The media are hailing it as a landmark case, but surely, in this day and age, it was only a matter of time before common sense came to the fore in cases where former wives of wealthy husbands expect to be financially supported in perpetuity.
The case involves the ex-wife of a wealthy equine surgeon who, when their divorce settlement was agreed in 2008, ended up living mortgage free and with a total maintenance and school fee package, for her and her children, of £75,000 per year.
Previously, the wife had worked as a riding instructor and legal secretary, but, following the divorce, she chose not to return to the workplace and now lives with her 10-year-old daughter in their Newmarket home, while the other daughter is at boarding school.
In 2014, the husband (now 59) returned to the family court to argue that the annual spousal maintenance sum of £33,200, which he had paid without exception since the divorce, would become unaffordable once he retired.
The judge found that the wife had been “evasive” when asked to clarify her earning capacity and that there was little reasoning to back up her choice not to return to work. She ruled that spousal maintenance should be reduced over a five year period and should cease once the husband retires.
In the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Pitchford upheld the ruling, saying that it was now “imperative that the woman go out and support herself”.
Divorce solicitors in London and across the UK have agreed that the decision will help back up the current view that spouses of wealthy partners should not arbitrarily assume they will be supported for ever. Given that this is an appeal court ruling it means the judgment will, almost certainly, hold greater weight in future proceedings.