Large family fortunes are commonly held in complicated trust structures and that can give rise to difficulties in the event of divorce. However, a big money case in which a wife was awarded a seven-figure sum showed that family judges are more than capable of untangling them and ensuring that justice is done.
The husband was a major beneficiary of a family trust with assets worth around £400 million. Together with occasional seven-figure distributions, the trust provided him with a very substantial monthly income. He enjoyed a profligate lifestyle during the marriage and none of that income was saved. After his wife launched divorce proceedings, he was assessed as lacking the mental capacity required to litigate and was represented by the Official Solicitor.
The husband had entirely failed to engage in the proceedings, instead showering the wife – and the High Court – with a series of thoroughly offensive communications. His assets were frozen after he ignored a number of orders requiring him to pay maintenance to the wife. Having previously enjoyed a highly privileged lifestyle, she had been left with modest assets worth about £200,000.
Commenting on the huge gulf between the cases put forward by the former couple, the Court noted that the wife claimed to require more than £18.6 million to meet her reasonable needs, whilst the husband contended for a figure of less than £2.9 million.
In ruling on the matter, the Court achieved a clean break by awarding the wife a lump sum of £4.25 million, enough to support an income of about £175,000 a year for the rest of her life. She also received the former matrimonial home, an eight-bedroom mansion worth £2.55 million. Together with other assets, the value of her total award came to a fraction over £7 million.
The husband, who received an annual income from the trust of almost £1.2 million, was well able to meet the award, but was permitted to pay £2.5 million of the lump sum in instalments over a five-year period. He was ordered to continue maintenance payments to the wife until the last of those instalments was paid.