Where blame, if any, attaches for the breakdown of a marriage is generally irrelevant when it comes to dividing assets following divorce. However, in a recent case reviewed by family finance expert Stuart Barton, a cruelly deceitful husband discovered to his cost that bad behaviour can have consequences in that it is hardly likely to endear you to a family judge.
The case concerned a couple of Russian origin who had two children during their 25-year marriage. The husband had encouraged his wife to move to the UK with their children whilst he remained in Russia. It came as a complete shock to her when he announced years later that he had been leading a double life, cohabiting with another woman in Russia with whom he had four children.
Without the wife’s knowledge, the husband obtained a divorce in Russia which made no financial provision for her. However, she launched proceedings under the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, which enables family judges to provide financial relief to those who are habitually resident in England but who have been divorced overseas.
In ruling on the matter, a judge noted that various orders had been made against the husband, requiring him to disclose the extent of his wealth and to provide interim financial support to the wife and the children of the marriage, but he had ignored all of them. He had failed to participate in the proceedings in any way whatsoever and his attitude had been one of studied contempt for the court.
The judge gave no weight to a post-nuptial agreement, which was entered into when the relationship was still apparently happy. It made scant financial provision for the wife and she had received no legal advice before signing it at a time when the husband was continuously deceiving her about his second family.
Having lived in England for many years, the wife had taken British citizenship and clearly met the habitual residence and other requirements of the Act. Although she was highly educated and had taken steps to stand on her own two feet by obtaining work, she had substantial outgoings, was living in rented accommodation and had negligible capital resources. Her liquid cash came to only about £15,000.
The judge found that, on the extreme facts of the case, it would be inequitable to disregard the husband’s obvious and gross misconduct. It was hard to imagine a more grave and sustained assault upon a marriage apart from severe abuse or criminal behaviour. He noted, however, that the wife’s award was essentially designed to meet her needs rather than to punish the husband.
Given the husband’s total lack of cooperation, the judge declined even to hazard a guess at assessing his overall wealth or income. He only had himself to blame if the wife’s award was more than he could afford. He was ordered to pay her a lump sum of £2.25 million so that she could buy an appropriate home for herself and the children. Together with arrears of maintenance, he was also directed to pay the wife £2,600 a month until such time as the lump sum was remitted in full. The wife was awarded her substantial legal costs against the husband on the punitive indemnity basis.
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