This case about a financial claim on divorce hit the mainstream media recently (see for example The Telegraph here. The case involved a millionaire divorcee Barry Stocker. At first blush it seems surprising that either one of a wealthy couple should be “left too poor to get on the housing ladder” as Mr Stocker was said to have been. The figures cited were £1.8m to the lucky Mrs Stocker and £250,000 to the poor Mr Stocker.
But there are some clues from the press reports that the case may not be as obviously wrong as it may superficially appear. It is apparent from the press reports that the matter was on appeal. The report says:
Mr Justice Blake however told Mr Stocker that he had no hope of overturning the divorce ruling and would have to accept his reduced circumstances.
“Unfortunately, as happens so often in this type of litigation, everything here has the appearance of an applicant who refuses to have a sense of finality”, he said.
“This court doesn’t sit as a re-hearing court. You don’t just come here and say, ‘Can we start all over again please”‘.
The judge concluded: “The husband argues that the division of the marital assets was unfair and disproportionate.
“This was a case in which there were no children to be taken into account, the husband contends that a 50/50 split would have been appropriate.
“But none of the matters he raises constitutes a basis for appeal which has any prospect of success.”
Sadly this is all we have to go on as there is no transcript published on BAILII (that I can find). This is probably because the decision appears from the above extract to be a refusal of permission to appeal.
But what else does this snippet tell us? Of course it is difficult to speculate without knowing the facts or having the original judgment or fully understanding the basis of the appeal. But my guess would be that there was some other factor in the case that meant it was necessary and fair to split the assets unequally, for example ill health or an inability to work on the part of the wife or a far greater earning or borrowing capacity and ability to “bounce back” on the part of the husband – this is supported by the fact that it appears (from remarks made by the wife quoted in the Telegraph article) that the Husband retained the family construction business, which appears to have been the golden goose in this particular marriage. Alternatively, it is possible that the proportions cited by the husband of 80 : 20 % are not the full picture, for example because the court had found that there were substantial undisclosed assets in the husbands possession, meaning that it was fair to give the wife 80% of the known assets, attributing the undisclosed assets to the husband when calculating the fair amount. Those are hypotheses only, and may not in fact have any basis in reality, but they illustrate that it may not be sensible to judge the fairness of approach of the family court from the headline alone. It is worth remembering that the 80% figure appears to be the husband’s own figure not the courts – and as best one can tell from the article does not appear to apparently factor in the business. The court making the decision might not have calculated the percentage as anything like 80% if the business and other assets (like pensions) were added in, and may have incorporated an aspect of undisclosed capital or income before calculating a percentage. It is apparent from the judge’s remarks that the split was not 50 : 50 on anyone’s calculations, but we don’t really know from the very limited information we have how far along the scale in the Wife’s favour it was.
The court must take into account all the circumstances before deciding what is fair. In many cases a 50 : 50 split may be absolutely fair, but in some it will not.
As for the appeal, we don’t know how it was put by Mr Stocker, but it is clear from the extract we have that the court did not think they came close to being a sufficient basis for appeal, and it appears that Mr Stocker was simply trying to have a second bite rather than identifying areas where the original judge had gone wrong in law.