Two recent Court of Appeal judgements only serve to illustrate the inconsistent approach that the courts adopt towards resolving the financial issues of any divorce.
Only a few days ago Lord Justice Thorpe in Davies v Davies was reported as saying that the days of wives receiving multi million pound payouts to keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed are over. He said:-
“We only talk about ‘needs’ when there isn’t a lot to go round. The bigger the family fortune, the less relevant needs become.”
In direct contrast to this, only last week, Lady Justice Baron made an award to a wife of £8.7 million to fund her ‘lady of the manor’ lifestyle because she could not be expected to live in a £3 million house in an unfashionable area of London. Lady Justice Baron went on to say that it would be ‘unfair to expect the wife to exchange her old lifestyle for a small flat and pension.’
These 2 contrasting judgements from 2 of the countries leading family judges only seeks to resurrect the argument that we as family solicitors often pose:
“to what extent is one party to a divorce expected to meet the needs of the other party?”
Little or no guidance to answering this question can be found in Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which is the principle piece of legislation that governs the resolution of the financial aspects of a parties divorce. Section 25 (2) (b) directs the court to consider the parties ‘needs’ but fails to expand on that any further and define what constitutes ‘needs.’
Whilst the issue of needs and the general law in relation to the financial fallout of a parties divorce is being debated by the law commission, until such time as the legislation is made clearer or a definition provided, we will continue to see conflicting judgements such as those recently given by Justice Thorpe and Justice Baron.
The reality remains that each case is dealt with on its own merits and currently the issue of a parties needs is subjective.