James v James [2019] NZFC 2055

Published 29 March 2021

Relationship property division — family home — post-separation contributions — burden of childcare — abandonment of child— Property (Relationships) Act 1976, s 18— DPC v PMB [2013] NZFC 1105 — X v X [2009] NZCA 399 — Stapleton v Stapleton (2004) 23 FRNZ 314 — Loader v Loader [2013] NZFLR 553 — G v B FC New Plymouth FAM-2002-043-245, 1 December 2004 — JA v SNA [Economic disparity] [2008] NZFLR 297. Following the end of the parties' 13-year marriage in 2010 the respondent left New Zealand. Apart from an application for dissolution of the parties' marriage, the applicant did not hear from him again. The respondent also never again contacted the parties' child, who was 10 at the time of separation. The applicant tried to reach the respondent to divide their relationship property but he could not be contacted and eventually an order for substituted service via email was granted. He took no steps in the proceedings. The parties jointly owned a family home which the applicant and the child had occupied since separation. The applicant sought an award of post-separation contributions on three grounds: payment of rates and insurance, costs of childcare, and improvements she had made to the property. The Judge declined to make an award for rates and insurance paid by the applicant after separation as she had enjoyed full use of the property to the exclusion of the respondent. An award of $5000 was given for improvements she had made. She was also awarded $30,000 compensation for care of the parties' child post-separation. This was based on the fact that she had to support the child financially, emotionally and psychologically by herself after he was essentially abandoned by his father. Broken down, this amounted to payments of $417 per month. Given the applicant would be unlikely to recover this sum from the respondent, as well as the practical reality that the applicant wanted and needed the family home, this was to be paid by the applicant's portion of the family home being vested in the applicant. Judgment Date: 21 March 2019.