January 31, 2017


A Federal Court Judge was unimpressed when a divorcing couple made competing claims for household possessions including a $10 print of the Mona Lisa. This case is a good reminder to parties involved in family law property disputes to think carefully about the items that they wish to contest.


The husband and wife had been married for 8 years. They had separated and in the process of finalising their property issues, there was a trial in the Federal Court. Neither the husband nor wife was represented by lawyers.

They had both filed a huge amount of documents in support of their own arguments.

Among the items in dispute were:

  • A print of the painting Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci, valued at $10.
  • An outdoor heater valued at $80.
  • A ride-on mower which the wife said was worth $1,200 but which the husband claimed was broken and worthless.
  • Bricks and pavers which the wife said were valued at $2,000 but which the husband said were worth $400.


The Judge commented that it was a difficult task to try and assess the property pool. Among the issues were:

  • Both parties had produced such a huge amount of affidavit material and financial and property tables that the Judge could not make sense of it all.
  • Neither party had sourced expert valuations.
  • Neither party had produced enough evidence to prove their financial positions at the start of the marriage.

The judge said that there was an “incredible imprecision of evidence” and that many of the claims were of no or little value. There were no details about purchase prices or where the money came from. He said that having to decide on these things was a waste of Court time.

The Judge also said that the assets were valued at “absurdly small amounts” and that no party to a court action should expect a court, especially one with such a large caseload, to decide on how to deal with an “asset valued at $10.00 or $80.00 or even $1,000.00.”

He also said that

The public would be entitled to complain if it knew that the public purse was being consumed by a Commonwealth funded judge being required by [parties] to make determinations about assets of ridiculously small amounts.”

What does it mean?

The Judge made it clear that courts will not tolerate parties in family law cases who conduct themselves in such a way. Even though these parties were unrepresented, they needed to do more to assist the court, for example:

  • Present evidence in a way that was easier for the Court to use.
  • Get expert valuations.
  • Provide documents such as proof of purchase receipts.
  • Agree how to deal with smaller items rather than waste the Court’s time.

The evidence needed to get straight to the point and be presented in an organised manner.

But most importantly, this case is a reminder to anyone involved in a family law property settlement that there is no value in arguing over small items. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and in the end is not helpful.

A property settlement can be a long and stressful process and it can be difficult to keep your cool and keep everything in perspective. An experienced family lawyer can help you to sort out what’s important and make sure that you have great advice every step of the way.

Websters Lawyers have a team of family lawyers with great experience and knowledge. Contact us today for a free first interview.

Noakes & Fadden [2016] FCCA 3134 (6 December 2016)