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Case study: Protecting a divorcee's entitlements

Shine Lawyers has assisted a woman who was denied her share in the family property and business after her marriage broke down.

During the marriage, our client, her husband and their three sons lived and worked on a property outside of Rockhampton running the farming enterprise and spraying business owned by her husband’s parents.

Our client also worked in other employment to support the family by providing the sole reliable income and to limit their drawings from the business. Our client was made a partner in the family partnership, a director of the spraying business and a beneficiary in the family trust. She was also written into the family will in recognition of her commitment to the business and her willingness to share personally in the associated debt.

Following the separation, our client was assured by her husband and his parents that she would be looked after financially. She was then approached by her father-in-law who made her a low ball, ‘take it or leave it’ offer, conditional on her not obtaining legal advice.

We began acting for this lady in 2010 and argued that she was entitled to a share of the $5.8 million net family property that she’d lived and worked on for decades.

Despite various challenges, including our client’s father-in-law and mother-in-law fighting vigorously to have copies of the original family will suppressed, we were successful in proving that our client was entitled to a share in the property. Our client was awarded $500,000. The defendants have appealed and a decision in the appeal is pending.

In this matter, the Court has broken through strict legal distinctions between personal ownership, partnerships and a discretionary trust, resulting in significant implications for family businesses.

Opportunities may exist for clients in similar situations to challenge what might appear to be solid legal structures designed to deny them their rightful entitlements. Each situation will be different and it is therefore important to consult lawyers with the expertise and know-how in relation to these difficult and complex areas of law.


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Written by Jan Saddler and Mary-Anne Ole

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: September 7, 2017.

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