Claims The amended relationship property legislation introduced in 2002 signalled a shift in the way the law viewed relationships, by recognising that the contributions made by parties in a relationship are equal, particularly in the area of earning capacity. Where a relationship ends and one spouse earns considerably more than the other, section 15 of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 allows for the disadvantaged spouse to make a claim for compensation as a result of this “economic disparity”. Grounds for Economic Disparity The initial challenge is making out the grounds for an economic disparity claim. Firstly, the living standards and income of one spouse must be significantly higher than the other. What constitutes ‘significant’ is unclear as Court decisions vary. Secondly, the living standards and income must be due to the effects of the division of functions during the relationship. In most cases this has arisen due to one spouse sacrificing career advancement to remain at home to care for the children thereby allowing the other spouse to advance his or her career. Once the grounds have been made out, the Court has discretion as to whether it considers an award to be just in the circumstances and if it does, then the amount of compensation will need to be determined. This resolution may sound straightforward in theory. However, Court decisions regarding economic disparity claims have proved to be inconsistent. Even in cases where claims have been successful, awards have typically been conservative. As a result, it can be difficult to establish the grounds for economic disparity as it is unclear how much weight will be attached to any particular factor. Career or Family? The decision to advance one’s career or take a more domestic role is one that many people face when having families – but what are the consequences upon separation? In a recent Family Court case, a wife brought a claim for economic disparity for $686,000 on the basis that had she not given up work to care for the children she would be earning a similar income to her husband. The claim was initially rejected by the Family Court on the grounds that the economic disparity was caused by her own decision not to return to the workforce, rather than any real need for her to remain at home. The case was appealed to the High Court and the much awaited decision was released recently. On appeal, the High Court agreed that the division of roles within the marriage was a choice. However, the Court did not consider it appropriate to suggest a different choice could or should have been made. It found the division of roles within the marriage was the primary reason for the disparity in income. The Judge stated: “It is the classic case of a man being given full rein to develop his career and maximise his earning potential while his wife puts her career on hold. The causal link between the economic disparity and the division of roles in the marriage could not be clearer.” The case is currently being appealed to the Court of Appeal; however the High Court judgment sends a clear message that the decision to take a domestic role or advance one’s career is a choice. However, just because one spouse chooses to remain in a domestic role, despite other opportunities being available, does not mean they should be treated as the author of their own misfortune. After all, the purpose of the Act is to recognise equal contributions made by parties in a relationship and every type of contribution must be considered.