Claims of hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid spousal maintenance in a brawl over a family empire have helped create one of the most complex legal cases.
Claims of hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid spousal maintenance in a brawl over a family empire have helped create one of the most complex legal cases.

Mammoth bill in millionaire family legal fight

A millionaire and his estranged wife are fighting one of Australia's costliest divorces that has left a seven figure legal bill amid claims he has failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in spousal support.

The Adelaide couple, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, have been embroiled in an acrimonious multimillion-dollar Family Court dispute for the past several years.

In a case described by a judge as among the most "complex" litigation of its kind, the parents are fighting over his fortune, the family empire, assets and other unpaid entitlements after settlement talks broke down.

Court documents state the pair enjoyed a "high standard of living" during their volatile relationship but have now spent more than $1 million on lawyers before any trial.

Despite enjoying a "lavish lifestyle", the husband allegedly owes at least $337,000 in "spouse maintenance" amid accusations he has failed to pay more than $2000 a week to his former wife.

The husband, who the judge said was fighting the case "ferociously", claims he has no income after his businesses faced "financial difficulty" due to the 2012 global financial crisis - problems his wife claimed are "contrived".

The successful, middle-aged businessman has been ordered to sell his Rolex watch - which he claimed he "mislaid" on an overseas holiday - as well as his white gold and diamond wedding ring to help repay his younger wife, who also now receives benefits.

The wife, whose lawyers are currently acting on a no-win, no-fee basis, has won legal access to more recent financial statements as the judge laid bare the couple's bitter fight.

She will receive financial help after the judge considered "the enormous disparity between the reality of the parties' financial positions, and the arguable merit of (her) case".

"If there is one thing that this litigation demonstrates, it is that the wife has faced implacable resistance at every turn," the judge said.

"It is not in contention that the husband continues to lead an extravagant lifestyle of luxury housing and expensive, exotic cars.

"Despite the husband being without income, he plainly has his lavish lifestyle funded by his father's largesse."

The businessman, who owns several luxury homes in affluent Adelaide suburbs, was paid $901,844 from the family company in 2015, according to latest records tendered in court. Receivers have also been called in but their $180,000 bill is also in dispute.

The wife has failed in her bid to sell his household contents including "items of value, but knives, forks, toothbrushes, pillows and the husband's personal clothing", the judge said.

The judge said that, as of March last year, the husband's spousal maintenance was in arrears $337,965.02. That bill is now likely considerably higher. "Unless he is successful in having the arrears … discharged, it is plain that the husband does not intend to make any effort whatsoever to make any payment towards the spouse maintenance arrears to the wife," the judge said.

"The husband's approach to the payment of the arrears is, at least, very casual. At worst, it is contemptuous."

Under strict federal laws, neither party can be named, nor have any personal background published that could identify them.

Their identities are also protected by a court-imposed pseudonym approved by Chief Justice William Alstergren.

The husband refused to comment while the wife was unavailable for comment last night. The case returns to court later this year.