Financial remedies in modest asset divorce cases

Most of the Family Law cases that are reported by the press concern matrimonial finances which are at a level which far eclipses the average family’s resources. Whilst these cases contain important and interesting principles they rarely mirror the usual type of case crossing a Solicitor’s desk. The case of A v L is an example of a High Court case where the family assets were relatively modest and the decision was a difficult one for the judge to make. As is often the case, here there simply weren’t enough assets to go round.

The total assets were £213,515, after deduction of the husband’s debts, comprising of the equity in the family home, some property in the husband’s name in Egypt, and some very modest savings. The husband also had a higher income than the wife, around £23,000 net, although the true extent of his income was open to dispute. The wife was reliant on state benefits.

There was insufficient capital in the house to rehouse both parties. The children were both adults, although the youngest aged 18 still lived at home and the eldest aged 21 returned home in University holidays. The Court had an obligation to reach a fair judgment, and if there is to be a departure from equality this has to be justified. The Court concluded that justice could only be done if the house was sold. An order was made awarding 70% of the capital to the wife and 30% to the husband. The income differential between the parties justified a departure from equality, and the husband received the benefit of a clean break and would not have to make ongoing payments to the wife.

The outcome in this case left both parties in a position where they would only be able to afford to buy a very modest property in the South East, where they lived, if they chose to reinvest their capital this way. For the husband, this would involve taking on a large mortgage at the age of 57 with relatively ill health. This is a clear example of the outcome not being very satisfactory to either party, even where it is objectively fair, and of the difficulties of dividing up limited funds.