A decree absolute, ending a marriage, does not necessarily signal the end of judicial involvement in divorce. As one High Court case showed, financial arrangements can be revisited in the light of changed circumstances, including children growing up, the formation of new relationships and increases and decreases in income.

The case concerned a middle-aged NHS dentist and his care worker ex-wife who had two children during their 11-year marriage. After their relationship broke down, a decree absolute had been granted in 2011 and the wife had been awarded 53 per cent of the couple’s capital assets. The husband had also been required to pay her £2,250 in monthly maintenance.

The husband had since remarried and his new wife was expecting a baby. Whilst his financial responsibilities had increased, his income was said to have substantially dropped due to changes in NHS funding of dentistry. In those circumstances, a family judge agreed to reduce his maintenance payments to £2,000 per month. Provision was also made for their further reduction in stages as he approached retirement. However, the judge directed that the husband’s NHS pension, worth more than £190,000, should be shared equally with the wife.

The husband remained dissatisfied and, in challenging the judge’s order before the High Court, he presented fresh evidence as to his declining income and increased outgoings. In seeking a clean financial break, he claimed to be facing a deficit between his income and expenditure of £3,360 per month.

In rejecting his appeal, however, the Court could find no sufficient evidential basis on which to interfere with the judge’s clear and comprehensive conclusions. His decision to gradually decrease the wife’s maintenance payments until such time as they would be replaced by the pension sharing order was carefully crafted.

For advice please contact Emma Gray on 0121 746 3300, email emma.gray@sydneymitchell.co.uk or fill in our online enquiry form.

The equal sharing principle applies in the vast majority of divorce cases nowadays – even where the sums of money involved are truly enormous. In one High Court case exactly on point, a billionaire oil and gas trader was ordered to pay his ex-wife a total of more than £450 million.

Despite difficulties in their marriage, it had subsisted for more than 20 years before their final separation. Although both Russian-born, they had settled in Britain where they had children together. The husband had enjoyed spectacular business success and the family assets were worth just over £1 billion.

The husband had, for unknown reasons, withdrawn his initial opposition to the wife’s divorce petition and her application for financial relief had thus proceeded on an uncontested basis. There was no evidence to support his plea that he was wealthy before the marriage or that he had made a special contribution to wealth creation through his work. Arguments that the majority of the assets were held by trusts of which the husband was only a discretionary beneficiary also fell on fallow ground.

In the circumstances, the Court found that all the assets concerned were matrimonial in character and that there was no reason of principle why they should not be divided equally. The wife's pre-action offer to settle her claim for £350 million had not been accepted by the husband and was no longer binding upon her. She was awarded in addition a number of chattels, including an Aston Martin car and a modern art collection valued at more than £85 million. The total value of her award was £453,576,152, or 41.5 per cent of the total marital assets.

For advice please contact Teresa Mannion on 0121 746 3300, email t.mannion@sydneymitchell.co.uk or complete our online enquiry.

There are some ‘big money’ cases where a stellar earner’s financial contribution to a marriage is considered so exceptional that the Court will take it into account when dividing assets between parties.  The Court of Appeal considered that issue in an important test case concerning a finance professional who earned £240 million in little more than a decade.

The former couple had been married for almost 20 years and had two children together. Both had been modest earners before the husband completed an MBA course and obtained a job with a private equity firm. Despite their high expenditure - including almost £3 million on divorce proceedings - their fortune still amounted to over £180 million by the time their divorce was finalised.

As well as being a home maker and mother to their children, the wife had supported the husband during his studies. In awarding her half of the marital wealth, a family judge found that they had formed a strong and equal partnership. Each of them had contributed emotionally and financially to the marriage and the judge found that an unequal division would amount to unjustifiable gender discrimination.

The husband argued that he should have received a 61 per cent share of the marital assets to reflect the enormous wealth that he had generated. In dismissing his appeal, however, the Court ruled that his financial contribution was not so wholly exceptional as to justify a departure from equality. The judge was in the best position to assess the evidence and had fully explained his conclusions.

If you would like to discuss your options or if you are concerned family legal issues please contact Amanda Holland or a member of our family team on 0121 698 2200, email a.holland@sydneymitchell.co.uk or fill in our online enquiry form.

Legal and beneficial ownership of company shares are two very different concepts and, as one case strikingly showed, family judges have the power to look behind the corporate veil in ensuring a fair division of assets between divorcing couples.

The case concerned a group of companies that had been established by a highly successful businessman. A restructuring of his business affairs had resulted in shares in the group being placed in the legal ownership of members of his family. Following the end of his seven-year marriage, his ex-wife sought financial provision from him and argued that he was the beneficial owner of the shares.

In ruling on that issue, the High Court noted that the businessman was part of a close family whose members looked after each other. The restructuring was not a sham and was not motivated by a desire to reduce his wife’s entitlements. However, the businessman’s statement that he was running the group solely for the benefit of other members of his family was a blatant lie.

He had never intended to part with control of the business and, in the circumstances, the Court found that the other family members held their shares solely as nominees, or bare trustees, for his benefit. He was the 100 per cent beneficial owner of the group, its underlying companies and its assets.

If you need family law or child-care advice, contact Teresa Mannion on 0121 746 3300 or a member of the family law department  or complete our online enquiry.

Pre-nuptial agreements may not always lead to fair outcomes but they are generally valid if entered into freely. In one ‘big money’ divorce case exactly on point, the High Court had no power to award a wife half of a marital fortune approaching £11 million even though she had made an equal contribution to its accumulation.

The Scandinavian couple had been married for six years and had two children. He had earned very substantial sums as a professional sportsman and, despite having retired, still enjoyed an income of about £350,000 a year. The marital assets were valued at over £10.8 million, principally made up of equity of about £1.8 million in the former matrimonial home and bank accounts and shares worth £9 million. However, apart from her half share in the home in England that she still occupied with the children, the wife had no resources at all in her own name.

Prior to their marriage, the couple had signed a series of three pre-nuptial agreements, the effect of which was that, on divorce, each of them would retain his and her respective separate property. That meant that the wife was not entitled to claim any capital payment from the husband. The agreements also provided that a court in Stockholm would have exclusive jurisdiction to resolve any disputes arising.

The Court described the husband’s attitude to his children and former wife as mean-spirited. Given the length of the marriage, and the wife’s equal contribution to the generation of the family wealth, it was clearly unfair that she should be left with almost nothing. In finding the agreements valid, however, the Court rejected arguments that the wife’s signatures had been procured by the husband by misrepresentation or the application of undue pressure.

In the circumstances, the Court’s jurisdiction was tightly constrained and it was obliged to deal with the case on the basis of the needs of the wife and children, rather than the sharing principle that would otherwise have applied. The Court could not rule on the wife’s lump sum and maintenance claims until after the court in Stockholm had resolved such issues or declined to do so.

The Court directed the sale of the family home, to which the wife was deeply attached, and the equal division of the proceeds. The husband was ordered to make a sum of £2 million available to re-house the wife and children until a year after the latter ceased full-time education. He was also required to pay a carer’s allowance to the wife and periodical payments to the children, totalling £95,000 a year. Noting that the husband has money to spare, the Court urged him to consider settling the dispute in order to bring an end to the family’s agony.

Please contact Amanda Holland on 0121 698 2245, email a.holland@sydneymitchell.co.uk to arrange an appointment or complete our online contact form and we will call you back.

When people marry late in life they often bring substantial wealth to the marriage and the manner in which such assets should be divided on divorce is often a burning question. The High Court tackled that issue head on in awarding a wife £2.3 million of a total family pot valued at over £10.3 million.

The husband, aged 83, had been widowed for almost 10 years before he married his second wife, who was 17 years his junior. Having had a successful business career, he argued that most of the family wealth had been generated by him and his first wife prior to the marriage. He submitted that the wife’s financial entitlements should be assessed on the basis of her reasonable needs.

For her part, however, the wife argued that the sharing principle should apply and that she should receive half of the total pot. During the marriage, she had thrown herself into helping the husband with his business, which she had been instrumental in turning round from the brink of insolvency.

The Court found that, before the marriage, the husband had built up a substantial bedrock of wealth. He had also not made any specific promise to the wife that she would be entitled to half of everything. However, his business had been losing money heavily before the wife became involved and he had failed properly to acknowledge the value of her contribution.

Factoring in the value of assets that the husband had brought into the marriage, the Court ruled that the wife’s entitlement should be assessed on the basis of need. A global award of £2.3 million to the wife – leaving over 75 per cent of the total pot with the husband – was an entirely fair outcome. The award to the wife was substantially more generous than offers made by the husband during pre-trial negotiations.

This article is featured in the and the full Birmingham Post Rich List can be read at  Birmingham Post Rich List 2017.

For further information on this article, please contact Karen Moores on 0121 698 2200, email k.moores@sydneymitchell.co.uk, contact one of our family & childcare team  or fill in our online enquiry form.

Love is no respecter of national boundaries and married couples often have links to numerous different countries, giving rise to difficulties in deciding where disputes should be resolved if relationships end in divorce. However one Court of Appeal case showed that, at least within the European Union, there is a system in place to prevent national courts stepping on each other’s toes.

The case concerned a wealthy couple who had been engaged in financial wrangling for 15 years since their separation. They were divorced following proceedings in France and there were ongoing proceedings in Poland in respect of the division of marital assets. The focus of their dispute in England was a £2 million property in London that they had acquired during the marriage.

The property was held in the former couple’s joint names and the ex-wife sought an order under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 requiring its sale and equal division of the proceeds. The ex-husband’s plea that the English courts had no jurisdiction to entertain that claim did not persuade a judge.

In rejecting his appeal against that ruling, the Court found that exclusive jurisdiction to resolve the dispute was conferred on the English courts by Council Regulation (EC) No. 44/2001 on Jurisdiction and the Recognition of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters. The house was immovable property, situated in England, and the English courts were thus best placed to resolve the issues involved in the case.

For divorce matters please contact Amanda Holland on 0121 698 2200, email a.holland@sydneymitchell.co.uk or fill in our online enquiry form.

Midlands award winning law firm Sydney Mitchell LLP is delighted to announce that Teresa Mannion has joined their expanding family team. She specialises in family law, is a trained collaborative lawyer and is a member of the Law Society Advanced Family Panel.

Teresa joined the firm from Alsters Kelley LLP and she has over 20 years’ experience working in family law.

Teresa commented on her appointment:

Sydney Mitchell is a well-respected law firm. I am pleased to join the strong family team at Sydney Mitchell and am looking forward contributing to its future success.

I am committed to helping couples resolve their relationship issues and to help them achieve fair and practical solutions that benefit them and their families.

The family team at Sydney Mitchell in Shirley is led Mauro Vinti.

Mauro added:

When faced with complex financial divorce cases, expert advice is essential.  Teresa has a down to earth approach which puts her clients at ease; helping them understand the legal issues easily and helping them focus on the future.

Teresa can call upon the additional services of Sydney Mitchell’s private client, corporate and Dispute Resolution teams where appropriate to ensure that solutions are found using a multi-disciplinary approach.

Teresa is based in the Shirley office.

About the Family Law Department

Sydney Mitchell LLP has offices situated in Birmingham City Centre, Sheldon, Shirley and facilities in Sutton Coldfield, acting for clients not only from the West Midlands and surrounding counties but as far away as Australia, Hong Kong and Israel.

If you need family law or child-care advice, contact Teresa Mannion on 0121 746 3300 or a member of the family law department  or complete our online enquiry.

Family inheritance disputes can be witheringly sad and it is absolutely essential to seek independent legal advice to ensure that peace prevails after you are gone. In one case, a man’s death, leaving a £16 million fortune, raised the curtain on years of venomous dispute between his two children.

The man’s will was as simple as could be, in that it left his estate equally between his son and daughter. However, by a previous will, the daughter had been left her share only for her lifetime. That would have meant that, on her death, her inheritance would have passed to her brother or, if he did not survive her, his children.

Following the man’s death, aged 92, his son launched proceedings, claiming that he lacked knowledge and approval of the contents of the later will at the time of its execution. He argued that the earlier document was his last true will.

In rejecting those arguments, however, the High Court found that the son had lost all sense of perspective about the case, to which he had devoted himself full time for three years. He had persuaded himself, contrary to the evidence, that his sister and his mother had engaged in a conspiracy to overcome his father’s free will.

There was nothing remarkable or suspicious about the man’s decision to make an equal and outright division of his estate between his children, and the Court had no hesitation in concluding that he was fully aware of the nature and effect of the document he was signing.

For advice please contact Kamal Majevadia 0121 746 3300, email k.majevadia@sydneymitchell.co.uk and for Wills Trusts and Probate matters contact Tracy Creed 0121 746 3320, email t.creed@sydneymitchell.co.uk.

European law operates on a ‘first past the post’ system when it comes to jurisdiction issues and this has in some instances given rise to a race to launch proceedings. In one case that illustrated the point, the High Court ruled in a big money divorce case that the wife had got there first.

The wife had issued a divorce petition in London but took no steps to serve it on the husband until almost three months had passed. Effective service was delayed by an administrative error and was not achieved until four months and one day after the petition was issued.

The husband had petitioned for divorce in Germany and those proceedings had been served on the wife four days after he was himself served. In arguing that the Court had no jurisdiction to hear the wife’s case, the husband submitted that she had issued her petition secretly and had delayed unreasonably in serving him with it.

In ruling in the wife’s favour, and accepting jurisdiction to consider her case, the Court noted that there is no formal time limit in respect of service of divorce petitions. It could, however, be inferred that service should be performed reasonably promptly. The wife had, on the evidence, met that requirement and the Court had become 'seised' (come into possession) of her petition on the day that she issued it.

Help and advice essential in divorce matters, Contact Amanda Holland on 0121 698 2200 email, a.holland@sydneymitchell.co.uk or complete our online enquiry form.

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