Wife successfully challenges divorce judgment awarding ex-husband of four years £2.7M.
In this recent Court of Appeal decision, the wife successfully appealed the High Court decision of Sir Peter Singer. The parties are a relatively young childless couple, they were together for six years in total, including 18 months’ cohabitation. The trial judge categorised the length of the marriage as ‘not so desperately short as some, but still by no means lengthy’.
The assets totalled £6.9M; there were two jointly owned properties and cash credited to the wife’s accounts of just over £4M.
The parties had a ’dual career marriage‘; both parties worked until the last year of marriage and earned similar sums. During the marriage the wife was paid £10.5M by way of discretionary bonuses. She did not want the bonuses to be shared equally with the husband as she said it was a ’coincidence‘ that they were paid during the marriage. She submitted that they had kept their finances separate to the extent her husband didn’t know the details of the bonuses she had been paid, they would often split restaurant bills and pay half of the utilities at the two homes.
The trial judge concluded that there would be no ‘inroad into the sharing concept to which the parties in effect subscribe when they marry unless they choose to opt out (or attempt to do so) with a pre-nuptial agreement’. He made an award based on equal sharing of matrimonial property, with a payment to the husband of £2,725M after taking into account a concession offered by the husband to deduct the value of the first property from the assets.
The Court of Appeal reviewed the case law in respect of short marriage, childless cases, notably that of the House of Lords in Miller v Miller  UKHL 24. The majority view in that case was that in non-business partnership, non-family asset cases, where the bulk of the assets had been generated by one of the parties, the source of the assets and the length of the marriage could not be ignored. The appeal court decided that the wife’s bonuses were not family assets and that this was one of a narrow range of cases where there should be a departure from equality. The original order was set aside and in its place the court awarded the husband a total sum of £2M, a reduction of £725,000.
It is clear that this judgment will be relevant to practitioners in a narrow range of short marriage, childless, dual-income cases where one party generates the bulk of the assets. This case does not set out anything new, it merely takes us back to a possibility that was clearly anticipated by the House of Lords in the case of Miller.
Mena Ruparel is a family solicitor, chief assessor of the Law Society Family Accreditations and chief examiner with CILEx. She sits on the Law Society’s Family Law Committee and is the co-author of How to be an Ethical Solicitor (Bath Publishing) and the forthcoming Matrimonial Precedents Toolkit (Law Society).