When looking to divide assets, the Family Court takes into account various factors, however the divorcing couple’s respective needs and that of any relevant children are always a vital consideration. It is important that wherever possible the housing and day-to-day income needs of each spouse is considered and this may therefore result in an unequal division of the assets in favour of a financially weaker spouse who for example may be on a substantially lower income that the other  or the one with primary care of the children. In a recently reported case however the Family Court warns that spouses who commence new relationships before a divorce has been finalised seriously risk harming their divorce settlement.

When assessing the couple’s respective need, the court often has regard to both spouses relationship status i.e. whether or not they have formed a new relationship or if they are cohabiting with another. If a new relationship has been formed it could be argued that a new partner is a source of financial security and the existence of a new relationship could weaken the financially weaker spouse’s case for a greater share of the matrimonial assets on the basis that they have a greater “need” in order ensure that their essential income and housing needs could be met.  This very point was highlighted in the recently reported High Court case of AB –v- CD where the Judge Mr Justice Mostyn warned that the starting of a new relationship whilst divorce proceedings are still on-going could jeopardise the final divorce settlement.

In this case, the husband and wife met in 1999 and married in 2003. The marriage broke down and the couple separated in 2012 and the Wife commenced divorce proceedings. During the marriage the Wife was a successful Journalist, the Husband however had little income but had inherited a vast wealth from his family. During the divorce proceedings, the Husband’s legal team discovered that the Wife had begun a relationship with a former army officer (post separation) and informed the court. Despite the wife’s claims that she had no plans to cohabit with her new partner Judge Mostyn stated that “…it is perfectly clear that the relationship is strong” and  In refusing to ignore the existence of the Wife’s new relationship the Judge concluded that £250,000 would be sufficient to meet the Wife’s needs. In his Judgement Judge Mostyn stated that “relationships like this always are a significant fly in the ointment in the assessment of need…” and went on to say that had the Wife been single, he would have doubted whether £250,000 would be sufficient to meet her needs.

For me this judgement highlights the fact that the Family Court has a very wide discretion when it determines the division of assets in divorce cases and as every case is different, it is therefore important that expert legal advice is obtained early on in the event of a relationship breakdown to understand how personal circumstances can impact on a divorce settlement.

For more advice or information please contact Kerry Russell on 0161 930 5151 or Kerry.russell@gorvins.com

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