Former husband must pay for wife’s career change

career-changeHER former husband thought she was perfectly capable of supporting herself as a legal secretary or personal assistant after their marriage broke down. 

But having emerged from the ”long, expensive and fraught litigation” that followed their separation, the woman wanted nothing more to do with lawyers or the law – and the Family Court has ordered her former husband pay her $1000 a week while she retrains for another career.

The order came as Justice Stuart Fowler determined a property settlement for the Sydney pair who, for legal reasons, cannot be named.

As a high-earning professional, the husband took home almost $2 million, including a six-figure bonus, in the last financial year. After their split he moved out of the $2.7 million matrimonial home and into another property worth more than $1.1 million, which he bought without his wife’s knowledge before their separation. It was intended as an investment property if the marriage lasted; instead, he lived there with his children as their primary carer.

His former wife hoped to earn up to $50,000 annually working in community services and wanted him to support her financially for two years while she obtained her qualifications.

He objected, arguing that she was employable and could return to her former career as a legal secretary or personal assistant, earning up to $75,000 annually. Her choice of occupation was effectively ”a luxury she cannot afford and which would be at his cost”, he said.

But Justice Fowler noted that the woman ”says she has had enough of the law and lawyers for the time being”.

She told the court the distress of the marriage breakdown and subsequent litigation have made her averse to ”having anything further to do with employment in the legal profession”.

More than two years after the couple separated, after costly proceedings in the Family Court, a judge made parenting orders for the care of their children.

”Given the history of this matter and its attendant costs, one can understand from her point of view that she would wish to distance herself from that profession,” Justice Fowler said.

Her decision not to pursue her former career was not unreasonable, he said, and he ordered the husband to pay her $1000 a week for two years while she retrained.

Parramatta Family Law Courts volunteers

Parramatta Family Law Courts

Margaret Russo, Dulcie Court, Margaret Wigmore, Judith Cook. PICTURE: PHIL ROGERS

FOR more than 25 years, volunteers at the Parramatta Family Law Courts have lent an ear to those in need. 

Now, as many of the mature-age helpers decide to retire, there is a genuine fear that the group’s dwindling numbers will leave visitors and their families without support.

For Paul Le Large, the contribution of the mature-age volunteers within the court complex is vital.

“On a busy day, there could be about 50 to 100 people who just want to have a chat or a cup of coffee and their demeanour toward the volunteers has always been of deep gratitude,’’ he said.

“They really respect them for the care they are showing.’‘

The Parramatta Family Law Courts comprise the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and are a busy hub of activity with dozens of cases seen each day.

There are three volunteer groups at the court but the most short-staffed is the Interdenominational Parramatta Family and Local Court Support Group.

For its 70-plus members the task of assisting those in need is becoming harder each day.

“We need about 100 people to properly provide the care we want to, but we’re running short,’’ said volunteer Margaret Wigmore.

“Our core role is to provide tea and coffee facilities, a smiling face and an ear for those in distress.’‘

The volunteer services at the court began more than 25 years ago in reaction to a lack of support and positivity in a place that sought to resolve often stressful and upsetting family disputes.

Today, volunteers come to court for one day every month and donate about three hours of their time.

“Many of the volunteers started in their 50s when their children finished school and now they are in their 70s and 80s and can’t keep up with it all. But the demand for services is still there.’‘

Volunteer Justice of the Peace Rosslyn Fowler, 75, comes into the Parramatta Family Law Courts every Friday.

“Not only is it a good community service but once you retire you feel you aren’t part of the community any more. I value coming here and I would say to anyone who is retired that this is an important place for those with time on their hands to give back to the community,“ she said.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at the Family Law Courts, please contact Paul Le Large on 9893 5504.