Property – increase in value of real estate – windfall or contribution

… Renovations that “came to nothing” were still contributions

In MacKinnon & Talbot [2023] FedCFamC1A 156 (19 September 2023) Riethmuller J, heard a de facto husband’s appeal from property orders made by Morley J.

The parties were in a de facto relationship of six years ([2]). The de facto wife owned two properties that were applied towards the purchase of other real estate (“the Suburb C property”).

The de facto husband undertook renovations on the Suburb C property for over 10 months that were unsuccessful and subsequently removed by a builder employed by the de facto wife ([7]). 

Riethmuller J said (from [29]):

“The appellant alleges the increase in the value of the Suburb C property, from $709,000 at the time of purchase to $1,725,000 at the time of trial, should be treated as a windfall and considered to be a contribution made equally by each of the parties. …

( … )

[31] To approach the matter [that way] … would be to quarantine one particular contribution and fail to consider the matter holistically … The … argument incorrectly attempts to convert the principle that increases in value should not simply be attributed to the title holding spouse … to some form of community property principle requiring the entire increase in value of an asset to be quarantined as an equal contribution of each party. It was clearly not a ‘windfall’ …

( … )

[36] There is no question that the appellant undertook work on the home nor that his efforts were genuine. … [N]ot all contributions by parties to marriages or de facto relationships lead to an increase in the wealth of the parties … There is no requirement that a contribution must result in a positive economic result before it can be taken into account … Whilst the lack of economic benefit may be relevant (Willmore and Willmore [1988] FamCA 45 … ), a party’s work and effort generally remains a contribution unless it is conduct of the type described in Kowaliw and Kowaliw [1981] FamCA 70”

His Honour re-exercised the discretion and ordered a 72.5:27.5 division in favour of the de facto wife. Costs certificates were ordered.

Craig Nicol and Keleigh Robinson are co-editors of The Family Law Book. Both are accredited specialists in family law (Queensland and Victoria, respectively). The Family Law Book is a one-volume loose-leaf and online family law service (

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