How long must a former husband pay for his ex-wife? 10 years? 15 years? Mr Vaughan (an eminent QC) and the ex Mrs Vaughan separated in 1981 and divorced in 1985. There were no children. He remarried and had two children. Mrs Vaughan remained single but along the way inherited several hundreds of thousands of pounds. In 2009 on his application to stop paying the Judge agreed. After all, he had paid for 28 years, twice as long as he was married. His former wife had a mortgage free £1.1m house, she had capital of about £380,000 and a valuable desk worth £300,000 which it was agreed could be sold and used for income. Her income was modest on its own but as a single woman of 66 with overall assets of nearly £1.8m Mr Vaughan thought it was time for his support of her to end.
However, Mrs Vaughan appealed to the Court of Appeal and they thought otherwise and whilst the Court agreed maintenance should end on an ongoing basis ordered Mr Vaughan to pay a lump sum of £215,000 in full and final settlement.
So, they were married for 14 years, there were no children to worry about, Mrs Vaughan was 37 at separation and a very capable expert on Islamic and Indian art. She was working full-time during the marriage although part-time by the date of separation. A non-lawyer (and many lawyers) would have thought that Mr Vaughan, given those facts, would have stopped paying many years before and indeed within a short time of the separation with Mrs Vaughan looking after herself as many of us have to do. However, this did not happen and she was supported generously for many years. We thought the old “meal ticket for life” had long since gone but it would seem not.
The parties in this case were wealthy but the principles of law apply across the board. The author had a case similar to that of Mr and Mrs Vaughan at precisely the same time; his client had not seen his ex-wife for 27 years, they had been separated for nearly 30 years and he was 67 years old and still paying. He too remarried and had two teenage children to support. In the end he was forced to pay a lump sum to cease the maintenance.
Is this fair? Probably not in most people’s eyes but it is the law at present. Significantly, Mrs Vaughan received rather nasty press after the case; indeed the Daily Mail said “a divorce deal that shames women”
Payers, mainly ex husband’s, may receive a nasty surprise when they look to cease maintenance in later years. More worrying is the thought that a Court might exclude Inheritances in some or all of the calculations as indeed happened in the Vaughan case.
In the light of the current trend a lawyer’s advice to a client in such circumstances can only be to endeavour to obtain a clean break as soon as possible after divorce. That might be costly in the short term but better than litigation in the long term.
For more information about this or any other aspect of divorce law please contact Andrew Kirkconel at Dutton Gregory on 023 8021 3772.