Two teenage sisters have successfully sued their father for the return of $20,000 worth of pocketmoney they earned from their grandparents.
Ellisha and Amanda Basher, now aged 18 and 15, worked as young children in their maternal grandparents' joinery business doing odd jobs on weekends and school holidays over several years.
The Napier pair each had a bank account that their father, Wayne Basher, deposited their pay cheques into.
When mother Karleen died of breast cancer in 2005, family relationships deteriorated, with the girls and their grandparents on one side and Wayne Basher on the other. The grandparents got custody of the girls.
Ellisha said that in 2008, she and her sister discovered their bank accounts were empty; Ellisha was missing $11,154 and Amanda $9226.
When asked about the money, Wayne sent them an email saying: "The money in the savings account WILL be returned upon Ellisha turning 25, not BEFORE!!"
He went on to explain the money was intended for when the girls were "old enough to act more mature and know how to handle money". He said he removed the money as Ellisha was about to turn 15 and would have become legally able to withdraw it, so he took it out first and put it in another, untouchable, account.
A court judgment released last week said Basher later changed his position, saying he was "under no obligation to account to his daughters for the monies in the accounts".
"He said he had used the money in those accounts for their benefit, and it was quite proper for him to have done so," the judgment said.
He later offered to pay the girls $1500 each when they turned 20.
Ellisha said her father fought them "at every single step".
Fortunately, the grandparents kept "careful business and banking records" that detailed what each girl had been paid during their childhoods.
The court ruled that, "Put simply, it is not his money and now the time has come for him to return it to his rightful owners."
Basher appealed to the High Court, arguing the girls had to show a breach of a trust relationship and a consequent improper gain.
He argued he had not benefited personally as the money had been spent on the care and maintenance of the girls, including holidays to Australia and "lavish gifts".
Justice Rodney Hansen ruled there was always certainty about the intention for the money and Basher was in breach of trust. He upheld the decision that Basher must repay the girls, and ordered costs against him.
Ellisha said she hadn't spoken to her father in five years. She said he had refused to give her and her sister their mum's engagement rings.
Though she was happy with the judgment - "I'll be better once I see it in my bank account."
Wayne Basher, who now owns a waxing and tanning business with his new wife, Linda, said the case was "a disgrace" that had endangered their business.
He said the money was spent on a family trip to Australia after his first wife was diagnosed with cancer.
However, he did not withdraw it from the girls' accounts at the time, which led to the later difficulties.
The case was going to set precedents, he said. "You're going to have to make contracts with your children about how you spend money for them."
Linda was dumbfounded when they lost the case for a second time, though Wayne was philosophical: "I'll just pay the money and get on with it."
- Sunday Star Times
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