Financial Aspects of Divorce – Play with a Straight Bat or Pay the Price

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Stuart Barton

Senior Associate Solicitor

When it comes to the financial fall-out from divorce, there will sadly always be those who do not play with a straight bat and think that they are clever enough to pull the wool over a judge’s eyes. Stuart Barton looks at a recent High Court ruling which showed how wrong they almost invariably are.

The case concerned a middle-aged former couple whose marriage lasted 15 years. In financial proceedings following their divorce, a judge considered that the husband was an unreliable witness, harbouring anger towards the wife. He made trenchant findings about the husband’s conduct of the litigation, his failure to fully disclose his assets and his general dishonesty.

The judge found that as a successful finance professional, the husband was capable of earning in the region of £150,000 to £180,000 a year. That compared starkly to the wife’s earnings of £40,000 a year. It was difficult to detect any real reduction in his standard of living since their separation and the judge refused to accept that his livelihood had disappeared or significantly diminished.

The judge also found that the husband had deliberately reduced his earnings as they appeared on paper and drawn down on his capital investments in his businesses with the intention of defeating the wife’s financial claims from their divorce. She was wholly dependent on him financially prior to their separation, yet he paid her no maintenance and terminated her access to funds. To her credit, she had since retrained and found paid employment.

The net marital assets were valued by the judge at a modest £339,000. Of that sum, the wife was awarded £211,000 – or 62 per cent – on a clean break basis so that she could purchase a suitable property to live in. Her share of the assets was liquid, whereas the husband’s 38 per cent share was less easily realisable.

Ruling on the husband’s appeal against that outcome, the Court took the view that he had only himself to blame and had no entitlement to complain. His deficient disclosure and manipulative litigation conduct inevitably exposed him to the sort of findings and evaluation undertaken by the judge. The Court made certain amendments to the judge’s order, but otherwise dismissed the appeal.

We asked Senior Associate Solicitor Stuart Barton to provide some insight into the above case-

“This case serves as a further reminder that how any party presents their case to the court is of critical importance, even when the assets are limited. Bland statements suggesting financial hardship or poverty will not hold water if financial disclosure and focused cross-examination of a party at a final hearing suggests the exact opposite. The clear focus of the judge in this case was in ensuring that the wife’s financial needs were met. The husband’s litigation conduct made it much easier for the Court to conclude that the husband’s retention of the illiquid assets was a fair and reasonable outcome.

If you are dealing with divorce proceedings, we can ensure you are expertly advised and represented.”

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