In a recent case where a divorcing couple were fighting as to the division of the assets, a High Court Judge awarded the wife a reduced award because she was in a new relationship, despite the fact that she was not living with her new partner and stated in her evidence that she had no intention of living with her new partner.

He stated in his judgment that he could not ignore the fact of the wife’s new relationship:
“In my judgment, if the wife were assuredly single and I could foresee that continuing, I would have my doubts as to whether (my award) of just over £250,000 would be enough…”

This judgment has surprised the legal profession, as in recent times judges have tended to only be interested in new relationships and factor them into their consideration in circumstances where the wife (although it can of course be the husband) is living with her new partner or where there is a clear intention to cohabit and the reason for that is that in those circumstances the wife’s needs are in whole or in part met by her new partner or shared with her partner.

However, in this case the wife was not living with her new partner and she had stated that she had no intention to live with him. The Judge did not make a finding that the wife was going to live with her new partner; however he reduced the wife’s award because he found that “the relationship (was) strong”.

What advice therefore to give wives or husbands in new relationships?
To not embark on any new relationship until their financial affairs with their spouses have been settled? Or that it is safe to embark on a new relationship but to ensure that it remains light – as opposed to strong? Who is to be the judge of that?

If that is the criteria to be applied – is it safe to go for a weekend away with a new partner but not a long holiday and not to attend a “family occasion”?

If you are divorcing or separated from your husband or wife and are in a new relationship and are concerned as to the effect this may have on your entitlement, then please contact one of our Family Lawyers, Elizabeth Marsh, Associate on either 01865 781183 or elizabeth.marsh@henmansfreth.co.uk

This case comment has been kindly prepared by one of our Experts – Christopher McCourt, Barrister at 1KBW, Temple, London.