The recent decision handed down in the John Hemmes case in NSW gives an indication of how the Courts are interpreting the rights of step-children and unacknowledged children in an Estates dispute.

John Hemmes died in March 2015. He had a very high profile in NSW as a fashion retailer via his Mr John and Merivale shops and brand and also as a night club and restaurant owner in partnership with his son Justin. Not as well know on in Victoria or elsewhere in Australia he was very well known in NSW and died with an Estate totalling more than $40m.

John Hemmes had a secret, a secret that was uncovered as a consequence of his death. John had married his wife Merivale in 1954 and they had two children Bettina and John.

However, in 1983 Mr Hemmes began an extra-marital affair with a lady called Fiona Cameron, they had a child named Cameron who is now aged 27. Mr Hemmes refused to provide any assistance to Ms Cameron and her child other than standard Child Support Payments.

The Court awarded Cameron be paid $1.75m from the Estate even though Mr Hemmes had made no provision for him in the Will. The Court found that the $1.75m was a payment for the “moral duty” to make provision for him, the size of the notional estate and Cameron’s aspirations.

Even though this is a small amount when compared to the size of the Estate and that Mr Hemmes specifically excluded Cameron from any payment, it shows that Courts are now more inclined to look at this “moral duty” with regard to extra-marital children.