This case is yet one more in a series of cases whereby the parties divorced but failed to conclude the financial elements of their marriage and some ten years later the parties are in the throes of a litigation war, their case having just been heard by the Court of Appeal which has now directed the case be sent back to the Family Court for further consideration.

Unlike many cases which have gone before it, this is unique in that it is a case of modest assets, namely one property said to be worth £200,000.00 which is most unlike the high net worth cases about which we are used to reading.

Doreen Crowther, aged 46, married her ex-husband Robert Crowther, aged 40, in 1997 and the parties subsequently separated 10 years later in 2007. We are told that Ms Crowther is a mother of one child although we are not told whether this is a child of the party’s relationship or whether the child is dependent. The parties are divorced but we are not told the date of the Decree Absolute.

At the point of separation Ms Crowther continued to occupy the parties’ former matrimonial home, which was purchased with inheritance from her late mother’s estate. However, we are not told whether this property was purchased by Ms Crowther before the parties met/married, in which case it could be argued by her that the property was a ‘pre-acquired’ asset of the parties’ marriage, thereby seeking to reduce/nullify any financial claim which Mr Crowther may otherwise seek to have in the property. Neither are we told whether the property was owned by Ms Crowther in her sole name or by the party’s jointly,  which in the latter case, could enable Mr Crowther to argue that Ms Crowther’s inheritance has been ‘intermingled’ into jointly owned matrimonial property, thereby strengthening his claim for a lump sum order. These are all factors which the Court would need to consider.

Mr Crowther, who is in receipt of benefits and who still lives with his parents, having left the former matrimonial home ‘temporarily’ nearly seven years ago, has argued throughout these proceedings that he cannot continue to live at his parents and that he ‘needs’ financial independence and to be rehoused which he can only do with a capital lump sum from a sale of the former matrimonial home.  One is to assume that Mr Crowther’s benefits are not means tested, however, a full enquiry would need to be pursued to ensure that a capital lump sum would not prejudice him by either reducing or taking him off his benefits completely.

However, Ms Crowther has argued that her ex-husband is not entitled to a penny from the property, which is a four-bedroom property in an affluent part of Amherst Rise, Worksop and furthermore it was Ms Crowther’s late mother’s wish that Mr Crowther should not receive a penny. We do not know whether there is any evidence, for example, a letter of wishes appended to Ms Crowther’s late mother’s Will (if indeed she had one) to substantiate this position. Ms Crowther also purports that her ex-husband is ‘incapable of looking after money having run up debts which had cost her more than £80,000.00’. Once again we are not told whether Ms Crowther has evidence to substantiate her assertion.

In a case like this the court would need to establish the ‘reasonable needs’ of both parties taking into consideration section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The starting point in such cases is from a position of there being an equal division of the net assets. Thereafter it would be for Mr Crowther’s legal team to present a case which supports an equal division of the net assets based upon his reasonable ‘needs’. In the event Mr Crowther is a joint owner of the former matrimonial home he may also need to investigate whether a potential Capital Gains Tax liability would arise from his potential disposal of his interest in the property given that he has not lived at the property for some 7 years.

By contrast Ms Crowther’s legal team would need to present a case which seeks to reduce any claim which Mr Crowther may otherwise have had in the property taking into consideration inherited wealth, potential ‘non-matrimonial property’, Mr Crowther’s gross debt and mismanagement of money and potentially that he has adequately rehoused himself at his parent’s property, although the latter may be seen as a somewhat weak argument to run.

This case once again highlights the importance of a Husband and a Wife concluding the financial elements of their marriage at the point of separation and not to simply leave matters in the vain hope that either the situation will ‘go away’ or will just simply ‘resolve’ itself.  Each party to a marriage is able to pursue a financial claim against the other at any time post-divorce and there isn’t an automatic ‘end’ date, save for the  Respondent in the divorce process who can dismiss their claims at the point of remarriage.

It is important that parties to a divorce are fully advised on the implications of not concluding the financial elements of their marriage as the ramifications can be severe!

Kelly Pougher, Associate Solicitor is an expert in Family Law and is able to offer expert advice on matrimonial finances and separation issues. Kelly is based at our Solihull Office and can be contacted on (0121) 624 4000 or kpougher@thursfields.co.uk.

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