A common question I get from my clients is whether or not the court will take into account their spouse’s conduct when deciding how to divide the assets of the marriage.
Normally, this is not an issue because the court will only take this into account if it is sufficiently serious such that it would be unfair not to take it into account. We often see one spouse behaving very badly especially towards the end of the marriage and often causing financial and emotional harm to the other spouse and the family generally, but it is rarely regarded by a court as being sufficiently serious for ‘conduct’ arguments to be raised successfully. These arguments also lead to additional costs for both parties.
In a recent case JB v MB  EWFC the wife’s conduct was taken into account and the court made a financial award reflecting that, ultimately giving 62% of the overall assets to the husband and 38% to the wife. This case involved a 30-year marriage which broke down after the wife was arrested for and convicted of ABH on the husband. As a result, she had been prevented from returning to the former matrimonial home since the event and had subsequently suffered ill health resulting in her being cared for in a care home at the time of the final hearing. Her husband had continued to live in the family home.
The court heard evidence around the wife’s conduct of the family finances, which had included her concealing information about the finances from the husband and her using his personal details and forging his signature to obtain money. She had re-mortgaged the family home, fraudulently cashed in joint policies and forged the husband’s signature to run up debts. It was calculated that her actions had cost the husband at least £160,000 and the wife could not explain what had happened to the money.
In this case the court also found that the wife had failed to give full, frank, or reliable financial disclosure which the judge felt was deliberate on her part and had disadvantaged the husband. Whilst going through the factors contained in Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act the judge said that it would be inequitable to disregard the wife’s conduct during the marriage and that her actions had exposed the husband to significant financial liability and depleted the funds that the family had.
This case is yet a further illustration of the high bar of misconduct that is required before a court is likely to take this into account when dividing the matrimonial pot.
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The above is accurate as at 22 October 2021. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.