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Singer Vanessa Amorosi’s family property dispute highlights risks of casual agreements

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Attwood Marshall Lawyers Commercial Litigation Senior Associate Georgia Taylor looks at Australian singer Vanessa Amorosi’s legal dispute with her mother over the ownership of two properties which was ventilated before the Supreme Court of Victoria, reinforcing the pitfalls of informal “kitchen agreements” and how common it is for casual agreements over property to be misconstrued among families.

Late in 2023, Popstar Vanessa Amorosi commenced Court proceedings against her mother over the ownership interests of two properties, one located in Melbourne, Victoria and the other in California, USA.

Amorosi took the witness stand in October 2023 to give evidence before the Supreme Court of Victoria to explain her version of the agreement which has landed the family embroiled in litigation.

The properties were allegedly purchased at the height of Amorosi’s fame in early 2001. Amorosi’s mother, Joyleen Robinson, contends via a counterclaim, that she and Amorosi made a “kitchen agreement” wherein the two of them would buy the Victorian property, and that Ms Robinson would repay her share of the purchase price to Amorosi should she ever require the money.

Ms Robinson then stated that she did repay the money in 2014, after selling another asset for $710,000 because Amorosi was “struggling” at the time.  

The home in California, USA is currently held by a trust which is indebted to a bank. Amorosi is not the controller of the trust and the trustee is listed as her stepfather Peter Robinson who allegedly knew nothing of the 2001 agreement.

From the point of purchasing the property in 2001 until around 2015, there was no formal or notable informal documentation which set out the terms of the agreement between Amorosi and her mother.

However, the confusion over the final terms of their kitchen agreement has led to a protracted and costly legal battle in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Amorosi is now seeking relief from the Court by way of a constructive trust and ancillary orders for the property to be sold, or in the alternative, a resulting trust and for her to benefit financially from the sale.

Unfortunately, Amorosi is not alone in experiencing this kind of dispute. Claims in equity over property through informal arrangements, typically of family or close friends, is unfortunately a regular feature on the court list and often require the courts intervention, or in the most extreme cases, determination.

What can the court do in these situations?

Order a constructive trust

A constructive trust is a legal remedy open to the court when someone believes they should have a legal interest in a property when they’re not the registered owner.

A declaration for a constructive trust can be sought in scenarios where a property or part of a property has been promised to an individual, or where that individual ought to have been a legal owner but is not due to unconscionable conduct or in extreme cases, fraud.

A constructive trust is focused on fairness and justice and recognises when a property or part of a property has been taken away from an individual unconscionably. It is the court’s way of making things fair by acknowledging an individual’s rightful interest in a property, whether they are a legal owner or not.

Order a resulting trust

A resulting trust, meanwhile, acknowledges an individual’s implicit ownership in a property when they have contributed to the purchase or improvement of the property, without being named on the title where there was an intention they would have an ownership interest.

The intention of the arrangement is vital for the court to assess, whether the individual who is not listed as a legal owner has a rightful claim to part or all of the property.

The importance of a written contract cannot be understated

The Amorosi family dispute provides a poignant reminder to ensure that agreements, particularly concerning property are properly and clearly documented.

Although trust within a family unit may be incredibly strong, when it comes to property and financial matters, it is necessary to clearly document the agreement and ensure all parties understand their rights and obligations.

This area of law has been subject of extensive and historical litigation that continues to evolve. If a dispute lands in court, any decision will turn on the facts of that specific case.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping make property transactions seamless and resolving disputes effectively

At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we have dedicated commercial litigation lawyers who understand the complexities of property law and the wide range of issues that can arise during the process of buying and selling real estate.

One of the ways you can protect yourself and your interest in a property dispute is to reach out to a solicitor who knows what they are doing to obtain some preliminary advice and to find out where you stand and the best path forward.

For more information, please contact our Commercial Litigation Department Manager, Amanda Heather on direct line 07 5506 8245, email aheather@attwoodmarshall.com.au or free call 1800 621 071.

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Georgia Taylor - Senior Associate - Commercial Litigation, Racing & Equine Law

Georgia Taylor

Senior Associate
Commercial Litigation, Racing & Equine Law

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Disclaimer
The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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