Should divorcing wives or husbands who become involved in another relationship see their divorce settlements reduced as a result? Mr Justice Mostyn said in a case in the Family Division of the High Court last month that such relationships were “a significant fly in the ointment” when the court was deciding how much money husbands should give wives on a marriage breakup. (It is usually that way round).
The case in question involved a journalist and her estranged husband who came from a wealthy family and the woman had started a new relationship nine months before with a man who was about to buy a house. The predicament of the Judge was whether he should take the new relationship into account when assessing the wife’s needs for re-housing.
Such an approach is actually not good law at the present time. The intention to cohabit in the near future or even cohabitation itself is usually viewed by the Court as unimportant, because there is no legal force to a live-in relationship – it is only marriage which brings with it rights and obligations. This is despite years of campaigning by various interested bodies, trying to get cohabitation formalised in the eyes of the law, especially for women who can risk being stranded, penniless and homeless, even after a very long relationship.
Judge Mostyn has therefore not made new law, but could this be the start of a trend of the courts to give greater weight to the relevance of cohabitation in divorce cases? So, just a note of warning….