A Classic Example of How to Share Assets on Divorce

The recently reported case involving the divorce of Mr & Mrs Riding, handed down by Mr Justice Coleridge in the High Court on 5 April 2012, offers no groundbreaking law, but does provide an illustration of how straight forward analysis of cases involving wealthy (but not mega-wealthy) couples can be.

Mr & Mrs Riding had been married for 7 years until separation. They had a 9 year old child between them, and there was a 14 year old child to the wife. The Husband was a successful Chartered Surveyor, and managing partner of a large firm.  He was 57, and the wife 44.

There were two distinct classes of assets: those held or originating from assets held by the husband prior to the marriage and those that were the product of the marriage.  The precise values of some of the assets were not ascertainable from the published judgment, but they totalled around £4.5m.  Around 2.4m of that was tied up in a near 30% shareholding the husband had in a property development company, which was expected to be realised when the company is eventually sold as a whole.

The judge decided to share those assets that had been built up during the course of the marriage.  This would leave the wife with a little over £1.2m. This would meet her needs; the judge assessed these as £800,000 for a home and £450,000 for legal fees.  On top of this, the judge felt that she would be entitled to spousal maintenance of £55,000.p.a.  However, the judge was able to capitalise this by giving her savings in lieu.  Taking into account the fact that the marriage was only 7 years (and therefore “the wife’s entitlement to receive a very high income order long after separation [was] limited”), and the fact that the husband would want to retire some time after he is 60, the wife would receive an additional £650,000. This would give her the ability, by carefully managing her money, to remain in her home (which was far too big and valuable for her needs), leaving her with the ability to sell it and realise capital it some point in the future if necessary.

This was a case in which the equal division of capital built up during the marriage helpfully gave the wife enough to meet her reasonable capital needs. There was enough elsewhere to enable the husband to pay the capitalised maintenance.  He would get to keep all of his income, save for £15,000 p.a. that would have to be paid as child maintenance.

Given this, it will be perplexing for many how the wife’s fees got to be so large.  The judge however made no criticism of this, instead explaining that the husband had not helped by encouraging justified suspicion of the wife.  The judge agreed that the process adopted by the wife’s legal advisors in obtaining disclosure was “at times…like pulling teeth”. It is certain that had the parties adopted a Collaborative approach to reach their settlement, costs would have been tiny compared to the eventual costs.

This judgment is a classic example of how cases such as these are determined. It is interesting to note, however, that even before the judgment was handed down, the husband had changed his job and was employed elsewhere.  The judge appears to have not been told about this.