The Impact of Domestic Violence On A Divorce Financial Award
In this blog divorce financial settlement solicitor, Robin Charrot, looks at a recent court case involving divorce financial settlement claims and allegations of domestic violence to see how divorce settlements work and how the court treat domestic abuse allegations when making financial settlement decisions.
The financial settlement
A wife, age 55, separated from her husband. They could not reach a financial settlement by agreement and financial court proceedings were started. Sadly, the scenario of a husband and wife splitting up and going to court to get a financial court order isn’t unusual but what marks this case out is that the wife was a barrister and had a property portfolio in her name, acquired through her earnings during the eleven-year marriage. The husband, age 58, wasn’t working and had not worked independently of the wife throughout the marriage. Again, there isn’t anything unusual about this save for the situation not complying with the unusual gender stereotype. However, the wife said that as well as her being the bread winner in the marriage, the husband had been violent to her on two separate occasions. The wife said that meant the husband should get nothing by way of financial award. The husband argued that wasn’t fair.
The domestic violence allegation
The financial court looked at the domestic violence allegations. The husband had been prosecuted but was acquitted so had no criminal conviction for domestic abuse. None the less the family court said it could take the allegations of domestic violence into account because the family court had made findings about the domestic abuse.
A husband or wife should therefore not assume that just because a spouse did not report domestic abuse to the police that the family court will disregard domestic violence. However, the court also made it clear that just because there has been domestic violence in a relationship that does not mean that the perpetrator of the domestic abuse should end up with nothing.
The financial court proceedings
The family court ordered the wife to pay the husband £625,000 as a financial court order but the wife disagreed and appealed. She thought the ruling was unfair. The second judge said that £200,000 of the £625,000 award should be a charge to the wife, repayable by the husband’s estate on his death or repayable by the husband to the wife if the husband were to remarry or live with a new partner. The wife asked the court to reduce the lump sum payment to £425,000. On appeal, the court kept the payment at £625,000 and cancelled the charge. This means the wife has to pay the full £625,000. The court calculated that £625,000 was necessary to enable the husband to buy a new house with a budget of £400,000, with £25,000 to buy a car and pay living expenses and £200,000 to cover costs.
The appeal judges concluded that the domestic violence findings did not mean there should be no financial award or a charge back of some of the financial settlement. The appeal judges favoured a clean break financial settlement with no ongoing financial ties between husband and wife.
The costs of not agreeing a financial settlement
When determining the appeal, the judge said the family financial proceedings had become ‘an exercise in self-destruction’ because the legal costs had become disproportionate to the family assets so it was hard to achieve a financial settlement that either husband or wife thought was fair.
As the appeal court concluded that the findings of domestic abuse made against the husband do not justify making what would otherwise be an inappropriate order the £200,000 charge was removed giving him a lump sum of £625,000.
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The lessons from the court case
The lessons from the court case are that arguing over principles doesn’t always pay as whilst the wife was the breadwinner the husband was nonetheless entitled to a financial award to meet his needs. Those needs were not extinguished by the finding of domestic violence in the relationship by the family court although it is fair to say that the award is smaller than if no domestic violence allegations had been made. It is therefore important to raise allegations of domestic violence but not to expect that the court will make no award or an award that is lower than an amount that meets the perpetrators basic needs if the other party has his or her needs met.
In this case the wife was not only a barrister, she specialised in family law. What that tells us is that it is important to get independent and impartial expert family law legal advice as early as possible. Whilst you may not like the legal advice it may save you a lot in legal costs if that legal advice enables you to reach a pragmatic financial settlement.