each party is generally impacted by the length of the relationship. In a long relationship the Court’s general view is that financial and non-financial contributions essentially equal each other. The Court would then consider adjustments to each party if they made significant contributions (for instance, owning an entire farm at the start of the relationship). In a short relationship however, the Court will look a lot more closely at the contributions each party made, and these contributions will not necessarily be considered equal.
Finally, the Court will consider any future needs each party may have. Relevant future needs considerations could include the age of the parties (for instance if they are nearing retirement), the health of the parties (for instance if they are not medically fit to work) and if either party has caring responsibilities for children that would impact their capacity to work.
What is the lesson here?
This article is not an attempt to dissuade farmers from pursuing relationships, afterall, life probably gets quite lonely on the land, particularly in Covid-19 times. Rather, this article is (hopefully) a summary of some complex legal questions people often have before starting a life with someone, and at the point of separation.
This article is not however a substitute for legal advice. Every situation, relationship and set of circumstances are different, and therefore what might happen in your family law matter could be very different to what might happen to any one of our handsome farmers. If you are at the point of commencing a cohabitation with a partner, or separating from a partner, you should as an initial step, seek legal advice from a family lawyer.
If you require any assistance with a family law matter, book an appointment with one of our experienced family law solicitors or give us a call on 02 4050 0330