Where a couple’s wealth is more than sufficient to meet their reasonable needs, one might have thought that there would be greater scope for compromise when it comes to dividing up assets in the event of divorce. As a Court of Appeal decision showed, however, that is sadly by no means always the case.
Following their separation, a couple whose marriage lasted 23 years could not agree on the value of their marital assets. The wife contended for a figure just short of £9 million but the husband argued that they were worth only £4.75 million. The main bone of contention between them was the value of the husband’s interest in a company that owned a valuable plot of development land.
Following long and hard-fought proceedings, a judge took a midway figure between the rival valuations and found that the marital assets were worth £6.87 million. In awarding the wife half that sum – or £3.435 million – he applied the sharing principle on the basis that there were sufficient assets in the marital pot to meet the reasonable financial needs of both husband and wife.
Upholding the husband’s challenge to that outcome, the Court found that the judge had engaged in an element of double-counting which led him significantly to overstate the husband’s likely profits from the development. Both husband and wife bore some responsibility for the judge’s error of approach in that the figures that were placed before him were similarly flawed.
The Court ruled that the double-counting error was sufficiently serious to require the same judge to redetermine the amount of the wife’s award. It did so with regret given the considerable time and expense that would be involved in a further hearing. The Court noted, however, that it remained open to the former couple to resolve their differences by agreement.