The Court of Appeal has recently upheld an award of £5m to the spouse of a successful fund manager (whose wealth was estimated to be between £30m and £36m), even though the marriage had lasted only three years, the couple did not have any children and they were both relatively young. The award consisted of a London house valued at £2.3m and a lump-sum settlement of £2.7m.
In the UK, the average length of a marriage which ends in divorce is 11½ years. The average age on divorce is 42.7 years for men and 40.2 years for women. Normally, short marriages that are childless do not lead to such substantial settlements, but in this case the Court was impressed by the fact that Mrs Melissa Miller had shown commitment to the marriage. She had given up her job and was seeking to have children. The marriage had broken down because of Mr Alan Miller’s infidelity. After Mr Miller moved out of the matrimonial home, he purchased a house costing over £6m for his new family. Mr Miller had also given his ex-wife a reasonable expectation that after the divorce she would enjoy a much better standard of living than she had as a single woman, when she had earned £85,000 a year and had lived in a rented flat.
The settlement was a ‘clean break’ settlement, which means that Mrs Miller will have no further call on Mr Miller’s assets, which are expected to increase over time. Mr Miller had offered a settlement worth under £1m.
Section 25(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 provides (among other things) that in deciding the appropriate level of a settlement, the courts shall in particular have regard to:
- the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future, including in the case of earning capacity any increase in that capacity which it would in the opinion of the court be reasonable to expect a party to the marriage to take steps to acquire;
- the financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
- the standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage;
- the age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage;
- any physical or mental disability of either of the parties to the marriage;
- the contributions which each of the parties has made or is likely in the foreseeable future to make to the welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family;
- the conduct of each of the parties, if that conduct is such that it would in the opinion of the court be inequitable to disregard it; and
- in the case of proceedings for divorce or nullity of marriage, the value to each of the parties to the marriage of any benefit which, by reason of the dissolution or annulment of the marriage, that party will lose the chance of acquiring.