The Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court's decision on a financial remedy order in favour of the husband after a 23 year marriage, on the grounds that most of the property was owned by him before the marriage began.
In August this year in the matter of Hart v Hart  EWCA Civ 1306, Lord Justice Moylan determined that the fact that at the beginning of the parties' relationship the husband had been a wealthy man whereas the wife had no significant capital assets was a matter which "must be reflected in the outcome".
In June 2015, the High Court assessed the parties combined assets at £9.4 million, accepting Mr. Hart's representations that he had brought a substantial part of this into the marriage at its outset in 1987. Accordingly, Judge Wildblood found it fair to depart from the equal sharing principle and awarded Mrs. Hart only £3.5 million of the total, on the basis of her needs. Mr. Hart was in his 50s when the couple married in 1987 and, had already accumulated £2.6 million as well as considerable property assets. The Judge concluded that, despite the length of this marriage, an equal division would be unfair to the husband.
Mr. Hart objected to this settlement and last year brought an action to have it reduced on the grounds that his ex-wife was cohabiting with and being supported by another man. His claim was dismissed by Judge Munby who accepted Mrs. Hart's argument that she wished to remain financially independent and that the presence of her cohabitant did not diminish her needs.
Mrs. Hart instructed Irwin Mitchell Solicitors to challenge the settlement in the Court of Appeal. She believed she had been unfairly treated by not receiving an equal share of what she claimed were the matrimonial assets.
Mr. Hart contested the claim, arguing that the parties had not increased their assets together and, that the needs based financial remedy order had left Mrs. Hart with a home, a holiday home, a lifetime income 'at a very considerable figure and clear of liabilities'.
Lord Justice Moylan noted that classifying property as matrimonial or non-matrimonial is relevant to any court seeking to apply the sharing principle because the sharing principle applies with force to marital property but that it does not apply, or applies only with significantly less force, to non-marital assets.
It comes as a surprise to many that the 23 year duration of the marriage was held not to have erased the non-matrimonial status of Mr. Hart's pre-marital assets.
The case raises questions as to whether similar results are likely to follow and if so, potentially this could be setting the law back more than 20 years.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.
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