When the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 hit the statute books, it was devised to take the sting out of acrimonious divorces and concentrate instead on a fair division of the matrimonial assets. The tabloid press were far from amused, as many a copy was sold on the back of kiss and tell revelations of the great and the naughty, no more so than the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, hotly followed by John Profumo, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, with the emphasis on ‘hotly’. What a joy!
But I digress. With the passing of the Act, no fault divorces became the norm, although divorcing couples still had to jump through certain legal hoops to show that the marriage had broken down irretrievably, but that was more show than go.
Over the years, there have been two main issues emerging which have caused the courts to pause and reflect: what should be classified as matrimonial assets; and when should the marriage be deemed to have ended so that a line can be drawn in the sand?
There are two recent cases that give rise to concern. The first is the case of the wife who bought a property with her mother’s inheritance. Her husband, who by all accounts appears a complete waste of space, argued successfully in the Court of Appeal that the property should be sold and the proceeds divided equally. That did not amuse the wife, and she told the judges in no uncertain terms where they could stick their judgment. Such was the vehemence of her tirade that the judges were forced to take refuge in their retiring room, leaving Old Albert of Securicor to escort her from the premises. In fairness to the wife, the husband could demonstrate no good reason for any share of the property, let alone an equal share, save only that he had lived in it before they separated. In every other respect, it belonged to the wife. I agree.
The second case concerned the couple who divorced 15 years ago. As part of the divorce settlement, the husband gave the wife a lump sum of £230,000 together with a monthly maintenance payment of £1100. Not bad if you can get it! But the wife frittered away the lump sum on various foolish enterprises, and to make up for her incompetence, she went back to court and was rewarded with an increased monthly maintenance of £1440 for life! That is not a misprint. How on earth can that be described as fair and equable? It can’t, but judges who appear to be totally out of touch with reality are persistently trotting out these unfair judgments which make them look foolish and discredit the law they are sworn to uphold.
Baroness Deech, you remember her of course, a cross-bench peer, is promoting a bill which would limit maintenance to five years except in cases of exceptional hardship. This five year limit is apparently the law in Scotland, where prizing open the sporran in any circumstances is taken very seriously indeed and is being considered for an Olympic sport.
David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the Law. His latest book, entitled Order in Court, is now available on Amazon and all reputable bookstores.