When it comes to dealing with the financial aspects of divorce, the question of where blame lies for marital breakdown is, from a judicial point of view, very often neither here nor there. However, as one case recently reviewed by Stuart Barton showed, there are occasions when a spouse’s behaviour is so appalling that it becomes relevant to the fair division of assets.
The case concerned a former public servant who received a long prison sentence for raping and stalking his wife. They were already separated at the time of the offences and, following his arrest, she petitioned for divorce. Despite showing great stoicism, she remained deeply traumatised by his crimes and felt that she could not move forward with her life until their divorce was finalised.
By far the largest asset yielded by the long marriage was the husband’s occupational pension, which had a cash equivalent value of over £600,000. In arguing that public policy demanded that the wife, who was in poor health and approaching retirement age, should have the lion’s share of that sum, her legal team asserted that the husband would otherwise be benefiting from his crimes.
Ruling on the matter, a family judge noted that the Court usually refrains from taking a punitive or confiscatory approach to financial relief proceedings. In a case of such extreme misconduct, however, it was right to give much higher priority to the wife’s financial needs than those of the husband, in that the difficult situation in which she found herself was, in a very real sense, his fault.
Giving precedence to the wife, the judge’s approach was to consider the husband’s financial position only after he was satisfied that her needs had been met. He ruled that she should have about 85 per cent of relevant capital assets, including the whole of the former matrimonial home, and about 66 per cent of their combined pensions. The significant disparity was, the judge found, well justified by the wife’s needs and the impact of the husband’s conduct.
We asked Senior Associate Solicitor Stuart Barton for his expert insight –
This was, on any level, an exceptional case and the outcome should not be seen by anybody contemplating divorce as ‘the norm.’ Whilst it remains common for parties going through divorce to assert that the conduct of the other party deserves some financial penalty, case-law makes it clear that the Court will only take conduct by either party into account in truly exceptional circumstances. Nobody can realistically dispute that the wife did not deserve the above award as a result of the husband’s conduct.[/col] [/row]
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