Australia: The family home and bankruptcy

The impact of the doctrine of exoneration.

The general rule in bankruptcy is that, under section 58 of the Bankruptcy Act 1966, a person's property upon becoming a bankrupt, including the family home, vests in the bankruptcy trustee. The bankruptcy trustee has certain duties to discharge including recovering property for the bankrupt estate's benefit. The bankruptcy trustee will need to turn their mind to section 116 of the Bankruptcy Act that provides limitations on what property the bankrupt holds is divisible among creditors. This is where dealing with jointly owned property (prior to bankruptcy) such as the family home can be tricky. Enter the doctrine of exoneration.

What is the doctrine of exoneration?

The principle of the doctrine of exoneration changes respective interests in real property ownership, depending on the conduct of one or more of its owners. For instance, when a joint owner of real property borrows funds and secures them against the real property and uses these funds for their own benefit at the exclusion of another owner. In applying the doctrine, each owner's interests in the property's equity is adjusted.

This can have a significant impact for a bankruptcy trustee particularly where, despite a bankrupt being a registered owner of real property with equity, they have no interest in that equity because they previously borrowed additional funds and secured them against the property. It frequently applies where a person has borrowed against the family home held jointly with someone else to fund a business, and the person who has benefited from the funds is subsequently faced with bankruptcy.

The doctrine is based on an inference with reference to all the matter's particular facts. Therefore, sufficient records that properly record and explain such borrowings is vital when a co-owner (the non-bankrupt) asserts a claim with the bankruptcy trustee.

When does the doctrine of exoneration apply?

The doctrine applies where a number of parties are registered owners of real property, but where borrowed funds secured against it are used for the benefit of some owners, but not all.

For example, Michael and Samantha who are husband and wife, own their home, subject to a mortgage. The mortgage is for the benefit of both of them. However, Michael takes out an additional loan for his own benefit, and secures it against the family home. Under the doctrine, Michael's additional loan is for his benefit alone, and Samantha's interest in the property's equity is adjusted to reflect this. The doctrine applies in any such similar instance between co-owners regardless of relationship status (i.e. marriage, de facto or familial relationship).

How does the doctrine of exoneration impact an interest in property?

Steve and Robin (husband and wife), own their family home as joint tenants. The house is worth $400,000. They bought the house with a joint loan secured by a mortgage on the property. They owe $100,000 under the mortgage.

Steve ran a business that Robin had no financial interest in. For the benefit of the business, Steve borrowed $200,000 with a loan secured against their home. Steve becomes bankrupt and the bankruptcy trustee is now required to consider what, if any, interest they have in the real property.

Firstly, the doctrine does not affect the mortgagee's rights. The mortgagee is entitled to the balance of the original loan to purchase the property of $100,000 and the subsequent loan of $200,000. Leaving aside the sale costs, $100,000 remains as the surplus sale proceeds.

In determining whether the doctrine applies, each party's intentions are considered. In this instance, because the business loan of $200,000 was solely for Steve's benefit, the doctrine applies and the allocation of the equity is adjusted in Steve's favour (such that Steve has accessed a portion of his equity in the family home). The allocation of equity and adjustment, would be as follows:

  • The balance of the original mortgage of $100,000 is applied first against the sale proceeds of $400,000, leaving a balance of $300,000.
  • Theoretically, the $300,000 is split equally between Steve and Robin, resulting in a split of $150,000 each.
  • But because the $200,000 business loan was solely for Steve's benefit, this is applied only against his interest in the property, which means his $150,000 allocation is extinguished.
  • Therefore all of the remaining equity in the real property (the $100,000) is entirely owned by Robin, and Steve in fact owes Robin $50,000, and she can prove in his bankrupt estate for this amount.

This scenario means that the bankrupt estate would receive nothing from the sale of the real property. This is compared to the outcome if the doctrine were not to apply, where the surplus funds, of $50,000 each, are split equally between Steve and Robin.

Conclusion

The doctrine of exoneration generally arises in situations where a property is used as security for a loan taken only by some of the owners, but all of the owners agree to use the property to secure the loan.

It is relatively common for the family home to be used as security to fund the working capital of a business however, if only one of the of the co-owners operates the business then they might be capable of asserting that the doctrine of exoneration applies and the bankrupt co-owner has accessed a portion of their equity.

It is essential that the documentation properly records and explains the borrowings made against the property and advances to the business are maintained to evidence the dealings and intentions of the parties to the property.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions