In a recent High Court case in the UK a Judge said that the start of a new relationship during a divorce can be a significant “fly in the ointment” to family law Courts and Judges deciding on how much money ex-wives should be awarded. The Court went on to say that women may risk losing their share of their ex-husband’s assets, if Judges were to assume that their financial future was to some degree assured through setting up a home with their new partners. The Judge in question, Mr Justice Mostyn, made the comments in a ruling in a family law Court case in Wales at the end of 2014.
The basic advice to women who are seeking a divorce from their husband was to avoid new romances. The circumstances of this case were as follows. The couple were both in their 40’s had lived together with an adopted child. The woman in the relationship was a journalist and had worked hard. The father had inherited a family fortune but had no income. A lengthy legal battle ensued when the parties’ marriage turned sour in September 2012. The legal wrangling centered around the share of the parties’ assets at the time their marriage broke down. The dispute was a lengthy one and as the dispute continued, the wife started a relationship with a former army officer.
During the course of the divorce, she did not initially come clean about her romance with the army officer, but the husband’s legal team had engaged in certain private investigations and revealed the romance to the Court. It would appear that this information and the existence of another relationship seriously hurt her case with the Judge saying:
“She said she is not going to live with him. One cannot make assumptions if it is not full blown co-habitation akin to marriage, that it will grown into that. On the other hand, the Judge said if one makes a needs assessment on the basis that this is a single woman and she soon co-habits, then the paying party can rightfully feel significantly aggrieved.”
Taking into account the relationship, the Judge decided that around £250,000 would be sufficient to meet her needs, which appeared to be less than half of what the Court was going to award her if she remained single.
The Court went on to comment that “If the wife were assuredly single and if I could see that continuing, I would have my doubt as to whether a new capital position of just over £250,000 would be enough. On the other hand I cannot ignore the existence of the relationship and so I reach the conclusion that a net figure that would leave the wife with just over £250,000 is sufficient to meet her needs”.
This decision raises a very interesting issue. On the one hand people should be allowed and entitled to get on with their lives when their marriage has broken down as certainly in this jurisdiction the divorce process can sometimes take a number of years. However, the reality of starting a new relationship and residing with somebody with a steady income is that a Court in future divorce proceedings may take that income into consideration in deciding on maintenance and a split on any assets held.
by Healy O’Connor Family Law Solicitors