This was a short, childless marriage of less than three years’ duration, during which time the wife made no financial contribution. The case drew an enormous amount of press interest due to the reliance on the husband’s adulterous affair as the reason the marriage ended early, by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, and the High Court stating that the wife had a “legitimate entitlement” of an improved lifestyle due to her marriage.
The House of Lords ruled that the wife could keep the £5 million awarded to her but not on the basis of her husband’s behaviour, rather as her share of the assets which had accrued during the marriage.
The Law Lords were clear that conduct (behaviour) would only be a factor in determining the asset split on divorce if it would be inequitable to disregard it. An adulterous affair does not constitute such an exception; it is not “gross and obvious”. In respect of “legitimate expectations“, the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage was a factor to be taken into consideration but hopes and expectations were not.
The assets accrued during the marriage were approximately £15 million. The starting position is equal division. However, the wife received less than half because part of the increase in assets could be attributed to the husband’s efforts prior to the short marriage.
This case was considered together with McFarlane v McFarlane and the House of Lords ruled that three important principles were to be considered in achieving fairness on the division of assets. They were:
This was subject to generous interpretation and it was recognised that in the vast majority of cases analysis would stop there, because there would be insufficient assets to meet both parties’ needs on divorce.
- Compensation for relationship-generated disadvantage
Matrimonial property, even in a short marriage, is to be shared. What constitutes matrimonial property will be decided on each case’s individual facts, but it is generally property acquired during the marriage other than via inheritance or gift. The longer the marriage the more likely non-marital property will be included again depending on the individual circumstances.