Appeal Court Judge tells Ex Wife to "Get a Job"

26 February 2015

Appeal Court Judge rejects ex-wife's challenge to reduction of future maintenance payments from wealthy husband concluding that she had "no right to be supported for life"

Appeal Court Judge tells Ex Wife to ‘Get a Job’ Lord Justice Pitchford, sitting in the Court of Appeal,recently rejected a challenge brought by the ex wife of a millionaire racehorse surgeon to reduce her future maintenance payments from him, in which she argued it would result in ‘a plummeting in the standard of living’ of their youngest child.The judge rejected her challenge on the basis that she had ‘no right to be supported for life’ and indicated that he saw no reason why divorcees with children aged over 7 should not work for a living.

In 2008, after 11 years of marriage, in addition to receiving a mortgage free home worth £450 000, as well as stables for her and her daughters, Mrs Wright’s ex husband was ordered to pay her £75 000 maintenance, inclusive of school fees, per year.£33 200 of this award was payable by way of spousal maintenance for Mrs Wright’s personal upkeep. However, last year Mr Wright issued an application to the High Court to seek to have this amount reduced, stating that it was unfair that he should be expected to continue to support his ex-wife for life, even after his retirement. As a result of that challenge Mr Wright’s maintenance payments were reduced for a period and would stop when he reached his retirement.

In rejecting Mrs Wright’s appeal, Lord Justice Pitchford addressed the fact that Mrs Wright had chosen not to work after the end of the marriage, and noted that ‘the world of work has innumerable possibilities these days…vast numbers of women with children just get on with it and Mrs Wright should have done the same.’He went on to comment on the fact that she had made no effort to seek work or to update her skills and said that he considered she had failed to do so on the basis that she would be supported for life.He upheld the decision of the High Court that the personal maintenance payments must cease after a gradual reduction over a 5 year period leading up to Mr Wright’s retirement.The Judge in coming to his decision, held that there was no prospect of establishing that the High Court Judge who dealt with the matter gave inadequate reasons for her decision.

The judgement is significant in that in the past the courts have frequently not heard cases in advance of any future change in circumstances, like retirement, preferring to wait until the time has come to deal with the issue.This case, however, was heard 6 years ahead of Mr Wright’s planned retirement and allowed for him to start to reduce his maintenance payments in anticipation of that event.This has been viewed by many as an indication that planning for an ‘income changing’ event is a prudent approach.

In most cases of this kind that come before the courts, the circumstances dictate that the ‘needs’ of the parties require both spouses to work becausethe income of one party is normally insufficient for both parties to live off it and so ex-spouses are expected to continue in or go out to work as soon as possible.However, the outcome of this case demonstrates that this logic can also be argued to apply to spouses , who may in the past have expected that their ongoing financial needs could be met from the income of their wealthy partner.This will be particularly pertinent in cases where there is no reason why the other spouse should not go out to work.

In another High Court judgement issued in the case of SS v NS (Spousal Maintenance) 2014 EWHC, which also dealt with the issue of ongoing spousal maintenance, Mr Justice Mostyn stated that ‘unless undue hardship would likely be experienced, the court ought to be thinking of providing an end date to a periodical payments order’ and quoted the Law Commission’s report of February 2014 which concluded that ‘the objective of financial orders made to meet needs should be to enable a transition to independence, to the extent that that is possible in light of the choices made within the marriage, the length of the marriage, the marital standard of living, the parties’ expectation of a home, and the continued shared responsibilities (importantly childcare) in the future.’

If you have any queries in respect of issues pertaining to finances relating to a marriage breakdown, please contact Clare Curran on clare@worthingtonslaw.co.uk or telephone the office on 028 91811538 for confidential advice.

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