A recent report of a hearing in the Appeal Court is a timely reminder that when people divorce, a judge is entitled to take account of all of the parties' assets, whether they both contributed towards those assets or not.
Doreen Crowther was reportedly dragged screaming from the court after she was told she might have to sell her home in order pay Mr Crowther a share. Security guards are understood to have been called to escort her from the court, whilst the senior judges are said to have retreated to back offices.
Mr and Mrs Crowther married in 1997 and separated in 2007.
The only significant asset was their home.
The property was purchased in 2002 using an inheritance Mrs Crowther received from her mother.
When the couple divorced, Mrs Crowther argued that her husband should not receive anything from the home, which she considered to be her “mother’s house”, telling the court that her mother had not wanted Mr Crowther to have a penny.
In 2015, the family judge in Oxford decided Mrs Crowther should keep the house, saying that only a half share would be enough to enable Mr Crowther to buy a home for himself and that such a division would be unfair to Mrs Crowther.
Questions were also raised about whether Mr Crowther could live independently, which he said he could, and the impact of a forced move upon Mrs Crowther’s health.
Mr Crowther, who is disabled and has been living in a single room at his parents’ home for the last seven years, appealed. Now aged 40, Mr Crowther claimed his only means of achieving independence would be by housing himself independently.
Allowing the Appeal, the court said that the family judge had gone too far. It ordered that the case should be sent back to a different family judge to decide what Mr Crowther is entitled to.
Courts may make a number of financial orders when parties divorce, including:
Maintenance – provision of income
Property adjustment orders – sale or transfer of property
Lump sum awards
Pension sharing orders
In reaching a decision, the court requires both husband and wife to provide full details of their financial circumstances and then applies what are called the Section 25 factors, which include:
Length of the marriage and the parties’ ages
Financial need, obligations and responsibilities
Income and earning capacity
Loss of opportunity
What decision the new court will reach we don’t yet know but if you are going through a divorce, or thinking about the possibility of separating, and are unsure about what your rights or responsibilities might be, please contact a member of our Family team who would be happy to advise you.