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Maintenance – MacFarlane v MacFarlane 2006


This was a long marriage, there were three children and the wife had sacrificed a lucrative career as a City lawyer to look after the family. The husband is a city accountant with earnings of £750,000 a year. The wife had appealed to the House of Lords against a ruling by the Court of Appeal that her maintenance of £250,000 a year should be for 5 years only.


The House of Lords ruled that there was insufficient capital to provide for the wife’s needs which were interpreted generously. The husband had an income surplus to the family’s needs and the wife should be compensated from his income surplus for the sacrifice she had made.


It was not for the wife to go to court and seek an extension of the term, it was for the husband to seek a variation on a change of circumstances, and therefore the wife was awarded maintenance for life.


This case was considered together with Miller v Miller and the House of Lords ruled that three important principles were to be considered in achieving fairness on the division of assets. They were:

  1. Needs
    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.
  2. Compensation for relationship-generated disadvantage
    This is in addition to needs. If the wife is owed compensation, and there are insufficient assets, then her periodic payments should be increased, provided the husband has surplus income.


Matrimonial property 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.

Equal weight should be given to the roles of domestic and financial contributions, and the non-earning spouse may be entitled to a fair share of future income.


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