A recent landmark Court of Appeal ruling has the potential to significantly impact on how divorces are determined in the English Family Court. This court ruling demonstrates that the court is now taking a more modern approach, and is now shifting away from the concept of lifelong maintenance for the financially weaker spouse.

London has often been regarded as the ‘divorce capital of the world’ and the English family court is recognised for its generous rulings for the spouse with less financial resources. When determining a fair split of marital assets, and the issue of maintenance, the English court tends not to discriminate between the breadwinner and the homemaker and that said, England is seen by many as a more favourable venue for a homemaker to commence divorce proceedings in comparison to other legal systems. In fact according to the Times, in 2012, a sixth of divorce cases heard in the England involved foreign nationals.

In the Court of Appeal decision, divorcee Ms Wright, a 51 year old mother of two was informed by the Appeal Judge that the court would expect her to get back to work in order to support herself financially. Ms Wright, a former legal secretary and riding instructor was married to millionaire racehorse surgeon Ian Wright for 11 years. In 2008 they separated and at the time of their divorce, Ms Wright chose not to work and the court awarded her a £450,000 mortgage-free house and ordered Mr Wright to pay her £33,200 per year maintenance for her own personal upkeep. After the decision, Mr Wright brought the case back to court arguing that he ought not to be expected to continue making payments to his ex-wife well into his retirement. The High Court initially agreed with Mr Wright, and Mrs Wright sought to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.

In ruling in favour of Mr Wright, the Lord Justice Pitchford stated:

“The Wife has done nothing since 2008 to look for work, retain or to prepare herself for work.”

The Judge then went on to say that it is imperative that the Wife goes out to work and support herself and:

“there is a general expectation that, once children are in year two, mothers can begin part-time work and make a financial contribution.”

Whether this ruling is likely to put off the less wealthy spouse who is contemplating a divorce is yet to be seen, and whether or not this ruling will impact on the numbers of divorces taking place in English court which involve a foreign element is uncertain.  One certainty, however, is that the court views mothers to have a role in the workplace and they should no longer seen as being entirely financially dependent on their husbands.

For more information on this post, you can contact Kerry Russell or a member of our Family & Matrimonial Team on 0161 930 5151

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