If dealing with the financial consequences of divorce was just a matter of dividing up assets equally, there would be little need for judicial intervention. A High Court case concerning a couple with assets worth £2.6 million showed, however, that matters are rarely that simple.
The couple, in their 50s, lived modestly during their 23-year marriage and had two grown-up children. The vast majority of their wealth took the form of property assets that the husband had inherited from his mother five years prior to their separation. The case was further complicated by the fact that the wife suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease which was bound to have a significant impact on her life expectancy and her medical needs in the years remaining to her.
Although only a small proportion of their assets were of matrimonial rather than inherited origin, the wife proposed that she should receive £1.2 million of the available pot. The husband asserted that £750,000 would be sufficient to meet her reasonable accommodation and income needs.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that it was very difficult to predict the progress of the wife’s condition, how long she might live and the extent of her future care needs. However, given the tension between the couple and the high cost of the litigation in which they had already engaged, a clean financial break was highly desirable.
Burying his head in the sand, the husband had only come to appreciate the reality of the proceedings when the case reached court. His conduct of the litigation had been highly unsatisfactory. The wife, although able to live independently, was already in need of some professional care and might have to move into a care home in the future.
The Court noted that, given the inherited source of the couple’s wealth, it was not a case in which assets should be divided on an equal sharing basis. However, the wife had no earning capacity due to her condition and was entitled to look to the husband to meet her reasonable needs.
The Court ordered the husband to transfer into the wife’s name the property in which she lived – worth £436,500 – and to pay her a lump sum of £513,500. Given the extent of her needs and the length of the marriage, her overall award of £950,000 was entirely fair. Her award represented 37 per cent of the pot and left the husband with assets valued at about £1.65 million.