BY THE time she left her husband he had subjected her to years of ''horrendous'' violence.

Under family law provisions used only in exceptional cases, the domestic abuse she endured, and the post traumatic stress she suffered as a result, have been taken into account by a court when dividing the couple's property after their split.

The husband, known by the pseudonym Mr Fairchild, spent 4⁄ years in jail between 1999 and 2009. He assaulted his partner, stalked and threatened to kill her, and breached 22 protection orders.

 

The pair had been together for seven years when they married in 2003, a fortnight after his release from his second stint in prison. They bought a house in Victoria in joint names, but separated in 2005 after he went back to jail.

Mr Fairchild was still in custody when he launched an action in the Federal Magistrates Court, seeking $154,500 from his former partner - half the equity in their former marital home. Instead, she was ordered to pay $100,425.

A court considers each party's contribution, financial or otherwise, to the acquisition and upkeep of the home when making property settlements.

Mr Fairchild had paid more than his wife towards the purchase of their home. But her lawyers argued that the ''continuous and ongoing'' violence to which he subjected her made her contributions much more onerous.

A landmark 1997 Family Court case established that when one party's conduct made their partner's contributions ''significantly more arduous than they ought to have been'', the trial judge can take that into account, but only in exceptional circumstances.

The federal magistrate Evelyn Bender was satisfied that the violence in the Fairchilds' relationship made it an exceptional case.

''The horrendous ongoing violence to which the wife was subjected at the hands of the husband is such that her contributions to the family and maintenance of the home were made greatly more arduous,'' she said. ''The husband's initial greater contribution is outweighed by the wife's subsequent contributions.''

Ms Fairchild suffered flashbacks, insomnia and agoraphobia because of her husband's violence and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress. Ms Bender found her capacity to work was limited and further adjusted the property settlement in her favour.

She ordered that Ms Fairchild should receive 67.5 per cent of the property pool.

Women subjected to domestic violence are generally disadvantaged in property disputes. Past research has shown that the need to escape the violence often takes priority over obtaining a fair share of the marital property.

Yega Muthu, a law lecturer at the University of Technology in Sydney, said post traumatic stress disorder was not uncommon among victims of domestic violence, but it was unusual for it to be factored into the distribution of marital property.

The judgment showed that as well as facing criminal prosecution, violent partners could lose out financially in family law disputes, he said. ''It doesn't matter how much you contribute; if you've behaved in a criminal or violent manner towards your wife, then that's one of the things the court takes into account.''