In Higgins & Higgins a married man had been associating with an escort for some years while they were both living with their respective partners.
The parties met in 2006. Mr Higgins was 64 and Mrs Higgins was 31.
Mrs Higgins was charging Mr Higgins $275 per hour or $1,500 overnight for her services until late 2007 at which time Mr Higgins commenced supporting Mrs Higgins and her daughter financially. She was to provide him with “companionship” and “entertain him” in return however she continued working as an escort until 2010 as she considered some things Mr Higgins did “repulsive” but “needed the money to support my family”.
In 2010 Mrs Higgins agreed to move to Melbourne if Mr Higgins agreed to purchase her a house. Mr Higgins did not live with Mrs Higgins however lived nearby the $1.1m home he purchased for her which was paid for drawing down a loan from his company, PPL. Mrs Higgins signed a loan acknowledgement on her understanding that it was for tax purposes.
Mr and Mrs Higgins married in 2012 and separated in 2015 however they never lived together during their marriage. She lived, and continues to live, with her defacto partner.
Both parties agree that not long into the commercial arrangement things changed and the parties became “more intimate”. Tiffany spoke of no longer being paid as an escort by the hour because it was “inappropriate given the intimate nature” of their relationship. She asserts that this meant she suffered financially.
PPL sued to recover the amount drawn down from the company to purchase her property. She sought a declaration that the property was hers and also sought maintenance.
What the court decided
Cronin J found that Mrs Higgins spent time with Mr Higgins and as a consequence of this, she made sacrifices and endured his behaviour because he would buy her a house. The time she spent included talking with him each night that she was away from him and reassuring him of her interest in him by replying to his text and email messages. She bought him gifts but using his credit card. Throughout these periods apart, she continued to live with her partner and daughter which was always known to Mr Higgins.
Cronin J found that it would not be just and equitable to alter Mrs Higgins interest in her house on the basis that unconscionability could not arise as Mr Higgins ‘got what he bargained for’. Their relationship was deemed a commercial arrangement, one for Mr Higgins convenience.
The Court further said that Mr Higgins wanted Mrs Higgins close by to continue their arrangement which suited them both.
Mrs Higgins application for spousal maintenance was dismissed and she was ordered to repay the $180,000 paid as an interim property settlement which had been pursuant to previous orders made by consent.
Read the full decision on the AustLII website.