DIVORCE - HOUSE OF LORDS DECISION: Miller v Miller The divorce case that could reform matrimonial law
A decision in the House of Lords could mean family law being turned around. On 24th May 2006 the House of Lords delivered Judgment in two much publicised divorce cases. Mrs Julia McFarlane’s appeal against the time limit imposed by the Appeal Court on her maintenance succeeded. Her former husband has been ordered to pay her maintenance for the foreseeable future
TMr Miller’s appeal against an award of £5m to his wife after a 2½ year childless marriage was rejected in judgments which highlighted how unusual the case was
The ramifications of the two decisions are detailed below:
Behaviour or conduct is not relevant in deciding what is a fair financial settlement unless it is ‘gross or obvious'. Adultery is considered neither gross nor obvious
In a short marriage involving a childless couple, the decision on what is a fair division of the assets cannot be based on the hopes and expectations for the marriage at its beginning. Instead the focus should be on the standard of living during the marriage. The award should enable the wife to make a ‘gentle transition' to independence
It is right to consider the wealth acquired during the marriage or the increase in the value of assets acquired before it. The shorter the marriage the less likely it is that pre-acquired assets will be divided equally
Domestic and financial contributions are of equal value, particularly where there has been a career sacrifice on the part of the wife to bring up children. Sometimes wealth is only accumulated at the end of the marriage although the groundwork has been done during the marriage and both husband and wife should share the benefit
It is important in all cases to see whether a clean break can be achieved. If there is insufficient capital, an ongoing maintenance award can be made. The maintenance can be capitalised (that is paid as a lump sum) if sufficient money becomes available at a future date
An assessment of the wife's maintenance needs following a long marriage during which she has sacrificed her career to bring up children may be increased to include an element of compensation and a fair share of future income
It is estimated that in one in six cases, one or other partner (statistically, principally, the male partner) hid or attempted to hide assets to stop them being taken into account in a split or separation. If conduct becomes a consideration factor in splitting the family wealth, the phenomenon is undoubtedly set to become more frequent. Past surveys show that 18% of couples involved in divorce cases in 2005 used an investigative professional to check up on their partners. As Private Investigators, we expect this percentage to significantly increase should the Miller ruling come into effect
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