A High Court judge has warned against having a relationship while still fighting over the matrimonial money. Does his ruling signal a new approach by the courts?
In a written ruling, Mr Justice Mostyn said dating before divorce was a “fly in the ointment” for family court judges asked to decide how much money husbands should give wives following marriage break-ups.
He said women risked losing their share of the financial spoils because judges might naturally assume they would set up home with their new partners, assuring their financial future.
The warning came following a family court hearing in Swansea where the parties were both in their 40s, the couple concerned had met in 1999 but their marriage broke down in 2012. During lengthy legal proceedings over the matrimonial money, the wife started a new relationship.
This relationship dealt a blow to her case even though she was not cohabiting at the time and said she was not going to live with her new boyfriend.
Mr Justice Mostyn still noted “… it is perfectly clear that the relationship is strong”.
He went on to say “One cannot make assumptions, if it is not full-blown cohabitation akin to marriage that it will grow into that, because if it does not, the wife may be left stranded….”
"On the other hand, if one makes a needs assessment on the basis that she is a single woman and she soon cohabits, then the paying party... can rightfully feel significantly aggrieved.”
As a result his financial award to the wife in this case was made on the basis that he could not ignore the existence of the relationship.
I must admit to being somewhat surprised by the ruling, but it comes as a salutary warning from one of the country’s leading family law judges that you should be careful about having relationships while in dispute over money. Particularly as the wife in this case said she had only been in the relationship for nine months and that she had no plans to cohabit.
Time will tell whether this signals a new approach by the courts or it is simply a one off judgment based on the facts of the case. Either way it shows that judges can take all aspects of personal lives into account when making their decisions, and whether you think it’s sexist or not, unfortunately the judge has the final say.
Divorce solicitor, London