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Divorce: Asset Division Not Always Equal

In general, there is a presumption that on divorce the assets will be split more or less equally, but that is based on case law interpretation of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, not statute. Currently, a Bill in the House of Lords (the Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill) proposes to create a statutory presumption of equality, thus superseding the judge-made law currently used.

A recent case may give added impetus to the argument for a more certain basis for the division of family assets on divorce. In it, a wife (a past alcoholic) was awarded just over a third of the couple's joint assets of nearly £37 million because of her husband's 'unmatched contribution' to the accumulation of their wealth, based on his personal efforts and having provided the seed-corn capital on which their successful company had been founded.

The husband had argued that his wife's settlement should be based on her needs, not on an asset share, and that his contribution to the success of the company had been 'utterly exceptional'. The court would not accept that argument, however. His ex-wife acknowledged that there should be some disparity and her suggestion that she should receive 37.5 per cent of their joint assets was accepted.

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    This was a case in which the court came down on the side of the person who seemed to be acting in a more reasonable way. It illustrates the wisdom of not being seen to have an entrenched position.

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