This week Mr Justice Mostyn (a High Court judge who has been shaking up our family law in recent years!) caused some ripples in the family law community by suggesting that the court should take account of a wife's new relationship even though she has yet to start living with her new partner. He summarised the issue in his own unique style -
“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 between Scylla and Charybdis if the assumption is wrongly made. 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.”
So what does all that mean, you say. This kind of issue often comes up in cases where a married couple have separated and one party, a wife for example, quickly forms a relationship with someone else. If the couple are not so wealthy as to have enough assets to allow them both to rehouse easily, the court will look at how much of the asset cake they each need. A wife's need will clearly be less if she lives with her new partner by that point. But if she negotiates a good settlement on the basis that she is not living with her partner and then starts living with him some time later, her ex-husband might be left with less than he needs to enable him to buy a house and the feeling that he has been "taken to the cleaners!"
Currently judges won't take into account either party's relationship unless they are either living with their new partner or have a definite intention to do so. Mr Justice Mostyn might just have a signalled an intention to look a little closer at situations like this. If you're going through divorce right now, you might want to think twice about forming a new relationship that looks like it might be long-term!
Alex Davies, described by Chambers & Partners as a leading lawyer in his field, is the head of family law team at Cripps. Our expert family solicitors are experienced in advising clients in Tunbridge Wells and London about their divorce and financial remedy cases. Alex Davies can be contacted on +44 1892 506326 or on firstname.lastname@example.org.