Baumgartner v Baumgartner [1987] HCA 59 | 10 December 1987

ON THIS DAY IN 1987, the High Court of Australia delivered Baumgartner v Baumgartner [1987] HCA 59; (1987) 164 CLR 137 (10 December 1987).

The parties had lived together in a de facto relationship. They pooled their earnings to meet all outgoings of the joint relationship, including mortgage payments over the family home purchased with the husband as the only registered proprietor.

After about four years the relationship came to an end. The wife sought a declaration that she held an interest in the property in trust. The husband asserted that only he held the legal title to the house.

The court held that the wife held a beneficial interest in the property by way of constructive trust.

Per Mason CJ, Wilson and Deane JJ at 149:

“The case is accordingly one in which the parties have pooled their earnings for the purposes of their joint relationship, one of the purposes of that relationship being to secure accommodation for themselves and their child. Their contributions, financial and otherwise, to the acquisition of the land, the building of the house, the purchase of furniture and the making of their home, were on the basis of, and for the purposes of, that joint relationship. In this situation the appellant’s assertion, after the relationship had failed, that the Leumeah property, which was financed in part through the pooled funds, is his sole property, is his property beneficially to the exclusion of any interest at all on the part of the respondent, amounts to unconscionable conduct which attracts the intervention of equity and the imposition of a constructive trust at the suit of the respondent.”

The High Court declared that the parties hold beneficial interests in the property of 55% to the husband and 45% to the wife, subject to adjustments.


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