Wife fails in controversial money appeal

A wife who was only awarded a third of the assets after a twenty year marriage has had her appeal against the award dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

Karen Hart, a former air hostess, married John Hart, a property developer, in 1987. At that time Mrs Hart had no significant assets, but Mr Hart was already a multi-millionaire. They had two children, both now adult, and separated in 2006. Divorce proceedings were commenced in 2011 and a financial remedies hearing took place in 2015, when the assets were £9.4 million. Mrs Hart was awarded £3.5 million, a sum considered sufficient to meet her needs. The reason that Mr Hart was awarded more than half of the assets was that he had brought some £2.6 million into the marriage.

Mrs Hart appealed, arguing that after such a long marriage, to which she had made a considerable contribution, she was entitled to half of the assets. She also pointed out that Mr Hart had been less than forthcoming in disclosing his assets to the court, which made it difficult for the court to determine what assets were ‘matrimonial’, i.e. acquired during the course of the marriage, and what were ‘non-matrimonial’, i.e. acquired before the marriage.

In the Court of Appeal Lord Justice Moylan accepted that there were ‘deficiencies’ in Mr Hart’s evidence about the extent of his assets. However, he concluded, after much reflection, that the judge did not fall into error when awarding Mrs Hart £3.5 million. He said that the judge was plainly entitled to find that Mr Hart had substantial wealth at the commencement of the relationship, because this was agreed. He was also entitled to conclude that an equal division would be unfair to Mr Hart and, equally, that an unequal division would be fair to Mrs Hart.

Mrs Hart’s solicitors have described the decision as ” disappointing”, saying: “The decision of the Court of Appeal leaves the law in a state of flux; it allows a Trial Judge to find that even where it is not properly evidenced, the financial contribution of one spouse outweighs the family and domestic contribution of the other. This can lead to a result that is unfair and discriminatory, as it has done in this case. More such results are likely to follow, with the potential to set the law back more than 20 years.”

The full report of the Court of Appeal judgment can be found here.

Image: Air Hostess Uniform 1959 Winter 001, by Archives New Zealand, licensed under CC BY 2.0.