Family law

BBC executive case demonstrates court’s approach to contributions, needs and conduct

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Walker Family Law
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BBC executive case demonstrates court’s approach to contributions, needs and conduct

When a court considers a financial remedies application on divorce it will take into account a number of factors. Three of those factors are the contributions of each of the parties to the marriage (both financial and otherwise, including future contributions), the financial needs of the parties, and the conduct of the parties.

An instructive Court of Appeal judgment handed down last week demonstrates how the family court approaches these factors. The case made headlines in the national newspapers, as the wife is a BBC executive.

Second appealcouple discussing divorce

The case concerned the wife’s second appeal from a financial remedies order. She had already successfully appealed against the order, but was still not satisfied with the award that the court had made. She therefore appealed again, to the Court of Appeal

The relevant facts in the case were as follows.

The husband is now aged 69 and the wife 57. They were married in 1993. They have two children, twins, born in 2011. They separated in 2012/2013 when the husband left the former matrimonial home. The wife and the children remained living there. The husband has not sought to have any real contact with the children since the separation.

The wife has, for many years, worked for the BBC. The husband, on the other hand, has not worked for some time.

The wife issued divorce proceedings in 2016, and the husband commenced his financial application in 2017.

The parties’ financial resources were as follows.

The wife’s income from the BBC was approximately £160,000 per year gross, £90,000 net. She had approximately £55,000 in various accounts, and debts of nearly £9,000.

In addition, the wife had a private pension with a value of £13,000 and a very substantial BBC pension, worth about £2 million.

The husband received a state pension of approximately £7,000 gross per year, and had a private pension with a value of £12,000, which produced an annual income of approximately £900. He had debts of about £66,000 which comprised mainly a legal fees loan and a credit card loan.

The parties jointly owned a number of properties, including the former matrimonial home. The combined net value of the properties was £2.17 million.


Conduct and contributionsBBC executive case solicitors meeting

At the first hearing the wife raised two significant issues: the husband’s conduct, and what she claimed was the imbalance between their respective contributions. As to the latter, she claimed that the husband’s contribution was “significantly negative”.

The judge accepted what the wife said about the husband’s behaviour towards her, but did not consider that it was sufficiently serious to affect how the parties’ finances should be divided. This reflects the fact that a party’s conduct will not affect the amount that they receive on a divorce settlement, unless it is particularly serious. Conduct of the sort that occurs in many divorces will not be sufficiently serious.

As to contributions, the judge did not agree that the husband’s was ‘negative’, but accepted that it was only modest.

However, the judge accepted that a significant departure from equality was justified to enable both parties to meet their needs. Accordingly, he awarded the wife 63.5% of the non-pension assets. The pensions were shared equally.

The wife sought permission to appeal. She was granted permission, but not on the ground of conduct, which had been correctly dealt with by the court below.

Her appeal was successful. The judge considered that the award did not sufficiently reflect the wife’s contributions to the welfare of the children, and her and the children’s future needs. Accordingly, her share of the assets was raised to 73%, and the husband’s share of the pensions was lowered to 34%.

As indicated, the wife was still not satisfied, and therefore appealed again, to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal rejected an attempt by the wife to re-argue the issue of the husband’s “negative contribution”, as to seek to allege that one party has made a “negative contribution” was no more than an attempt to argue conduct under a different guise.

As to the issue of the needs of the parties, the assessment of these by the judge on the first appeal was one he was entitled to make.

And as for the pension shares, the Court of Appeal found that there was nothing about the decision on the first appeal that warranted this aspect of the case being reopened.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal dismissed the wife’s appeal. In short, the decision on the first appeal properly reflected the respective contributions of the husband and the wife, it reasonably met the needs of the parties, and was not affected by the husband’s conduct.

You can read the full judgment of the Court of Appeal here.