Personal Autonomy Prevails in Big Money Divorce Case

Personal autonomy is nowadays a crucial factor in divorce and judges are anxious to ensure that the end of a marriage is accompanied by the termination of dependency. In one big money case, the Court of Appeal ruled that an ex-wife was entitled to sufficient capital to buy a home of her own.

Following her divorce, a judge awarded her £2 million as an income-producing capital sum. She was also granted the right to live in the former marital home, a £5 million penthouse flat, for 14 years, or until such time as she remarried or came into her inheritance from her father, who was said to be worth £500 million.

In upholding her appeal against that decision, the Court found that it failed to respect her autonomy or to recognise her role as carer for the former couple’s three children, one of whom suffered from learning difficulties. If the £2 million ran out and she remarried before her father died, she would be left with no capital of her own and would not have the wherewithal to buy a new home.

Her ex-husband’s lawyers pointed out that her father, a Saudi Arabian industrialist, was bound by the law of that country to leave her a fifth of his fortune on his death. However, the Court noted that English law alone applied to the case and that the father was under no obligation to financially support his adult daughter, who had almost no assets of her own, or his grandchildren.

That responsibility fell on the husband who, largely through inheritance, was worth between £14 million and £17 million and, as a City financier, had an earning capacity of £350,000 per year. Unlike the wife, the divorce had left him fully autonomous and he had long since remarried and started a new family. The case was remitted to the High Court for a decision to be made on the amount by which her award should be increased.