An intransigent and dogmatic approach to divorce is an infallible way of making the process far more painful and costly. Stuart Barton looks at a recent case in which a man who insisted that his ex-wife’s financial entitlements should be reduced to reflect the poor quality of their short, childless marriage found that out to his cost.
The couple’s marriage lasted not much more than three years, including two periods of separation. Following their divorce, the husband, a very successful businessman, argued that, in the light of the brevity of their childless union, the wife’s award should be calculated in accordance with her needs, rather than by application of the equal sharing principle. He offered a lump sum of £600,000. She took the contrary view and sought £5.5 million.
Ruling on the case, the Family Court observed that the extraordinary divide between their financial offers seemed to be in part due to intransigence and dogmatism on both sides. The husband clung to the notion that equal sharing would lead to an unfair result and took every opportunity to rubbish the quality of the marriage. The wife had taken to snooping on the husband’s computer and copying his private correspondence, including privileged material.
In ruling that the sharing principle should be applied to wealth built up during the course of the couple’s relationship, the Court observed that it was invidious and extremely dangerous for a judge to attempt to evaluate the quality of a marriage. Such an evaluation would almost certainly trigger subconscious discrimination. In the end, judges should proceed on the basis that a marriage is a marriage.
To ask why a marriage might be childless, and whether an absence of offspring denotes a lesser extent of commitment to a relationship, was to attempt to make windows into people’s souls and should be avoided at all costs. Childlessness should be banished from any consideration of whether there should be a departure from the sharing principle.
The couple’s overall wealth was calculated at £9.2 million, much of which had been built up by the husband prior to the marriage. Applying the sharing principle, the Court ordered him to pay the wife a lump sum of £1,515,000 in order to achieve a clean break. That meant she would exit the marriage with about £2 million, or just over 20 per cent of the overall assets. The legal costs of the hard-fought proceedings came to almost £900,000.
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