Most of my divorce clients simply cannot conceive of ever re-marrying or entering into a new relationship. But there is a small but interesting minority of clients who are divorcing because they have left a relationship to start another or who are so romantically inclined that they manage to start a relationship before they have tied up the loose ends of their former marriage. Like 18th century great Dr Johnson, I have always viewed such clients’ new relationship as “the triumph of optimism over experience”.
There is, however, an elephant trap here. When determining a fair division of the assets of a marriage, new relationships matter. This has always been true and specialist family lawyers have always known about it but the press have finally caught up with our regular practice.
The press have emphasised a recent ruling by a High Court judge who said in his judgment that new relationships are a ‘fly in the ointment in the assessment of need’. For most of us mere mortals (excepting the very rich), the division of matrimonial assets is done on a ‘needs’ basis. Put simply, this means that the available assets are divided to meet each parties’ needs, i.e. housing and income. Most divorces follow this course because it is only in rare families where there is enough money to divide the assets and also maintain the same standard of living as in the marriage. Most divorcing couples will have to learn to make do with less than they had during the marriage. The ‘needs’ assessment is as much about balancing what is ‘fair’ with balancing what is ‘unfair’ and is probably one of family lawyers’ most difficult tasks.
The wife in this case started a new relationship before reaching a financial settlement with her husband and, even though she was supposed to, the wife never told the Judge. It was the husband’s solicitors who discovered the new relationship through ‘investigations’. The new partner was obviously a man of some means because he was about to purchase a home for £500,000. The judge set out the difficulty he was facing in a typically High Court judge sort of way; he used a Greek myth. If he were to take her new relationship as akin to marriage, it might leave her caught in a boat between a six-headed sea monster and a never-ending enormous whirlpool. If he were to ignore it, then it would be unfair to the husband.
This is an excellent example of the court exercising its discretion and why it is important for clients to hire specialist family lawyers who know how to avoid these elephant traps. The judge, in the end, decided that he could not ignore the new relationship and awarded the wife a lower lump sum, so the lesson is to hire specialist family lawyers and also to tell us everything.
If you need advice on any issue surrounding your divorce or the breakdown of your relationship, call me, Randal Buckley on 020 8899 6620 or email me at email@example.com