Divorcing wife loses appeal to maintain marital living standards

The Court of Appeal has ruled that divorce settlements don’t have to try to enable each partner to maintain the same living standards they enjoyed during marriage.

Mr Justice Moylan said he did not agree that “need should be met at a level similar or comparable to the standard of living during the marriage”. He said this was just one of many factors when considering a fair settlement.

The issue arose in the case of retired doctor, James MacFarlane, aged 74, and his wife Katriona, who’s 58.

Mrs MacFarlane was an acting school head teacher when she met Dr MacFaralne in 2003. They married shortly afterwards and she sold her home to buy a half share in his house in Derbyshire. She said she gave up her promising career while still only in her 40s because Dr MacFarlane promised to look after them both.

The couple then enjoyed a lifestyle described as “substantially better than that of a comfortable middle class couple”.

When they divorced in 2013, Mrs MacFarlane argued that having given up her career on her husband’s assurances that he would look after them both, she should be given a settlement that would enable her to maintain her standard of living.

She said it was reasonable to assume that she would have progressed up the career ladder and would now be earning more than £100,000 a year and entitled to a generous pension. Instead, she was having to get by as a supply teacher.

She also said that before the marriage, she had lived in a large house of her own with stables and two acres of ground worth over £650,000. She asked for a housing fund of £700,000.

At the initial divorce hearing in 2015, Judge Rogers rejected her claim for compensation for her lost career because giving up her job had been a joint decision with Dr MacFarlane. He also rejected her claim that she was entitled to £700,000 to buy a house. He estimated that £450,000 would be sufficient.

He awarded her half the proceeds from the sale of the couple’s house together with a lump sum of £140,000.

The Court of Appeal has upheld that decision. It said Judge Rogers had been right to refuse her compensation for giving up her career because the decision had been a joint one, and the evidence as to what she would now be earning if she had carried on working was unclear.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice Moylan said: “The judge was correct when he said the previous standard of living is a guide, but not completely determinative. There is no prospect of the judge’s assessment of housing need being shown to be wrong.

“I consider the judge was right to confine his attention to determining the wife’s needs and structuring his award so as to meet those needs. Any additional award would have been likely to lead to double counting.”

Each case will depend on the individual circumstances but the Court of Appeal ruling suggests spouses seeking compensation as part of their divorce settlement may find it more difficult to succeed in future.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law on 01656 645525 or family@berrysmith.com