Inherited wealth in high-value divorce financial settlement – Robson v Robson

8th March 2015 by

 

When parties to a divorce have largely amassed their wealth as a result of inheritance, divorce solicitors may take guidance from the case of Robson v Robson [2010] which provides a family law appeal ruling involving considerable assets and a long marriage.

The Facts

The case involved a husband in his 60s and a wife in her 50s – their marriage had lasted 21 years. They had two children, aged 20 and 17 at the time of the initial trial.

In the first instance Mr Justice Charles found that the parties had been “living off the wealth inherited by the husband and in a manner and at a level that focused on their own enjoyment and sporting passions rather than on preserving the inheritance for their children and future generations”. He said their pre-divorce expenditure had become “excessive” and “reckless”.

Charles J ordered the husband, whose assets had been valued at £22,295,500 to pay an £8 million lump sum to his ex wife, whose assets totalled £343,500.

The husband appealed against the decision on the grounds that the judge’s assessment of his wife’s ongoing financial needs, which had been based upon the levels of spending prior to divorce proceedings, was wrong. His legal team argued that as the wife had been implicated in the extravagant way the largely inherited wealth had been disposed of, her ongoing needs should not be forecasted at such a high level.

The appeal court, led by Lord Justice Ward, held that the wife had been “complicit in their prodigality” and that Charles J had been wrong to imply by his ruling that the wife should be allowed “to live in the same extravagant way as she inappropriately had in days of yore”.

The wife’s ancillary relief order was reduced to £7 million – on the basis that the original ruling had over-calculated her housing and capitalised (lump sum) maintenance needs by £1 million.

Guidance for divorce solicitors in “big money” cases

In his ruling, Lord Justice Ward gave direction for how the family court should consider high-value divorce financial settlement claims if much of the wealth had been inherited. He said that inherited wealth can be “treated differently from wealth accruing as the so-called marital acquest from the joint efforts”. However, “the more and the longer that wealth has been enjoyed, the less fair it is that it should be ring-fenced and excluded from distribution in such a way as to render it unavailable to meet the claimant’s financial needs generated by the relationship”.

He went on – “It does not add much to exhort judges to be ‘cautious’ and not to invade the inherited property ‘unnecessarily’ for the circumstances of the case may often starkly call for such an approach. The fact is that no formula and no resort to percentages will provide the right answer. Weighing the various factors and striking the balance of fairness is, after all, an art not a science.”

Healys’ divorce solicitors are on hand to advise

Healys’ divorce solicitors are highly experienced in the negotiation and drafting of separation agreements, and in making and defending divorce and finance claims on behalf of both husbands and wives. The family law team has represented clients in the High Court and has acted in many high-value divorce financial settlement claims.

We always aim to find a fair and cost-effective solution and to keep the costs proportionate to the assets involved.

If you would like to speak to a divorce solicitor regarding your financial settlement please contact Jane Sanders on 020 7822 4107 or email jane.sanders@healys.com in London. For Brighton enquiries, please contact Catherine Taylor on 01273 669 124 or email catherine.taylor@healys.com