A case heard by the Court of Appeal has left the law relating to financial disputes following divorce in a state of uncertainty. Rebecca Patience explores how the outcome of this case could impact the division of assets.
What happened in the case?
The case of Hart v Hart  EWCA Civ 1306 involved high value assets totalling £9.4 million, most of which were acquired by the husband prior to the 23-year marriage.
The husband in this case had been involved in series of business enterprises and had been a property developer, which allowed him to amass a considerable amount of wealth, prior to the marriage.
During the initial proceedings, which commenced almost six years ago, the judge took a multi-faceted approach and awarded the wife £3.47 million, which was assessed as sufficient to meet her needs.
Despite claims from the wife that the assets should be split equally given the length of the marriage, the court disagreed and took the view that this would be unfair, given the extent of the husband’s pre-marital wealth.
The wife appealed to the court of appeal and the case was dismissed. The courts didn’t apply the sharing principle in this case and the wife’s settlement remained at £3.4 million in settlement, a sum significantly less than half of the assets.
Some family law specialists argue that this wasn’t the correct approach and that the remaining assets should have been divided equally in line with the sharing principle. Some family law experts have expressed concern that the ruling establishes that one party’s direct financial contribution may outweigh the domestic contribution provided by the other.
However, other family law specialists have suggested that a fair decision was made as the majority of the couple’s wealth was acquired by the husband before the marriage and the wife’s needs had been sufficiently met.
What does this mean for the law?
The decision in this case may not have created any new laws, but it has created a clear division in opinion and it sets an unsteady precedent for future cases in relation to the division of assets in high net worth cases where wealth has been acquired pre-marriage.
It has also been suggested that because of this decision more couples will seek to enter into pre-nuptial agreements as they feel more able to protect the assets built up before marriage. As always, it is important to seek expert legal advice before entering into any form of agreement.
Rebecca Patience is a solicitor in Harrison Drury’s experienced team of family and divorce lawyers. For more information on the law surrounding prenuptial agreements, or any other family law matter, contact Rebecca on 01772 395185.