The recent separation of technology mogul, Bill Gates, and his former wife, Melinda Gates, after 27 years of marriage, highlights the increasing trend of ‘grey divorce’ cases. The average age of divorcees in Australia is gradually rising, which is disrupting the retirement plans of many Australians who, after decades of marriage, did not expect to find themselves starting over independently at a later point in life.

In the unique case of Bill and Melinda Gates, who are worth over $100 billion dollars, they have contractually ended their relationship whilst committing to working together at the Gates Foundation.

Divorcing later in life or after a significant period of marriage is particularly complex, therefore it is important that you consult with an accredited Family Law specialist, such as Etheringtons Solicitors.

Dividing assets upon divorce

Dividing the assets of any marriage puts a mental and emotional strain on all parties involved. If you are of older age and have left the workforce, you may face more angst about how you will financially recover. The most valuable assets to divide are often the family home and superannuation. Bill and Melinda have substantially more assets than the norm, but despite their wealth, they are still seeking a division of joint assets in accordance with their separation agreement.

In matters where a couple divorces later in life, normally this will not require a child custody or maintenance determination, and the separation of assets can instead focus on protecting their children’s inheritance. Etheringtons Solicitors can assist couples with splitting joint assets in accordance with each party’s contributions through a Consent Order, where a formal written agreement can be made between the parties, or through a Court Order.

Contributions to the marriage

Throughout a long marriage, each party will make different financial and non-financial contributions to the relationship, which must be assessed when dividing the assets in the event of a relationship breakdown according to section 79 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). In many long-term relationships, there is a presumption will be made that the parties contributed equally. According to this presumption, the party’s assets are usually split evenly between them, and then necessary adjustments are made to take into account other factors (such as spousal maintenance or family violence). In long-term relationships, it is common for one party to make a greater financial contribution, while the other party makes a greater homemaking and parenting contribution, and this presumption recognises that both equally necessary to the successful functioning of a marriage.

However, every case must be considered independently and there are exceptions to this presumption where one party has:

  • Brought considerably greater assets to the relationship than the other;
  • Contributed substantially more via inheritance, gift or other settlement;
  • Demonstrated special skills or talents which have brought in substantial assets throughout the relationship; or
  • Behaved in a deliberate or reckless manner resulting in loss.

These factors recognise that while a long-term relationship is ideally an equal partnership of shared contributions, there are circumstances where it would be inequitable to grant a 50/50 division of the assets.

How Etheringtons Solicitors can help

A solicitor at Etheringtons Solicitors can provide you with clarification of the relevant law surrounding divorce and separation and its application to your individual circumstances. If you need further advice or assistance with a family law matter, please contact one of our experienced solicitors on (02) 9963 9800 or via our contact form.