The Lottery of Divorce (Part II)

Following on from my earlier blog, the judgment has now been released in the case of the Columbian couple who struck lucky (or S v AG (Financial Remedy: Lottery Prize) [2011] EWHC 2637 (Fam) as family lawyers playfully call it).

 The judgment represented some judicial sleight of hand in relation to the definition of matrimonial property and the sharing principle.

 It is settled law that, generally speaking, matrimonial property shall be divided equally unless there are good reasons to depart from such equality.

 After a marriage lasting 20 years until separation, the assets came to some £432,000. The marital home accounted for nearly all of this.

 The Husband only lived there for 3 years until he moved out.  He was an alcoholic and had been violent to the Wife.  On her part, she had claimed to the judge that they had separated 7 years earlier than they actually had, and that she hadn’t won the lottery at all but was merely looking after the proceeds of a friend’s lottery win. The judge found against her.  Neither party came out of this in a good light.

 Crucially, the judge found that the Husband didn’t know that the wife was playing the lottery, and she did so using her own income.  Therefore he found that, as a matter of principle, the win should be treated in the same way as an inheritance received from the wife’s side of the family.  This was the most contentious part of the judgment – the suggestion that the expenditure of the princely sum of £1 on the part of the wife will mean that she’ll get to keep the £.5m win (subject to the Husband’s needs being met).

 The judge was quick to point out that in relation to lottery wins the way the courts should deal with sharing the proceeds is highly fact specific (in other words, we’ll make up each case as we go along). Therefore thankfully this judgment is unlikely to be binding upon other courts.

 The reason the Husband got so little was that his needs were found to be very modest.  He was living in a Housing Association flat and was able to support his modest lifestyle from his modest income.  The judge found that if he was awarded £85,000 he would be able to continue this lifestyle after his retirement (the award therefore giving him what amounted to a pension).

 Whilst the marital home, no matter it was on the Wife’s sole name, was held to be marital property, the fact that the judge held it had all been paid for by the Wife out of her funds meant that it would be fair, in the judge’s mind, to award the Husband some 15-20% of the total assets.

 A lottery indeed.

 

Andrew Lee

 Andrew is a Collaborative Family Lawyer, and a Senior Associate Solicitor at Gregory AbramsDavidson.  To contact: Tel 0151 236 5000/ 0151 330 0734: alee@gadllp.co.uk