A ruling by a High Court Judge has sparked a debate about the extent to which new relationships should be taken into account when courts divide up a couple’s assets.
Mr Justice Mostyn said judges faced difficult decisions about how much money should be awarded if one party had recently started a new relationship.
He explained the dilemma facing judges in a written ruling on a divorce hearing, involving a middle-aged couple from Wales.
In the case of AB v CD, the couple had been married for nine years, moved to Pembrokeshire and set up a media consultancy business.
But the marriage had fallen apart in 2012, starting a bitter dispute about how the assets should be divided. The matter was complicated by the fact that the husband, who came from a wealthy farming family, had inherited millions.
During divorce proceedings, the wife had started a new relationship with a former army officer and the romance was disclosed by her estranged husband’s legal team.
“Relationships like this are always a significant fly in the ointment in the assessment of need,” wrote Mr Justice Mostyn.
“One cannot make assumptions, if it is not a 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 rightly feel significantly aggrieved.”
The Judge said he would award the woman, who works as a journalist, £250,000 – admitting he may well have decided on a larger amount if she had been “assuredly single.”
Some have questioned whether the new relationship should have been taken into account, arguing that many romances which start during divorce proceedings do not last. Concerns were also expressed about whether a woman’s prospects should be determined by who she is dating at the time.